I have a friend in Great Britain that I play games with rather often. Whether it be the latest on the PC, through Xbox Live or some silly flash game we always start by arguing over what we will play in chat. About once a week I hear, "I want to play something with stats or skills and loot. It needs to have loot. And quests. Quests are good, too." Silly Brit can't just say, "Let's play an RPG." The thing is, I know what he means. There is something appealing about hacking your way through a mess of monsters while getting the "next big thing" for your character. Sacred 2: Fallen Angel is SO going to satisfy this urge.
Not that the original title - Sacred - won't fill this need quite nicely. An isometric action-RPG with dynamic loot, lots of good vs. evil and a unique leveling system (runes, which I'll get to in a moment), it is arguably one of the standards of PC RPGs. Spawning an expansion in Sacred: Underworld and a book in Europe, it was only a matter of time before logic demanded the leap to next-gen console and all the goodies entailed. The good news? If you have not yet played Sacred, You have time. The better news? It is unnecessary to fully enjoy Fallen Angel. Prequels are cool that way.
Like every good RPG, this game has lots of choices. Lots of them. Lots and lots and lots. It could be the six different races which give me this impression: Serphim, Shadow Warrior, Inquisitor, Temple Guardian, Dryad or High Elf. Or, it might be that four of the races can choose a dark or light path - that whole "let's mix up the content" design element (tricksy game developers). The deities, the mounts, the skill sets (the runes!), the quests, the loot - the 22 square miles encompassing 12 different environments of game play...
This is going to take so long to write.
The producer, Christian Grunwald, was sitting quietly running down a path with a female High Elf when I approached. For such an unassuming man he had quite the flamboyant avatar! She wore *cough* just enough to keep her protected from the elements - and I don't mean the weather - and had striking green hair. Like a kiwi. Never underestimate a High Elf with neon green hair in her underwear, not in the land of Ancaria.
You see, again like all good RPGs, this one has a war raging. The whole good vs. bad (or in this case - I just want to be in charge) thing. Civil war there was, then peace; now civil war looms again. Once you choose your side, you begin your quest - quell the unrest and bring peace to the land or purge it in fire and dominate all with your will. Fun stuff. I'm not really sure which side the green-haired elf was on, but it wasn't really relevant to the demo.
Immediately, I noticed how alive and lush the environment Kiwi (as I'm going to call her) was running around in. Blades of grass were distinguishable features; flowers added color to a rather verdant landscape; and more than once I commented on how great the trees looked. Weird to notice trees - but also good as they ensured that canopies would become transparent at all the right camera angles. As an active action combat game, I would have quickly become annoyed were there a leaf in my way. Grunwald is having a grand time killing kobolds (and I have to say, these look fantastic) with Kiwi when he pulls up her skill set to switch out to a different set of skills. Huh. Each class has three basic sets of skills - not exactly a skill tree, but a set: Combat Arts, Active Magic and Defense. Within each category is the set appropriate for that class - the Shadow Warrior he pulled out later had Rallied Souls: Undead Warriors who ran around killing for him for a limited time.
Depending upon the skill of the character, there will be multiple active slots open for active skills. You may know 20 skills, but may only have 1-4 active at any one time. (I do not know if 4 is the max, it is simply the maximum I witnessed.) Add to this your weapon and armor and you start to develop builds ala Guild Wars. Going to fight the kobold? Then pull out dual wield kobold swords, extra-coverage-at-the-knees armor and the appropriate spells for smiting the mini-ones all in one click. Or maybe you're down in one of the 100+ dungeons and you come upon that big Octopus-with-Snailshell boss monster? Yeah, the kobold-protect-the -knees armor just doesn't seem right for this battle. Snailshell Octopus monster build coming right up!
Weapons, armor, and skills, oh my! How do you choose? As Grunwald explained, one of the really nice features is that sometimes you need not wait. Want to wear something that has equip requirements beyond your skill at the moment? Go ahead; you'll get the full benefit of the armor. Just...expect to be a little slow, or clumsy. Want to dual wield two two-handed weapons? Sure! But you'd better be pretty skilled or your accuracy is going to be a tad off. They've quite nicely given you the option to do anything you'd like - just don't expect to get away scot free.
This brings me to that whole level/skill thing and where the Sacred series has always stood out. Although you have skill sets, they aren't skill trees. Learning one skill won't require you to have previously taken another (although they can certainly complement each other when cast/used in concert.) While in play, you'll come across runes. Runes increase the level of a particular skill if and only if you get a drop that matches your race and skill set. Otherwise, they become currency for trade - trade for items with players/NPCs or for services with NPC craftsman.
If you're anything like me (meaning a bit of a statistics freak) you will have started to realize just how difficult it might be to get the runes you want for your skills. As much as 22 square miles of above ground gameplay sounds great and an additional 100+ dungeons makes me giddy, the idea of combing it because I just cleared out sectors A-1 through C-14 doesn't exactly thrill me. "The areas never become empty," says the non-descript accent of the man behind the keys. Huh?
Ok, I've skipped a part. The content isn't dynamically generated. That is to say that the entire world is designed. There are 12 ecological regions with very specific animals, monsters, weather patterns, flora, and in some cases loot types. There will be no polar bears in the desert in this game! What happens in each area is designed - hand crafted. But the spawns themselves are dynamically generated. We're back in grid A1 fighting kobolds and uhh...pernicious penguins, and skeletons (he spawned some amazing skeletons where I enjoyed counting the vertebrae in their spines.) These are the three creatures assigned to grid A1 and using Kiwi I have just wiped them all out (uhh, yeah). However, I the runes my green-hair goddess needs seem not to have dropped.
I can head off and adventure some more, following the single player quest line for my race/class/faction for a time, play some multiplayer action if it so suits me but I need not wander far. Time will pass. While it does, the area will start to refill with creatures. But they are not static spawns. All that I can count on is that a) it will never increase to the level it was originally (but will always be enjoyable to adventure in) and b) the creature mix will be appropriate for that area. Somewhere in grid A1 are kobolds, pernicious penguins and rocking skeletons with awesome spines. I simply return and hunt some more in an area I find comfortable, familiar and yet not like it was before.
Oh, the loot? Also dynamically generated. Just because you find Fire Bomb of the Platypus on the kobold chieftain the last four times in a row doesn't mean you will ever find it there again. Random number generators are funny that way.
Such a large game world (seamless at that) might seem daunting. And when you see it in all at once, it is quite startling. You expect me to cover all of that! I have to review all of that? Oh, the magic of 1s and 0s. I've mentioned the environments - the swamps, there are no swamps like this in any game I've played to date (ok, none that have launched) - but there are cities. Cities on water. And water has boats. The nice thing about boats is they act as nifty "teleport" systems from one point to the next getting rid of those pesky run times. Phew.
Back to the city... Grunwald had pulled out the Shadow Warrior - Gruk we'll call him - by now and he strode into town, big and burly and imposing. And some of the citizens bowed in obeisance. Others fled in flight. Huh. "That whole deity thing," I'm thinking but it's one of the features they're keeping under wraps, so I could only see the results and not the reasons. Cool, nonetheless.
We stopped in at the local blacksmith and turned in a worthless rune for a new sword. Then Gruk proceeded to smash a few barrels and boxes on his way out. Ah, the familiar feel of an RPG.
Then...our mount arrived. Not so classic.
I'm not actually sure what a hellhound looks like or should look like but apparently, Gruk rode one. It appeared to run around on its knuckles, hard plates on its back, was some sort of silverish-grey and red...it was nasty looking. But it most assuredly helped in a fight. What's more, Gruk was not hindered in the least by riding it. Each of his special moves was still available even when mounted.
Riding Gruk around I noticed all the little details - farms with crops planted, lampposts, a rabbit crossing our path, fountains, rope bridges, a rabbit crossing our path...
Yeah. The rabbit follows you throughout the game. If it wasn't so cool (and if it were possible), I might have killed it.
In multi-player, this game should absolutely shine. With 16 players in LAN or WAN capabilities, drop-in for Xbox Live and more hours in single player than I can calculate at 6 races - 4 with 2 factions - and lots of content, this should keep even the most avid action-RPG player busy for months if not years. Downloadable content could extend it for a very long time. It is always nice to see a game as canonical as Sacred get a new lease on life - especially when that new lease is both as ambitious and as concrete an improvement as this prequel. The next time I hear "Let's play something with stats and loot, and quests," I'm betting Sacred 2: Fallen Angel is the game we reach for.
My children both play games so I often play them first, getting to know exactly how something may effect my sensitive and easily stimulated older child vs. my stoic and imperturbable younger.
I like games for games; for the pure enjoyment of them and believe that no game is wholly bad, though some are real stinkers.
I also have the dexterity of a camel in mittens so find playing FPSs difficult (and I also don't like the gore) and RTSs at times can stump me. I just can't seem to move quickly enough to keep up with them. Some of my favorite games are arcade games and I'll spend 3-5 years on the same 5-6 levels because I just never get any better. But, I have fun.