Review: Sacred Citadel

I was disgusted with Diablo III long before the rest of the world figured out how utterly atrocious the game is. That’s not because I’ve got a magnificent brain, although that could certainly be part of it, but more because I’d played far better top-down, grind-tastic action-RPGs – one of them being the Sacred series.

Seriously, if you haven’t played Sacred or Sacred 2: Fallen Angel, and you’re still butthurt about Diablo III, then give them a go. I could list all kinds of reasons (not having to be online to play them for a start), but this review is about another game in the Sacred series. In this case, it’s a spin-off, a different type of game entirely to it predecessors. In fact, when I saw it appear online, I thought it was an indie game and didn’t make the connection at all to the other games until I read a few keywords in the description like “Ancaria” and “Seraphim”.

Once I made the connection and downloaded it, that indie tang didn’t go away entirely. That was a derogatory statement, in case you don’t know my stance on indie games. Even the logo looks amateurish, like something a first-year graphic design student would come up with. Also, apart from knowing a few keywords that link this story to the others, you’d be hard pressed to make the connection even while playing the game. The chunky, illustrative visual style, while impressive, is a complete tonal shift from the serious fantasy art of before. And while Sacred has always had a sense of humour about it, it was sardonic and ambient – Sacred Citadel is more cartoony and in-your-face.

But it should all be fine as long as it’s a fun game, right? In that respect, Sacred Citadel does have a little to offer. The closest thing I can think of to compare it to is Castle Crashers, with some elements of older side-scrolling brawlers thrown in. You, and two friends if you like, pick one of four characters and fight through stage after stage of enemies and bosses, collecting loot, levelling up and learning new attacks.

Each character has their own unique moves and fighting styles – apparently… I dunno, they seemed pretty much the same to me. Regardless of the minor differences between the warrior, ranger, mage and shaman, most of the time you’ll be hitting square, square, square, triangle, trying to stay on one side of the enemies, occasionally dodging their attacks or calling on your special ability.

The weapons don’t help either. Every character dual-wields two melee weapons – even the mage and shaman, if you can believe it – and the weapons all work the same way. There’s no reason to favour one over the other and the only stats they have are damage and maybe an element like lightning or fire. There is some minor variation in that swords have more chance for critical hits, axes are unblockable, and maces have a chance to stun – but it makes so little difference you’ll just constantly equip the higher-damaging weapons regardless of type. Their secondary weapons are slightly different. The shaman and mage zap enemies with magic, the ranger shoots his bow and the warrior swings his hammer. Apart from the ranger, though, the secondary attacks are pretty weak.

It’s a pity, because the stages are nice and varied, the graphics are pleasant and some of the enemies, particularly the bigger ones and the bosses, are well thought out and have challenging attack patterns and weaknesses you have to figure out.

The real problem here is that Sacred Citadel is just okay when it could have been so much better with a little thought. As it stands, it’s little more than a snack until the main course of Sacred 3 comes along. If you liked Castle Crashers, then maybe… but otherwise you wouldn’t be missing much letting this one pass you by.

[Sacred Citadel is available right now on Steam, XBLA and PSN.]