Hack-and-slash role-playing games have long been better fits on the PC than they have been on consoles. There have been exceptions to that rule of course, and now Sacred 2: Fallen Angel is making another appeal for genre fans to kick the mouse to the curb. The Ascaron Entertainment game makes its debut on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 just over six months after it first arrived for the PC, but this doesn't seem like a port. This is actually a slight refinement of the earlier game, and the improved interface and the often overlooked couch-comfort factor make it easier to enjoy the epic length of the adventure. There are still too many problems with the monotonous quest design and the unwieldy size of the game world for this to be a top-shelf action RPG, but it's a little closer to that status than its PC cousin.
With that said, developer Ascaron Entertainment isn't reinventing the wheel here. Sacred 2 is a Diablo double in every possible way. As is typical in action-first RPGs, there isn't much of a plot. You take on the role of the usual muscle-bound warrior or kooky mage in the medieval fantasy land of Ancaria, playing as a hero in the light campaign or as a villain in the campaign of shadows. No matter which side you choose, though, the gameplay is all about slaughtering thousands of monsters, looting their corpses, and leveling up. Trouble is being caused by the high elves and T-energy, a glowing magic fluid that serves as Ancaria's oil and is pumped all over the land in pipelines. But beyond that, you're marooned between vague plot quests and odd jobs.
Without a worthwhile narrative, you're left too much on your own, juggling a diverse array of quests. A lot of time is spent hoofing it around the huge map, because quests are spread far and wide and the teleportation system is lacking in gates. All of this exploration can be very intriguing, however, as it immerses you in what seems to be a living and breathing fantasy world. Getting hit with a rat-a-tat-tat succession of assignments keeps you rolling, too. Since just about every guy on the corner needs an errand run, you get offered jobs every time you turn around. Granted, a lot of quests involve stereotypical chores like rescuing some hapless wanderer, finding magical herbs, and killing set numbers of monsters. But even then, the sheer number of them hook you into a "one more quest" vibe that is almost hypnotizing.
Game mechanics are typical for the genre. There are six pre-rolled characters to choose from when you're starting your adventure, including standards like the high elf mage and the seraphim battlemage, as well as the decidedly weird temple guardian warrior, which is a robot version of the ancient Egyptian god Anubis, who clanks around Ancaria with a melee weapon and a laser blaster. Basic character stats and skills are handled in the same way as in any other RPG. So you gain experience, level up, dole out points to attributes like strength and charisma, and pick from a skill tree that branches out to deal with everything from proficiencies with specific weapons to foot speed to ability regeneration times. Each character class also comes with special abilities, and you can choose a god at the start of the game that bestows an added attribute. The latter powers function a lot like souped-up smart bombs. They come with big-time pyrotechnics and effects that can instantly end battles against even the largest hordes of enemies. The Will-O-Wisp, for example, can incinerate dozens of foes at the same time that it heals your friends.
However, some aspects of Sacred 2 have been tweaked so it stands a little apart from the crowd. Most noteworthy is the new interface that shifts the game from mouse-and-keyboard to gamepad. Character-building, interface, and special-ability functions have been perfectly mapped to trigger buttons and the D pad on both the 360 and PS3 controllers. Even if you're accustomed to playing with a mouse-and-keyboard you'll likely prefer the gamepad after an hour or so of play. Multiplayer is also enhanced in comparison with the PC version of the game, since single-player is seamlessly integrated with the Net over both Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. Solo campaigns can be set so other players can drop in and out at will when you're online. And you can also wander the game world with buddies in a free-play setting or take on all comers in competitive play.
Other innovations have been held over from the PC edition of the game. Unlike in most action RPGs, there are no magic points or mana to manage. Special abilities revive over set periods of time based on skill levels and the use of magic runes found throughout the game. Loot drops can be scooped up with a single button push that instantly gathers everything within a set radius, making battle cleanups a snap. Mounts can be purchased fairly early on in the game to crank up the offensive abilities of character classes.
Sacred 2's look has been carried over intact from the PC. Both the 360 and PS3 versions of the game are gorgeous, although the latter has a slightly choppier frame rate and is a little more jaggy. Most of the game takes place in picturesque sylvan scenes that include flower-strewn fields, dense forests, and bubbling brooks, along with mountain and desert terrain reminiscent of postcards. It's a shame that the world wasn't cleaned up somewhat for the consoles, though, because the landscape is still so meticulously sculpted that you run into many "can't get there from here" dead ends. Impassable cliffs, uncrossable rivers, and impenetrable forests force you to check the full-screen map constantly to avoid getting stuck. Character art and animation are superb. Many creatures in the game are given distinctive touches that separate them from fantasy archetypes. Kobolds, for instance, are wizened gnomes with massive schnozzes, not the little lizard-goblin things of Dungeons & Dragons fame. Earth elementals are muddy flying spirits. Even generic fantasy monsters tend to show off at least one distinctive design element, like the weird spiky helmets on skeletal undead. Each type of creature also generally comes in a half-dozen or more varieties with differing appearances and abilities, from grunts all the way up to bosses.
The audio adds some personality as well. Background music and battle effects deal in the usual string-plucking and sword-clashing, but the game also has a unique take on some tunes and character voices. Part of the soundtrack consists of licensed songs from German hair-metal band Blind Guardian, which works well in the headbanging opening but isn't quite so enjoyable during the game itself, since you're forced to listen to the same three-chord combat theme every time you get into a fight. Character lines are rarely serious. Droll commentaries continually break the fourth wall. Dying enemies will mutter things like "I knew it, I'm nothing more than an extra" and "I know where you parked your car, player!" And heroes shout typical battle cries and make in-joke comments such as "My statistics continue to improve."
Sacred 2 isn't the greatest hack-and-slasher, but it's a slickly put-together one with tons of quests that will give you dozens of hours of playing time both online and off. Even with its repetitive missions and other design issues, like so many other reasonably well-crafted kill-loot games it has a way of getting under your skin and keeping you entranced for hours at a time.