The original Sacred was a massive hit in its native Germany, managing to eclipse even Blizzard's Diablo in terms of sales there. The game may have had less of an impact worldwide, but its domestic success was enough to guarantee a sequel. Offering as huge a game world as the original but running completely in 3D, Sacred 2 is an even more ambitious project for the small development studio of Ascaron. We caught up with the team, which recently moved to new offices in Aachen, as it heads ever closer to the Q1 2008 release, managing to get some play time with the PC and Xbox 360 versions along the way.
The demo we saw revealed some of the different regions in the game, including the cities that Ascaron has modelled on historic European municipalities. Make no mistake: Sacred 2's gameworld is immense, with townships and settlers linked by vast expanses of jungle and desert area. Lying underneath this huge area of topsoil is an equally vast network of dungeons, which combine to practically double the size of what you can see aboveground. Naturally, building this environment has taken a considerable amount of time for the team, who have gone so far as to hand-design every last patch of grass.
Sacred was described as a Diablo clone when it was first released, and even though the genre has changed in the interim, players of Blizzard's masterpiece will recognise the influence. Although now presented in true 3D, you still view your character from an isometric perspective, and use a mixture of hand-to-hand combat, weapons, and magic to attack your foes. Most of the combat occurs in elaborate dungeons, where you have to fight off opposition in order to complete the 400 quests in the game. Travelling around the world would take hours on foot, but you're given a variety of mounts such as tigers--and even dragons--in order to cover ground quickly. Mercifully, you can also use teleportation gates to travel vast distances immediately, although the map itself is darkened out if you haven't been to a specific area before.
The daily cycles in the game will last around 45 minutes in total, with 30 minutes for the day and 15 for night, and the inhabitants of the world will also adhere to this schedule, going about their business during the day and sleeping at night. Missions will revolve around rescuing people, killing creatures, and collecting gold, and the first quest that we saw involved bringing a dog back to a young girl named Mathilda. The attention to detail in the world is pretty spectacular, with authentic-looking fur for the animals and beautiful velvet materials that cover the female warriors. While spot effects such as fire and dust are yet to be placed, the water effects, structural details, and antialiased graphics are all impressive at this stage.
While we'd seen the world of Sacred II a couple of months earlier, it was looking a lot more polished during our latest visit. While both versions had their fair share of glitches and crashes, they were also in a very playable state, allowing us to get to grips with the very different control systems. The PC controls are based around a point-and-click system to move your character around the world, while the artificial intelligence takes care of automatically attacking the nearest adversary. With no mouse on the Xbox 360, you move your character using the left analogue stick, and the camera is taken care of with the right stick. Weapons are assigned to the face buttons so that you can quickly attack with a variety of options, while the potions and spells are mapped to the D pad. You can also use the shoulder buttons as modifiers to offer even more slots for weapons and spells, so there really isn't any restriction in using the control pad. There's also likely to be support for a control pad in the PC version of the game, although this hasn't been confirmed as yet.
Multiplayer support differs between the PC and console versions. While the PC version will offer 16-player multiplayer online, the Xbox 360 is limited to four players because of memory issues. Having said that, each version shares the same basic code and will therefore offer exactly the same features in both single and multiplayer. There will be player versus player and player versus AI arenas to play around with, and you can play the entire multiplayer game cooperatively if you wish. Sadly, there'll be no Shadowrun-style support for cross-platform multiplayer, but two players will be able to play on a single Xbox 360 if they wish.
While Ascaron was very quick to answer all our questions about the gameplay, the company remains cagey when it comes to the storyline. We know that it will be set several hundred years before the events of the first game, meaning that this sequel is actually a prequel. We also know that there'll be six different playable characters and some 400 different quests, the selection of which will change depending on your moral choices as you progress. As is the fashion these days, you'll be able to choose between following a good or a bad path, and you'll face different reactions from non-playable characters as a result.
We saw plenty of promise from Sacred II on our visit to Aachen. The size and detail of the gameworld is enough to impress, while the six characters and 400 quests are enough to provide longevity. Sacred has made a significant leap into 3D for this iteration, and if Ascaron can combine its attention to detail with a compelling storyline, then the game could go on to do even bigger things than its predecessor. We'll find out when it is released in Q1 2008 on PC and Xbox 360.