Unbalanced, but still a great Diablo Clone.

User Rating: 8 | Sacred 2: Fallen Angel PC
While most European RPGs often fall below the radar of American gamers, 2004's "Sacred" was one title I was shocked hadn't caught on with the western world. After all, it had everything American gamers go crazy for. It had boatloads of statistic-laced equipment, an extremely large over world, a never ending stream of dungeons, diverse character classes, beautiful graphics, and free online multiplayer. It was, for lack of a much more eloquent and interesting term, the ultimate Diablo clone.

Though it may not have exactly broken any sales records in the new world, it managed to sell well enough in its homeland to warrant an official sequel. Ascaron, the game's Gütersloh Germany developer, obviously didn't mind that their first game was only played by obsessed hardcore American role players who get a tingle in their spine whenever a new and obscure European RPG is released, since they never seemed too concerned with hyping it up outside of their own country.

However, to those obsessed hardcore RPG'ers, Sacred wasn't a game that needed much improvement. Its only negative aspects were the annoying "web" spell that would continually impede your progress while on horseback and the lack of unique looking weapon models. The rest of the game was, after a few critical patches and a freely distributed "expansion", as solid as a rock. All Sacred 2 needed to do in order to improve upon the first title's formula was to tighten up the game's awkward balancing and create more diversity in its visuals.

Thankfully, Ascaron listened. Not only does Sacred 2 do away with the much maligned "Web spell" every enemy caster would inflict upon your horse, but it has the largest selection of unique looking weapons and armor I've seen in an RPG since Titan Quest. Though you can't change the hair color or overall look of your chosen avatar, the game does give you a considerable amount of different armor and weapon "Styles" to choose from in order to differentiate your own hero from the countless others you're sure to find online.

As a matter of fact, out of all the new things you'll notice in the sequel, the re-tooled engine is probably going to be the first you'll take note of. It's perhaps a bit of an understatement, but when running with every slider pushed to its maximum setting, Sacred 2 is by far and away the most gorgeous RPG I have seen on the PC to date. Granted, you need both computing horsepower and a fair amount of tweaking skill, but once you find a comfortable frame rate and balance it out with the display settings you'll find your screen shot gallery filling up in no time. It's one of those rare RPGs where most of your aimless traveling isn't due to some foolish quest or obsessive search for loot, but rather an overwhelming desire to take screen shots of as many different locales as possible before the game abruptly ends on you. It truly is that gorgeous. From the sparkling blue water rolling down each riverside to the normal mapped terrain that assaults my eyes so violently that I'm forced to play with the camera zoomed in just to gaze upon its splendor, Sacred 2 is a game worth upgrading your machine for.

Of course, I feel bad for those who are still running a PC that was from the first game's era. Older PCs will undoubtedly find themselves ill-equipped to enjoy the visuals this game offers. Though I wouldn't normally consider this a detriment to game play, the fact that even my beast of a PC had to fiddle around with a few settings to get the frame rate steady proves that Sacred 2...much like all European RPGs, is not at all optimized. Were it not for me finding out how much of a system hog the "Hardware Cursor" option was, I would have never been able to turn on the game's awe-inspiring (and resource devouring) shadow effects.

Much like the engine, Sacred 2's actual game play is steadfastly European in both its strengths and its weaknesses. Similar to how the Graphics are beautiful but hideously unoptimized for mid range PCs, Sacred 2's game play is full of satisfying build-based character creation but hampered by an odd auto-scaling scheme that nearly ruins what would otherwise be a well balanced RPG.

No matter how many levels you gain, enemies are always at least five levels above you. This fooled me into thinking that I needed to "Grind" early on, but doing so made me feel too strong when I realized that no matter what their level was, enemies were just too weak to compete with a power-leveled player. This created, for me anyway, a huge disparity between what level the game wanted me at and what level I happened to be. Due in part to this flaw, I felt the game lacked any real challenge and never once perished, even on the hardest level. Granted, harder levels open up upon your first completion of the game's main quest, but by then the damage has been done and your first impression has already been cemented.

Another balance killer would be the abundance of healing potions in the world. Not only are they cheap (And gold so plentiful you can make a few hundred thousand of it in a minute) but nearly every single enemy in the game drops one upon their death, which means you actually end up having to go to town and sell excess healing potions to make room for more important inventory clutter such as weapons and armor. It's so bad that I find myself using potions even when I don't need to, just to keep them from performing a coup d'état of my defenseless inventory grid.

A better idea would be to borrow Diablo 2's "Belt" system, where you were somewhat limited to the amount of potions you could carry. Perhaps even tying the amount of potions you could hold to your character level would have worked. I imagine setting it up so that you can only hold 4 healing potions per ten levels of character growth would have created much more of a challenge, even though it might have just been a better idea to make healing items "no-drop" while having the in-store varieties cost huge amounts of gold. Whichever one of these solutions they chose would have been infinitely better then the one the game has now. Simply put, potions are far too plentiful and this tends to make you feel invincible in areas where the fear of death should be influencing your play.

While you can fault the game for being imbalanced, you can't fault it for being shallow. Though you don't have any skill trees, you do have plenty of skills and spells to learn for each of the game's six character classes. These skills are, as they were with the first game in the series, learned by collecting their corresponding rune. These runes, which can be "bought" from certain NPCs or found on defeated enemies, are the only way to increase your character's skills. Fleshing out this primitive system a bit more is the inclusion of modifiers that can be placed on your skills after a certain number of levels. these modifiers can increase the duration, strength, or casting speed of the skill or spell you place them on. Since you so rarely get the chance to apply these bonuses to a skill, deciding on where to use them is vitally important to building a powerful character.

Add in the ability to pick your character's specialties (such as horseback riding, dual wield, armor usage and such) and even persnickety old coots like myself should find enough customization and complexity to keep their need for statistics and "builds" satisfied.

...and you'll be playing quite a while too, since much like the first Sacred, the game's six character classes are all very unique in what they do and exactly how they go about doing it.

First you have the Seraphim starring as the prerequisite paladin character that mixes mild healing abilities with strong melee attacks, then there is the Inquisitor who is the digitized version of Emperor Palpatine from star Wars, complete with fingertip-driven lightning attacks. Continuing the oddity, you then have a giant robot man who shoots a mega-buster like arm cannon. Then, balancing the weirdness out with some much needed normalcy, you have the neutral "mercenary", the typical Half-elf mage and tree-hugging Dryad.

If that, however, isn't enough, you also have the option of picking a deity for your chosen class. The deity not only decides which "super move" you'll be able to use during the game, but it also dictates whether you'll be playing through the game's "light side" campaign or the "Dark Side" one.

Unfortunately, it isn't as interesting as it seems, since other then the main quest taking you to different places in a different order, the side quests and purpose for you moving forward is largely unchanged. You still do friendly side quests for villagers and cannot simply decide to "murder them" to stay in step with your evil campaign quests. I found this to be very disappointing during my second play through as a Shadow Warrior. Instead of being able to tell people off or do side quests that were less "friendly" then what my Seraphim did during my first game, I was forced to save little kids and rescue animals. Granted, it might have taken too much time for them to make two endings for EVERY SIDE QUEST in the entire game...but they could have at least made half the game's optional missions "evil" and lock the good aligned players off from taking them. It seems awfully lazy to me and taints what is otherwise an extraordinary game.

Still, the story that glues all this together isn't as bad as people claim. As a prequel rather then a true sequel to the first game, Sacred 2 has you playing in Ancaria thousands of years earlier when the Seraphim's technology was still visible and in use. This technology, however, has begun to fail and has created a plague of monsters (You guess that already, didn't you?) across the land. The story is just enough for an action RPG, but those expecting something more grandiose are clearly looking in the wrong sub-genre. The story is only meant to explain why you are killing things, and in that regard, it is sufficient.

In the end, your enjoyment of Sacred 2 depends entirely on how you feel about European RPGs. Like many things in life, they aren't fit for mainstream consumption. They have rough edges and are best played by patient gamers who are used to overlooking small bugs and inadequacies in order to fully enjoy an RPG. That isn't to say Sacred 2 is a bad game. In truth, it's one of the best action RPGs I've ever played. Unfortunately, it has a very strong "European feel" to it that most gamers used to cookie cutter Western games won't like very much. With it's extremely large spawns of monsters, ridiculous amount of land to be explored and rapid level advancement, it's a game only obsessed ARPG fans hungry for Diablo 3 will find likable. Even then, some may be turned off by the lack of challenge or the unnecessarily huge landmass.

Those who aren't will find themselves glued to their monitor for at least a month or two, and really...in today's day and age that's worth the 50 bucks needed to buy the game. Especially when most RPGs are barely able to last an experienced gamer a week, let alone a month of hardcore play.