Developer/Publisher:  Ascaron
Year Released:  2004

Review by Rosemary Young (May, 2004)
Sacred is set in Ancaria, a familiar fantasy world of goblins, ghosts, trolls and dragons. It has a multiplayer as well as a single player mode and it's an action RPG with realtime combat. This review relates to the single player mode only. Although others have found patching essential to overcome various problems, I had only a manageable slowing down near the end and didn't bother with the patch.

The excellent opening movie shows an upstart necromancer summon a demon and get more than he bargained for. Now the land is not only in peril as a consequence of this suicidal conjuring, but there's internal trouble brewing too. The King is on his deathbed, the heir has yet to secure his place and, of course, there's a scheming contender with his eyes on the top job. But this is just the backdrop as you set out on this journey. Though you do move through a story it doesn't overpower your treasure hunting or monster bashing.

Pick your partner
You have a choice of 6 characters classes: Gladiator, Seraphim, Wood Elf, Dark Elf, Battle Mage and Vampiress ... three of each gender, and no prize for guessing which one is the Vampiress. This means that if you have a preference for either male or female then your choice is limited. Along with Vampiress the other females are the Seraphim and Wood Elf, the remainder are male of course. Although they have tactics in common, each character has their own combat style. The Gladiator relies on close combat, the Wood Elf on ranged combat, the Mage on spells and the winged Seraphim is somewhere in between. Not surprisingly the Vampiress has some special attacks for the night and the Dark Elf has a range of traps to fling.

Just pick your character in the opening screen, type in a name and you're away. You don't have to distribute any stats at this point. Each character makes a different entrance but their continuing journey merges.

However, you will want to build up your character as there are some serious fights to face, and a LOT of them because respawning is generous to say the least. Fight your way along a path to enter a village, for instance, then when you emerge fight your way out because your enemies are back in force. Any backtracking you do, ditto. So you go up levels quickly and at each new level, as well as acquiring automatic improvements to your stats, there is a point available to allocate to your primary attributes. And, depending on your level a few points are available to improve your skills. There are some shared skills but some are specific to different characters. At various levels there is also the opportunity to add new skills to your repertoire, hence there is room to craft your character.

A big, beautiful land
Ancaria is a massive place with many different terrains such as grasslands, snowy plains, deserts, lava fields, high plateaus and the like. The graphics are excellent and very detailed; it rains, it snows and day and night come and go though you never seem to sleep. Villages are quaint and interesting to explore and the kids follow you around making kiddie comments and poking fun. The larger towns and strongholds are places to get lost in with narrow streets, bridges, markets, and multi-level dwellings, sometimes climbing hillsides and built on multi-levels.

The gameworld is completely open, you can go wherever you like right from the start although your character will give a timely warning if you're getting out of your depth. And right from the start you also join in the story and are given a task to perform or a person to meet who will in turn give you another task and point you to your next step on the main journey. You can follow your objective immediately or, if you're smart, build up some experience by doing favours and completing a few side quests.

There are dozens of these, many random too, although they can get repetitive after a while. Your journal lists them as you pick them up and marks them off as completed (or not). They are familiar fantasy fair, some are urgent and must be performed within a day or two, others are open ended. Your diary shows a picture of where you need to go and your map marks the spot so you can easily find the caves or the wood where the lost child is waiting, or the ruins that are overrun by the dead. Your map also marks the spot for your next destination in the continuing story so there's plenty to do and plenty of guidance. Occasionally another character will join you for a leg of the journey, but you don't control them in any way. Nor do you get to know them because they are totally mute.

Fighting for your life
There are two difficulty levels in single player mode so you can adjust the difficulty of the fighting, but you can't get away from it. Just pointing and clicking takes care of the matter and you don't have to click like crazy because holding down the left mouse button sets the fighting in motion until you release it or your opponent expires. There is an array of 'special moves' to acquire such as hard hit or multi-hit although these vary with different characters. There are spells too, of course, and other special powers such as Blood Kiss for the Vampiress. These are displayed in slots at the bottom right of the screen. Once selected a right mouse click puts them into action. Mirrored on the left side of screen are slots for weapons and shields. You begin with one slot for each but they increase as your experience increases.

Weapons, spells or special moves can be selected with the mouse pointer or the number keys. As you progress you will also prepare combos of moves and assign them a slot. Perhaps a spell to disable your enemy, coupled with a lightning bolt then followed by a hard hit as you go in the for the kill. It works quite well although I can imagine it would get hectic with too much chopping and changing in a single battle. I survived nicely by keeping weapon changes to a minimum and using the number keys to select fighting tactics. My Seraphim's whirling hit worked a treat when surrounded and knocked everything to a safe distance.

What else?
As well as looking out for enemies whilst you're on the move there are treasures to collect too. Watch out for a sparkle to find a magic hiding place, and there's the ubiquitous chests and barrels to loot. In fact there's plenty of gold to collect, and weapons, armour and jewellery with various enhancements. Some items have slots for further improvement at the blacksmith's. There's so much loot, including what you collect from your fallen foes, you're sure to be overloaded regularly. Short cut keys make it easy to pick up everything in sight or just to collect gold if you can't carry more, and there is also a handy shortcut to identify things of interest in each location.

Most of your journey in this game is above ground but you do get a taste of dungeon crawling. Outside there are grazing animals meandering around and you can chat to people in the towns and get some snippets of news. You can also buy a horse and try combat on horseback although you lose access to some of your best moves so I discounted horse riding early on. The perspective is overhead and at an angle but you can zoom in close to the action as well. There's lots of good ambient sound and the music is first-rate too if you've got time to listen.

All in all Sacred is certainly a game for fighting fanatics. I thought the combat was too constant but it is an action RPG. I also found occasionally that it didn't go as smoothly as planned. Sometimes it took some extra clicking to get my character to start fighting, in the meantime she took some damage. But this wasn't constant and she certainly shaped up to be a consummate champion. If you're not looking for an intricate story and lots of character interaction then there's quite a fun and hectic journey to be had through the troubled land of Ancaria. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Pentium III (or compatible) 800 MHz Processor, 256 MB RAM, 1.6 GB free Hard Drive space with at least 400 Mb Swap-file, DirectX 8 Graphics Card with 16 Mb Memory, Sound Card with DirectX Compatibility, Windows 98SE, ME, 2000 or XP. Note: Windows 98 FE (First Edition) is not supported.
For Multiplayer modes 56K Modem (Internet) or Network Card (LAN) is required DirectX 9 (supplied on CD-ROM)
Pentium 4 (or compatible) 1.4 GHz Processor (or higher), 512 MB RAM, 1.6 GB Hard Drive space with at least 900 Mb Swap-file, DirectX 9 3D Graphics Card with 64 Mb (or higher) Memory, DirectX 9 compatible Sound Card.
For Multiplayer modes a DSL-Modem (Internet) or 100 M-bit Network Card (LAN) Windows 2000 (Service Pack 4) or Windows XP (Service Pack 1), DirectX 9.0b.