If there is one genre for the PC that has the ability to captivate legions of people, it is the RPG genre. Whether it be offline, online or 'Massive Online', it seems PC gamers just can't get enough of the classic RPG. Sacred, however, attempts to go beyond what is classic and create an identity of its own. It attempts to offer gamers the chance to truly immerse themselves into a world that isn't theirs, and while they're there, it intends to keep them hooked until the wee hours of the morning. It manages to do all three and more pretty damn well.
Single player mode in Sacred is nothing short of a blast. As you build your way up with a new character, you will begin to notice just how extensive the world of Ancaria is, heck, even just looking at the in-game map is enough to tell you how big the place is. You generally follow a mission system where as the game gives you a certain amount of interlocking primary quests to complete which influence the storyline, with sub quests available throughout the world of your choosing which don't directly influence the storyline. These secondary quests are good for experience points and items, and every true RPG gamers knows you don't completely finish a game until every last detail has been dealt with. If you share this belief, Sacred will offer a very extensive single player experience indeed, which can then be experienced over again on a new difficulty setting after first completing on the "Bronze" difficulty.
One of the only major drawbacks for Sacred is its buggy nature. Save often, as you will occasionally get physically stuck, have a skill point problem or in some extreme cases, even lose levels and items. One unlucky fellow online explained to me how he left his inventory open, and was killed by poison, only to find loading his character back up forced him from Level 38 to Level 5. You could tell his story was true as he had all the mid level Gladiator items such as shoulder armor and spiked gloves still in use on his character. Ouch indeed. Of course, the experience point friendly nature of the online mode means you can get levels pretty quickly, but this is nasty nonetheless. Unfortunately, in a closed Internet server (i.e. they host your character info) you obviously can't save your character locally and upload it again later, so if your highest priority is your character and not gameplay itself, stick to open servers which do allow you to use local characters. Such an in-depth RPG naturally has bugs, however it would seem current players are indeed acting as "beta testers" if you will, as the code is far from 100% solid. This wouldn't be so bad if we were in fact beta testers, however of course this is a retail game with a retail price tag, so a word of warning - don't be surprised if you spot a bug now and then. This is very much a maturing game and I imagine it still will be for some time to come.
However, when the game does manage to play smoothly online, it is a very indepth experience. Prepare for some late nights as time is the last thing on your mind when you're sticking by the motto "I'll quit after the next level upgrade", and five levels later, it doesn't change. There are a few basic modes to play in, including Free Mode, Player vs Player mode and campaign mode. Free Mode is a "sandbox" style game where you do whatever you want in the world of Ancaria. You can form parties to go out and slay even the hardest of opponents, and hence rejoicing in the nice experience point reward, or you can look for some good buys or trades with fellow gamers for the seemingly never ending amount of items there are available. The other modes, P vs P and Campaign, are self explanatory, and I personally spent most my time up until this review in Free Mode. The game was tested on a 128K ISDN connection and my experience was laggy unfortunately, but being in Australia this is hardly a surprise. Nevertheless, on most servers I managed to play fine, I did have a hard time collecting the loot from dead enemies due to the lag but I didn't have trouble getting from level 0 to 55 in a week, so my experience was blessed with plenty of fun and action to say the least. I'd also like to point out that many of the fellow Sacred gamers are great people to play with, often higher level players helped me in getting some experience points and even aided with gold, item upgrades and general questions I might have asked.
A minor issue I experienced was the lack of true interaction in the world of Ancaria. Some objects such as doors, people and treasure chests can be interacted with however things like foot sized rocks and water streams 2 feet wide seem to go beyond your physical ability, as you can't walk over either of them. It is true water acts somewhat as a barrier in this game, forcing you to go specific ways, however a world designed around true movement including perhaps the ability to even swim would have been nice, but I would have been happy with just being able to climb certain natural infrastructures such as ground level rocks. Nevertheless, it is a small annoyance and shouldn't pose as much of a problem for most gamers as you learn to just 'go around'.
Controlling your character in Sacred is dead easy thanks to the very efficient control system. Movement is done by left clicking a spot the move to, whilst fighting is done by holding down the left mouse button on an opponent. Depending on your character, you will have special moves called "combat arts" which range from spells to combo's, which can be performed simply by right clicking on an opponent or yourself depending on what the combat art actually does. On top of this, you can easy manage your inventory (which is huge by the way) whilst fighting and moving, and most important functions have a keyboard shortkey (for example, "W" makes your character take "Potion of the Mentor" which aids in experience point development). All in all, the control system in Sacred is one of the best I have ever used in an RPG, it is very easy and well thought out.
Another outstanding aspect of Sacred is the amount of customization it allows for your character. After selecting one of the six character, whether it be the Gladiator, the Seraphim, the Battle Mage, the Wood Elf, the Dark Elf or the Vampiress, you almost literally have access to an unlimited amount of items ranging from helmets and belts to swords and axes. As you progress you will gain access to better items from either a vendor or from a defeated foe, which naturally increases your attributes and ratings. Not only are there plenty of items however, but seemingly identical items can still differ significantly. For instance, one Stone Breaking Axe may have +37% physical damage and +12 attack speed, while another may offer more damage but less speed and some other wildcard rating. And then you have the possibility of obtaining a weapon with specific damage, which can include physical, fire, magic or poison, or a combination. And while you're at it, you could find a set of boots which give you +10 speed and +10 magic resistance, or shoulder guards that give you +7% sight and +15 endurance. The possibilities and combinations are simply endless, and you will have to manage your item selection carefully to create the type of character you want.
And just when you thought that was enough customization, Sacred hits you with the "socket". An item with sockets means it can effectively be upgraded with another slot-able item, such as a ring, an amulet or a rune. Rings generally increase offensive style aspects, like physical damage and attack speed, whilst amulets generally increase defensive aspects like specific types of resistance, however occasionally you will find the opposite to be true. Also, it is possible for a slot item to enhance other aspects like movement speed and vision, and even granting the ability to attack animals is a possibility. At lower levels you generally find items with only 1 or 2 sockets, however as you get higher in the game, expect to see items with 4, 5 or even 6 sockets. As an example, on my level 57 gladiator, I had a total of 22 sockets filled, with my body armor being the highest contributor with 4 of its own sockets. The amount of extra resistance and unique abilities I gained from using these sockets with slot items was simply amazing.
One of the most enjoyable features of Sacred is its humorous nature. Hidden in the land of Ancaria are a few crazy items, including a Jason X mask and bloody machete, a pair of sunglasses at a tropical retreat and a lightsaber, not to mention probably other items either people haven't found yet or that will be included at a later time in a patch. The classic case of the smart mouthed idle character is also present, simply leave your guy or gal there for a few minutes doing nothing and enjoy the response. On top of this, you have plenty of humorous graveyard tombstones to read, and the occasional odd quirk here and there, making Sacred a game of two extremities - a very serious fantasy RPG on one hand, and yet a cleverly humorous RPG on the other.
Visually the game looks fantastic for an RPG, with all character items such as armor and weapons uniquely represented with impressive detail, not to mention fluent animations and very nice environments. Such inclusions as changing times of the day are highly welcomed, with some weather effects as well. Unfortunately the only drawback In the visuals is the performance of the game's graphic engine. At times we did notice frame rate loss and according to a few online communities this is not uncommon. For some reason we also had cut scene performance issues during single player mainly related to the sound cutting in and out, however this may not be a widespread issue. Nevertheless, the bugs in Saceed seem to effect pretty much every fundamental aspect of the game, which is a little disappointing.
There is absolutely no doubt that Sacred is a very impressive game. The sheer amount of content alone and the general high quality feel of the game is enough to make this a must have for most RPG fans. If it wasn't for the bugs and the glitches, this is an easy 90+ game, however we really must send a stern message of "This is retail people, NOT beta testing" to the publisher and developer. Patches have already been released for a few problems, so at least they seem serious about fixing the issues, and it appears to me the developers are very much treating Sacred as a living breathing thing, tending to its needs and wants as dictated by the community. If you don't mind putting up with a few issues then by all means give Sacred a go, this is going to be a very big series with almost instant international success already. Prepare to find out the meaning of addiction folks.