The Sacred series has never quite curried the favor of consumers and critics, as a quick glance at review scores in years past indicates several 70-79 ratings. Mired in mediocrity as it carries on in Diablo’s shadow, the hack-and-slash series has taken a side-step with Sacred Citadel, a game that turns RPG brawler in the same vein as games such as Dungeon Fighter Online, but with less MMO and more frustrated forum-goers who can’t connect with friends.
Sacred Citadel treads new territory with a looming evil manipulating the race of orcs into hunting for an artifact that will grant him power. The likes of such narrative are matched only by BioWare and Square (circa 1994). Serious commentary aside, the fate of the area/world/handful of villages(?) lies in the dual-wielding hands of one of four heroes: warrior, ranger, mage, and shaman. Rather than create my upteenth iteration of fatty, coward, or nerd, I went with the the shaman, a class that specializes in some combination of the three and teamplay. This seemed like a particularly apt choice, considering that I couldn’t get my gamepad to work for local co-op, a problem that has plagued the creators since its release.
In true brawler fashion, I encountered exploding barrels, environmental hazards, minor platforming, walled off sections of the map that I had to bust through with repeated strikes for some reason, and the same five enemies with palette swaps. For those unaware of what a traditional brawler entails, each level within the five acts is a quasi-3D side-scrolling venture that requires pressing regular attack a couple times and then closing with a finisher; this is called a combo. As one progresses, more abilities unlock, which require pressing a movement before the finisher in a series of attacks. This adds some flavor to the old school formula exploited here, but with such repetition in level and enemy design, I quickly fell into a pattern dependent on the enemy, repeating this cycle throughout the game.
Although enemies change colors, the only substantive alteration is in their stats. Some “harder” enemies seem to enjoy one or two extra abilities, but the AI remains the same; any other change didn’t garner my attention. Variety is a commodity not shared with new adventurers, which I discovered as I first ventured into the land of Sacred Citadel, cleaving muscly, better-equipped orc after muscly, better-equipped orc. Fortunately, my shaman had me behind the controls, and I wasn’t about to stand still for three full seconds before getting slashed lightly once.
Rest assured, the initial, mindless grind ceased relatively quickly as I encountered a sub-boss in the act and had to use a potion to heal fully. Later, I had to kill regular enemies while avoiding one of the many lumbering oafs in the hopes of gaining corn or a Granny Smith apple. However, depending on enemy drops alone won’t cut the mustard in future acts; I learned to hoard my potions for boss fights. The game discourages this, though, as is indicated by the three-potion limit per type. The three types are healing, rage, and power. Initially, players will only encounter healing potions, but the power potion becomes more plentiful in act two, followed by the rage potion in act three. Rage increases strength momentarily, I never found out what healing potions did, and power increases a character’s power meter by one chunk, allowing them to use a super ability depending on the amount of gauge filled. Typically, characters gain power by gutting enemies, but drinking liquids seems to do the trick, as well.
As far as RPG elements are concerned, each act of Sacred Citadel offers a town with the exact same merchants inhabiting its open space without defenses from the plentiful orc horde. This unimaginative landscape engorged with function and lacking in flavor offers new equipment, crystals that grant temporary stat boosts, challenges that players can partake in, and a blacksmith that lets players change equipment. However, since drops are so infrequent and equipment lacks any semblance of strategy, I’m not sure why anyone would change to something with a smaller number. The shops can be helpful for a quick boost, but you better bet your biscuits that you’re going to find something stronger in the next level or two. Alternatively, the challenges allow players to tackle one of the levels for a fee, attempting to topple a time, skewer a score, or deftly avoid death. However, the monetary gains are meaningless for the reasons mentioned earlier.
Leveling up happens frequently, which would be exciting if this game had any customization aside from allotting stat points into one of four basic, uninspired categories. Some sort of combo system that allowed for a more unique and developed experience would fill the game out a bit, but as it stands, this game is more mindless brawler than role-playing game. With the inadequate use of towns, predictable story (their words, not mine), and flat character customization, Sacred fans will feel swiftly punched in the gut while average consumers will leave their seats enraged (no blue rage potion required).
In terms of presentation, Sacred Citadel enjoys a deceptively simple graphic style in its shading. The art style and coloring are well done, but the lack of appropriate animations and movement within the environment can make the experience feel sterile and bare-bones. The sound and music remain bland and lazy, consistent with the overall feel of the game. Controls are tight and appropriate; of all things, the hit boxes feel intuitive and the platforming is solid.
Sacred Citadel can be mindless fun for ten minutes or so, but the repetition bogs down the experience. Fortunately, the game doesn’t overstay its welcome too much in that it ends within five hours. Slogging through this game on a lazy Sunday will leave most players with a hollow sense of loss of time with little gained from the venture. Sacred Citadel should best be treated as a light romp while waiting for friends to log on to play something multiplayer.