Dungeon crawlers are something of a rare breed these days, but that didn't stop German studio Ascaron from pumping out a follow-up to 2004's Sacred. An action-RPG originally conceived for the PC, Sacred 2: Fallen Angel is aiming to amass a new set of converts on the consoles. But if uninspired gameplay and a severely unpolished exterior are fearful premonitions to look out for, then take heed: this sloppy port provides a less-than-heavenly experience.
Sacred 2: Fallen Angel whisks fans back into the magical realm of Ancaria, where players level up as one of six classes in two separate campaigns: the righteous path of light, or the not-so-nice path of shadow. The classes themselves run the gamut of the traditional, such as the nature-loving Dryad, to the unconventional, like the cybernetic Temple Guardian. Whatever kind of character you choose, you'll give it a name, pick a deity and alignment, and send it off to a summer camp that involves a whole lot of Kobold-slaying.
Sprawling over 22 square miles of digital real estate, Ancaria is a land ripe with quests to shoulder and monsters to slaughter. Exploration is definitely one of the game's few strong suits. Taking a stroll through its winding borders on foot or horseback can result in an unexpectedly enjoyable voyage.
Players can attempt to pick apart the land's troubled tale from the quests scattered throughout the world, but Sacred 2 is ultimately all about loot. There's certainly a lot of it to find. Whether from the corpse of a fallen fiend, the anvil of a blacksmith, or the stock of a merchant, there's tons of equipment and various stat-altering items for eager adventurers to collect.
Paired with the sets of class-specific skill trees you can specialize in, Sacred 2 actually ponies up a meaty set of options with which to custom tailor your characters. Unfortunately, the game isn't quite as diverse in its approach to quests. Like many others before it, Sacred 2's objectives whittle down to killing, escorting, or fetching something on the way to some coin and a shiny new dagger. It's a tried-and-true system that works, but it's not particularly daring or fun.
With its laughable cutscenes and chunks of dry text to sift through, Sacred 2's story doesn't provide a very convincing context for all the grinding. As a result, the game's single-mindedness is wearying-the story elements amount to a series of hollow excuses for you to ramble around the huge world. And come on; you know something's up when townsfolk are all too eager to give a zombie-dog-robot some errands to run.
Then there are the bugs--tons of them, ranging from the miniscule wandering-AI glitch to downright aggravating game freezes. Sacred 2 is an unfortunate example of the worst that can happen with a hasty port, and much of the game's playability suffers as a result.
As the last ace up its sleeve, Sacred 2 touts the ability for players to drop in and out of hosted online multiplayer rooms at their leisure. It's an addition that certainly adds value to its shelf life, but given the game's other marring aspects it's likely that it won't amount to much for most players.
If you've ever played Diablo, or even Gauntlet, then you'll know exactly what Sacred 2 is all about: hacking monsters, chugging potions, and picking up the spoils. Melee strikes and spells are mapped to the four face buttons, with shoulder buttons commanding an alternate palette of skills to hotkey. For what it is, the configuration works, though at later levels it can be difficult to juggle the sheer amount of skills at your disposal. Sacred 2 is clearly meant to be played with a keyboard.
In combat, you'll have your bases covered with an appropriate selection of melee abilities, spells, buffs, and heals. There's enough variety to keep each class' experience unique, though it can be hard at times to wage war with the game's faux-isometric camera angle. It's difficult to see what's immediately in front of you, and the sketchy targeting makes it almost impossible to pull off precisely-aimed spells in the thick of battle.
Ancaria's twisting plains are both a gift and a curse, as slogging through the fields before getting a mount can be a trying ordeal. And though a dedicated few will find themselves committed to Sacred 2's grind-happy focus, most will be immediately turned off by its repetitive nature. The lack of a driving story to propel your efforts is disappointing, and despite the occasional line of giggle-worthy dialogue, there's simply nothing of substance past slashing your way to the next armor upgrade.
Though a bit dated by today's standards, Sacred 2 looked solid on the PC. On the consoles, the game's graphics take a noticeable dip in quality and fluidity. There are frame-rate stutters and visual glitches aplenty, and the much-advertised seamless world is prone to the occasional ugly zone-loading buffer. On the audio front, you'll also be subjected to some of the worst voice acting in recent memory. It's definitely not the prettiest looking game out there, and its overall production values are yet another casualty of the messy console conversion.
Sacred 2: Fallen Angel makes no amends for what it is, and justly takes a hit for it. If you can accept it for its dated gameplay, underwhelming visuals, and pervasive bugs, then you may find something of value in this old-school hack-and-slash RPG. All other prospective dungeon crawlers are best advised to take a pass on this fallen flunk.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.