Sometimes, reviewers have all the luck. With Diablo III firmly on the Christmas wish-list and Dragon Age pushed to later in the year, Sacred II: Fallen Angel finally drops onto XBOX 360 at the perfect time for Role Playing dungeon crawlers.
However the game has actually been out on PC for well over a year and released even in the US on consoles for over six months. Plagued with a loss of publishers, Australia is next in line. All Age Gaming has secured an exclusive preview, thanks to an early release in the UK. See what Ancaria has to offer, after this!
Rewarded with a collectors edition, at the same price as the Australian normal edition release, there is almost too much gameplay to mention in just one review. With a maximum level cap of 200 this is not an RPG for the faint hearted; or easily distracted. Perseverance and patients along with a fair amount of grinding though will reward the dedicated player with the best loot Ancaria has to offer.
Sacred has never tread far from the tradition of such role playing games as Diablo falling somewhere between the endless looting of said title with just a hint of story elements seen in more classical games like Baulders Gate and Never Winter. A high fantasy game, Fallen Angels builds on these but adds a just a little bit of ‘steam punk’ with a mechanical character class and music by none other than Power Metal band Blind Guardian.
Although set 2000 years before the first Sacred in a more brutal and primeval land of Ancaria, the character classes follow suite directly. Seraphim make a welcome return in addition with the new ‘mechanical cyborg’ Temple Guardian class. Ascaron Entertainment has attempted to try something new here, replacing standard magics with energy batteries, staffs with guns. It works and is refreshing but highlights some of Sacreds greatest flaws. As hard as it tries to stack up against the heavy weights of RPG history, not to mention all the MMOs on the market, it can never quite find the right mix of fantasy and metal, combat and story.
The world map is absolutely staggering encompassing all the zones and environments one would come to expect. Traversing this distant though is less than perfect. There are portals at certain intervals and yet, once one portal is activated; another is killed, meaning a lot of running over large distances. There are way points at certain intervals and yet, once one is activated; another is killed, meaning a lot of running over large distances. There are also ‘central’ town nexus that link to anywhere but are few and far between, good though for starting out on a new raid. Anywhere else and you have to run or ride your mount, cleaning out enemies along the way. Restricting movement in this way means the most effective strategy is to clean each zone before moving on, which can become repetitive as the scenery changes little and the enemies are all the same.
Boasting over 200 quest means almost one per level and with a choice of light and shadow campaigns there is just enough variety to keep things interesting. Ascaron and publishers Deep Silver have tried to add features that appeal to newcomers post World of Warcraft as well as those familiar with where RPG’s have come from. Further, Sacred offers an easy interface into Role Playing on the console market.
With J-RPGs such as Final Fantasy stock standard, and Fable a glut of micro-managed simulations, it is refreshing to find something so familiar on the new generation of gaming devices. There are some issues with mapping the controls but it could be said that without a mouse and keyboard, Deep Silver has done the best job possible. The four face buttons are mapped to either weapons, spells or combos but additionally the left and right trigger activate two more layers, effectively raising the number of slots to twelve. This is easily sufficient whereby a skilled player has all weapons mapped to the face with magic and combos underneath. Four face buttons are also technically superior to a two-button mouse allowing for quick and fluid change of range and melee attacks. Combos mean even further micro management as you can chain up to three magics together into one powerful attack.
One crit to the dps of this epic, is that Fallen Angels has a rather steep learning curve and can not be approached so easily by the casual or unassuming gamer. It is excellent for those with experience in role playing and yet games like Fable continue to highlight the benefits of ‘one button fits all size of attacks’. Unique character class mounts are a welcome addition as well as a single uber attack per class that be used to either kill large hordes at once or provide additional shields and amour. The occasional massive boss makes the grinding and same quests worthwhile while always active four player drop in, drop out co-op is just the final reason to own this must have title.
Spamming enemies into oblivion is only as entertaining as the graphics supporting it and thankfully Sacred II drops the goods. Although a long time coming this is actually Sacreds first foray in 3D as the previous title was an isometric sprite based affair. The color pallet and environments have translated lovingly though; as it is obvious a lot of care has been put into representing all corners of Ancaria.
At this end of the first decade of the 21st Century though, with many games experimenting in very visual and over stylized themes, Fallen Angels is at odds to mix them all together. The graphics are clean and wonderfully lit as you run between fields of grass and sandy coasts but after a while, there is only so much wonderfully rendered foliage you can take. It seldom rains in Ancaria and the nights are all too short. Character classes are well defined and distinct and it is nice to see that this time each character has their own starting zone and ‘story’. Ascaron have learnt a lot from recent MMOs and applied them to their single player experience well.
Issues with graphics really arise with the camera and porting from the PC. Other games like Too Human have done a worse job at representing a game world, but for some it is still unforgivable that a game will load every few steps in a major city as it chugs to render in the models. Hopefully this can be addressed with patches as generally the draw distance is exceptional. The camera allows a very intimate view of the battle but has some issues inside houses and dungeons while running up stairs shows the extent of graphics popping in and out.
Definitely not a game breaker though and a far cry from the well document glitches at launch on the PC; there is also the occasional screen tear and lag. The menus and interface seem thrown together for the port which is unfortunate as again a lot of care has been taken to include every detail possible.
In the end it is one of the most faithful ports for the XBOX in recent years alongside such games as the ‘Orange Box’ which for once actually makes you feel like you are playing a PC game on your console and not some dummied down copy.
Finally, the deal breaker for many people comes in the form of shiny loot and unlike more recent efforts on the XBOX there is plenty to be had. Like any good RPG there are epic drops and armor sets and also basic socketed items to add fire or poison to your weapons. Character animations are fine although sometimes the game won’t register a button press for weapon change until you physically stop, wait and try again. Magics are suitably beautiful and there is just enough technology and guns in the game to keep things interesting.
Even more so than the graphics, RPGs ride on the backs of their music, with such vast environments and obscure themes that sometimes the only way to convey a feeling for the location is through sound. As much as Orcs and Elves never really existed, the music in Sacred can certainly send you there; back to a simpler time of fetch quests and escort missions. Incorporating just a touch of steam punk this time around, Ascaron has leveled up, enlisting the talents of Power Metal band Blind Guardian as well. This is not such an odd mix as would first seem as lyrics are few and far between. The music carries the players’ journey, while NPC will actually sing their songs in different towns. The developers have made good use of Blind Guardian in promoting Sacred as there is nothing quite unique as seeing said band perform ‘live’ in game but replaced with character models on stage.
Mostly the music is dulcet and brooding reminiscent exclusively to Diablo II and adding weight to the loneliness and isolation of leveling up, alone.
The value of buying either the normal edition or collectors is in the eye of the beholder with bonuses such as a full world map, Seraphim model and a CD full of music. Depending on your tastes in power metal the CD alone might be enough to pay the extra price, but for the hundreds of hours of content and gameplay, levels and loot plus unique mounts, Sacred is as good as any RPG/MMO on the market.
Unfortunately Fallen Angels on any platform is going to slip under the radar. With such a botched release schedule of different publishers and a less than spectacular launch on the PC many people have either given up or moved on. It has been a long wait for Australian consoles, but the wait; has been worth it.
It has been a long and unnecessary wait to play a game, which by all rights has been available to everyone else for almost a year. Despite some graphical glitches patients has been rewarded because apart from Fallout 3 there is scant other western role playing games on the console. The quality of the game is captivating and comes at the best time to carry over into the dominating Christmas season.
AAG Score: 8.5/10
1. Refreshingly true to form RPG of old
2. Beautiful Graphics
3. Endless gameplay opportunities
4. Power Metal in game concert
1. Steep learning curve
2. Too massive for the casual gamer
3. Some graphical bugs
4. Too much metal is never enough
Reviewed and Written by Ian Crane