Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Sacred Plus is not an original game. Even the packaging makes references to the all time genre daddy of PC roleplaying games, Diablo. Sacred Plus with its isometric viewpoint and fast clicking combat owes Diablo a great debt, as well as showing influences from other giants in the field such as Baldur’s Gate and Everquest. However this is not to denigrate Sacred Plus from the offset, far from it. Very few games nowadays offer truly new experiences, the big test is how a game builds on its influences and shapes them into a worthwhile gaming experience. Sacred Plus has pulled together various key elements of the rpg genre to create a slick, fast-paced and very enjoyable game which should appeal especially to those who fancy some Orc slaying action but who don’t have the time to commit to some of the more epic games about.
Sacred Plus is not actually a brand new game; it is in fact an updated version of the original Sacred game released earlier in 2004. It is not an expansion pack either as the full game is included plus all the fixes, additions and balance tweaks previously available as patches. New features include two new areas to explore and a slew of new sub-quests to undertake. Lest anyone who purchased the original game feel cheated, the Plus part is also available to download free of charge to anyone who has registered their original copy of the game at the company’s website located at wwww.sacred-game.com
Once the game is up and running (and it doesn’t require a monster PC, a Pentium 4 and 64Mb graphics card will see it running happily with full textures and detail) you are treated to a cinematic opening which fills in some of the games back story. This is fairly straightforward stuff, a long banished wicked magician is once again causing trouble, it’s up to you to help fight his evil plans and turn the tide against him. Once the introductions are over with you get to choose which character you’ll be taking those dark forces on with. So far, so familiar.
However when you come to the character screen a pleasant surprise awaits you. Rather than the usual choices which tend to see you having to take a character which might be very strong but useless at magic, or vice-versa, the game presents six character types which although based on familiar stereotypes have the potential to be proficient in both magic, melee and ranged combat. The Gladiator primarily is a hulk designed to hit things very hard at close range. The Wood Elf attacks from long range with bows while the Dark Elf favours quick close combat with traps set to further damage enemies. Both the Battle Mage and The Seraphim are accomplished magic users who can also hold their own in melee combat. Perhaps the most intriguing character is the Vampiress, during the games day cycle she is a powerful knight but come the night, she can change into her vampire form able to inflict much more damage and even get enemies to fight alongside her for a time using her Vampire’s kiss.
It does make a nice change to be offered magic using characters that don’t fall down and die the minute a tiny goblin prods them with a dagger, and with all characters you quickly find you need to use all the abilities you can muster to make it through. Learning new abilities is where Sacred Plus is different from other games in the genre. Rather than having abilities tied to the characters growth, with new ones unlocked as characters level up, skills are taught via Runes found in the game. These are dropped by powerful enemies, found in treasure chests or awarded to you after a quest is successfully completed.
You have eleven to twenty ability slots to fill (depending on the character). The first time you activate an ability rune you learn the spell or skill. Find more of the same and you will learn the skill to the next level. This means with a bit of luck and a lot of questing early on you can have some pretty powerful abilities in your arsenal within your first few hours of play, such as the mage being able to trap foes in a ring of ice, or the Gladiator being able to hit all nearby opponents at once. There is also a level based skill system on top of this. Your character begins with two skills and six more can be learned as you attain certain levels, but these are passive skills only (ie improving your fighting ability or raising your magic power). You can add points into these skills upon levelling up, and also one point to boost your stats (the game raises your stats to match the character). This is both a good and bad thing. It is good because it means that you won’t end up with a character who has been rendered useless at higher levels due to bad decision early on. But bad in that your character is not massively customisable and lacks the sense of uniqueness you get when you have worked hard making a character in Diablo 2.
That’s not to say some strategy can’t to be used when building your character. Sacred Plus has no “mana” (magic energy) system. There is not a separate bar that expends points when abilities are used. However all abilities have a “warm up” time before they can be used again. The speed of this is dictated by how high the abilities level is and how high the characters mental regeneration ability is. Before you decide to level up an ability it will inform you how much the ability will be increased by and its up to you if you think its worth the few extra seconds trade-off for more power and effectiveness. Sometimes it is worth hanging onto some runes until your mental regeneration can compensate for the extra time added.
Armour, weapons and accessories can also boost this as well as giving your character skill, attack and magic boosts. Some also come with sockets, in which your ability runes can be placed by a friendly blacksmith, giving more passive boosts and increased stats. The equipment system is to be frank, almost identical to Diablo 2, right down to how the things are named, to the magic chest you can store them in. However you get tonnes of storage space in both your backpack and chest and you can also equip up to five different weapon/shield combinations onto hotkeys. This means you can swap between two-handed bow, to sword and shield, to magic stave and back very quickly, so combat can be approached in a number of ways. This works especially well with characters like the Battle Mage who can start a fight using a magic staff to boost their magic power then mop up the remainder using a sword.
You certainly have plenty of enemies to fight. Each character starts in a slightly different place, but after the introductions to combat are over, the main quests are the same. Marked on your map will be the place you need to travel to further the story, but within that restriction you are free to explore as much of the huge land as you want right from the start which is of course teaming with Orcs, Thieves, Wolves and other such nasties. Each town you visit will be full of people needing you to escort them safely, or clear out an area full of enemies or assassinate someone and rewards of gold, runes and experience for these subquests mean you level up nice and quickly. You can also forge weapons that increase experience gathered with each kill and take potions that temporarily enhance experience acquired. This gives the game a feeling of tremendous pace and you never get the sense of being held back and needing to go specifically levelling up to move the story onwards.
Another nice touch is your horse. Right from the first town you find with a stable you can purchase a horse to ride. This not only allows you to zoom across large areas quickly, but can also be a valuable friend in battle. Horses soak up damage and increase the power of your attacks, you can buy bridles that beef them up, but they can also be killed so you need to treat them with some care. If your trusty steed has been left somewhere far away, you can whistle and it trots up. It’s a really good addition to the game and one that many other games would make you wait to experience.
Even the enemy and ally artificial intelligence is of a good standard. Weak or non-combat allies will duck out of fights and return when you have slain all. Enemies attack in packs and will fall back if many are killed or wounded, which is quite amusing in some cases as you chase down that last damn goblin, only to find he has led you into another pack of violent Orcs! Enemies also have a coloured ring around them, grey means the enemy is very weak and will offer little experience, the colours then rise from green, yellow, orange with red being the toughest. Grey enemies tend to ignore you as you walk or ride past them, red ones will chase you to the ends of the earth!
Graphics and soundwise it looks nice but not spectacular. Everything is crisply designed and the character models are good. It’s nice to see every piece of armour appear on your character and their look changes visibly as you change items around. There are still a few problems with the “pathfinding” of your character, if you click a spot on the ground too far away your character tries to take the shortest route and can end up running round in circles behind a wall. Remounting your horse if you leave it parked to close to a wall or tree can be difficult to, sometimes forcing you to run away until you can call it back to you and mount it in an open area. The voice acting is adequate, although very few characters speak other than your own. They do have some pithy lines and there are quite a few jokes to be found decorating stones in graveyards or from the kids who zoom around after you when you reach a town.
There is also an online mode where you can play cooperatively, either following the plot, or simply exploring. Player Vs. Player is also supported with players let loose on the map and able to kill each other as well as the enemies. The games makers Ascaron do not support the original Sacred game online anymore, if you wish to play Sacred online you need Sacred Plus or the Plus download.
All-in-all, Sacred Plus is an extremely enjoyable game. It won’t appeal to the really hardcore gamer as the speed in which levels can be attained coupled with the fairly restricted customisation of your character means it is rather shallow in comparison to most other games around. However not everyone has the time to undertake epic ten hour bouts of gaming every day simply to push their character up a level. Sacred Plus offers a simpler alternative. The characters on offer are all very satisfying to use and replay value can be gained from both playing the game through once with each of them, and also unlocking the games higher difficulty levels keeping the challenge high as you carry levelling up. Sacred Plus is not a classic game, but it is a well made, exciting and above all fun PC rpg that never feels like a chore to play. If you are new to the genre and looking for a good entry level game then Sacred Plus is definitely a great game to start with and its available at budget price to!