Version tested: PC
The best way to sum up the allures of Sacred 2 isn't to embark on a thrilling tale in which a myriad of beasts become hacked, slashed and fried by magic - but instead to discuss the map system. So obsessed with micro-management and detail and so (with no offence intended) very German is Sacred 2 that there's an in-game menu with which you can play around with the size, scale, curvature, icon size and overall transparency of the on-screen mini-map. Cartographers of the world, rejoice!
But then: wait! Part two of our earnest discussion of the Sacred 2 map system reveals that even after a 500MB post-release patch the bugged world map will inevitably go missing, leaving you with nothing but a collection of icons hovering above your avatar's head. What Sacred 2 giveth with a small, manicured and delicate hand, it tends to taketh away with a heavier one.
Sacred 2 lives in that most tight-set and hermit-like of genres - the Diablo-esque hack/slash/click RPG. It's a part of the PC gaming firmament whose borders, you'd have thought, would have been increasingly munched away by the MMO boom of recent years. Hype for Diablo III and the success of the original Sacred in its home country, however, suggest not.
The game sees you select your class (now with added good and evil varieties) and sashay your way through the land of Ancaria - left-clicking to attack, right-clicking to use magical rune powers. Every five minutes sees, on average, thirty things die at your hand and through their deaths comes experience, gold, items and all manner of twiddly bits to fine-tune your characters abilities - whether that's runes, buffs or whatever. As ever it's a relentless dance of constantly improving your character in the face of ever-more powerful enemies, and a tangible taste of obsession and compulsion dramatically ensues.
Ancaria is an interesting and pretty place, in a top-down sort of way. Ostensibly it's your average fantasy world but it runs on something called T-Energy, a fantastical blue-flavoured Gatorade that's piped throughout the land. This means you can be happily tromping through the Tolkien-esque landscape, carving your way through elves and wolves, before stumbling upon almost industrial scenes, like workmen fixing a leaky pipe.
It messes with your expectation and also means that character types and enemies alike aren't restricted to the fey and pointy-eared. Notably, the Temple Guardian class is a cyborg rendition of the ancient Egyptian dog-headed god Anubis, replete with a laser gun that lives in his left arm. The storyline, meanwhile, follows an inter-elf and inter-race scrabble for T-Energy, which in turn gets out of hand until said blue effluent warps lumps of Ancaria beyond recognition - and as such has you either fighting an evil campaign to encourage its noxious taint, or being all good and holy and fighting against it in the self-same play area.
All this is well and good, but even the most fervent of role-players will find it quite hard to care about Ancaria's fate - and will instead concentrate on killing more, bigger things in the pursuit of more, bigger weapons. The voice-acting and dialogue don't help matters. The translation from German may be grammatically correct, but it lacks character, texture or tone. Characters bark the same triumphs again and again, while the bizarre humour leaves you mystified. "Well done player!" says my Seraphim as I bring down a column of light to smite my foes. "I should have listened to my wife!" shouts the sixth kobold in about ten minutes as I slay him and look around angrily for his spouse. "I've lost my tickets to a Blind Guardian gig," explains a street urchin in a small rural town beset by the undead. Sadly Sacred 2 isn't the Monty Python-shaped pedestal of hilarity it wants to be, and in turn its tone is unbalanced.
Thankfully though, after a confusing introduction, character creation and development is extremely well thought out. You can tweak your character in every which way but loose - in baseline attributes, in combos, in combat arts, in weapons, in armour, in runes, in skills and in god-based super attacks. Should you want to hook up to a LAN or with up to sixteen people playing online, you're all bound to be distinct. The play area, meanwhile, is agreeably gigantic and the way it unfolds itself as you unlock save/spawn points and fast-travel portals happens at a neat lick. The ability to suck everything collectable in a three-metre radius into your magic satchel by pressing 'q' is also a neat labour-saving device ala Fable.
Beyond this and the collect-n-kill mentality, however, it never feels deeply rooted - troubled by woolly storytelling and daft moments of gameplay and (post-patch) bugs. When someone is following around after you pick up a protection quest, for example, why can't you tell them to go away? People trail around behind you, completely lacking in AI beyond running in the wrong direction when wolves attack, and there's no way of telling them to bugger off if you decide to do something else.
Also, the map bugs mean the game is an outright pain to navigate - not least because of the frequent rocks, cliffs and walls that cause all manner of backtracking, even when you suspect an able-bodied adventurer would be able to get over the shoulder-height ones with no difficulty. The occasional graphical glitches and unexpected crash to desktop don't help matters either. All the problems upset the delicate balance - so much so that even the key-map section of the instruction manual was wrong before and needs to be heavily amended by the patch notes.
Sacred 2 is the best Diablo clone since Titan Quest and its excellent expansion, Immortal Throne, and while the compulsion to play is there, the unholy alliance of clicking and collecting works and works well. The minute that compulsion fades, however, you'll be gone and unlikely to return, lost in a storm of unfettered hype for Diablo III while the realm of Ancaria sips at its T-Energy, stares into the middle-distance, and weeps.
6 / 10