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Friday, May 27, 2022

Salt and Sacrifice Review: No Sacrifice for Quality

Salt and Sacrifice is a new athletic game built for the PS4. The game uses motion capture to create high quality animations, but sacrifices gameplay complexity in favor of an easy-to-learn setup.

Salt and Sacrifice is a game that has been released by the developers of Magicka. It is a game that has no sacrifice for quality, but it does have some interesting mechanics.

Souls-like games are notoriously tough to master. No two developers approach the format in the same manner, and even fewer do so perfectly. Salt & Sacrifice is as close to a traditional Souls game as a 2D game can go, yet it draws or builds on themes from previous games to develop its own identity.

It’s a mix of Metroidvania, Path of Exile, Monster Hunter, and lots of dark fantasy Souls aficionados will adore. Salt & Sacrifice combines these various mechanics and ideas into a complicated but yet understandable whole.

It has a few rough edges, and some of the design choices irritate a bit, but this is a game that makes no compromises in the sake of excellence.

Review of Salt and Sacrifice: Quality Over Quantity

You play as an Inquisitor entrusted with tracking down Mages, creatures significantly more evil than they are depicted elsewhere. You’re not informed why these Mages need to be pursued or what will happen if they’re killed. You just know it’s punishment for a serious crime you committed before the game started. This sin is chosen as part of the character creation process and affects how some NPCs interact with you.

You’re placed into Altarstone Kingdom after the introductory sequence and character creation, and told to hunt out any and all Mages, kill them, and swallow their hearts. You will not die forever since you are bound by an old tradition, but being slain will sap part of your energy.

So you’ll start out to explore a linked universe over five zones, searching their depths for new ways to travel while battling both unique enemies and the Mages you’ve been instructed to kill.

Each level in Salt and Sacrifice is designed in the overlapping and looping style of Dark Souls. There will always be more than one route to reach your objective, no matter which Obelisk (bonfire equivalent) you rest at. Collect upgrades (a grappling hook, a cloth to catch the wind, etc.) or open one-way doors accessible only after extensive exploration to unlock other pathways.

Some shortcuts aren’t immediately obvious and need map expertise to determine how to get there. In the desert level, for example, there is a shortcut not far from the first Obelisk. You must approach it from below, and the road to the top is not immediately clear.

This entails calculating how far horizontally to walk to reach the shortcut’s position. The road is partly concealed and loaded with lethal opponents, making it difficult and irritating at times, but it is still a comfort to have it open.

Once you leave the Pardoner’s Vale center location, the globe merges fluidly. Without a single loading screen, doors open to new areas. Even without the Metroidvania enhancements, this, along with the linked level design, allows for an entertaining traverse.

Each zone is likewise aesthetically different, with a limited color palette of three or four basic colors and a focus on one or two for the most of your time there. Caves and dungeons are frequently made of grey and black stone and ornamented with the remains of its previous residents.

As you go through the game, unusual and exotic destinations become available. The decaying settlement gives way to a bleak wasteland, leading to a sopping bog, and then on to other odd, more horrible settings. Each each site continuously astonished and pleased me. There’s just so much a 2D area can accomplish graphically, and Salt and Sacrifice pushes every visual limit it can.

Souls-likes are recognized for tight fighting and spectacular boss encounters in addition to their level design. Salt and Sacrifice performs a great job of attempting to deliver on both, and succeeds most of the time. There are five different sorts of weapons, each with its unique set of maneuvers, strengths, and weaknesses. There’s a lot of build flexibility here because to the Runic Arts, which are a kind of Weapon Art or Ash of War that alters the weapon or your attacks in some manner, and the craftable goods.

Making a construct is a more difficult sell. Strength, Dexterity, Vitality, Endurance, and other standard stats are used in Salt and Sacrifice, although they are upgraded using a Path of Exile-style stat-and-skill grid. You’ll have a tiny percentage of the skill grid filled up depending on the class you choose, driving you toward certain builds and playstyles.

Starting as a Paladin, the grid favors heavy armor and heavy weapons, with a concentration on burst damage, which is aided by Endurance and modified by Strength. Arcana and Luck, on the other hand, are an entirely other set of gear kinds with which you’ll never have enough points to explore. This technique is effective, however it contrasts with character generation, which provides no indication of how stats are divided. On first gameplay, this disconnect makes sense and doesn’t.

On one hand, showing new players the vast skill grid is just as likely to put them off as it is to draw them in. On the other hand, there’s no way to prepare a comprehensive construction without knowing how stats would be distributed. You’re limited to instincts and assumptions, trying to make the best decision possible.

The method for unlocking the ability to utilize gear adds to the confusion. Unlike other Souls-likes, where your stats determine what you can and can’t use, Salt and Sacrifice uses a tier system to restrict access to higher-quality stuff. If you haven’t acquired the skill node to utilize Tier 2 heavy armor, for example, you won’t be able to put it on, even if you’re surrounded by it. With such a restriction, picking the “wrong” beginning class may result in you having to start a new game in order to acquire the weapons and gear you intended to use right away, rather than just spending a few more stat points and calling it a day.

One of the appeals of Souls-likes is the ability to take on any obstacle. I frequently felt like I was being forced to perform one thing in a specific manner or risk continual failure, thanks to the burdensome gear unlock system and several tedious boss encounters. That is one of Elden Ring’s major flaws in the late game, with one particularly aggravating monster before the last dungeon.

Salt and Sacrifice bosses are typically simple by nature. Run up to the monster, strike 2-4 times, dodge or otherwise evade the counterattack, and repeat until the boss is defeated. Two issues occur. The bosses are often too big for their arena, giving little space for maneuvering around their assaults. Because movement isn’t as accurate or tight as it might be, evading certain assaults is more of a futile exercise than a talent.

There’s also the problem of hitboxes and recovery periods for boss attacks. Because Salt and Sarifice lacks in-air invincibility for certain strikes, you may easily be juggled from one attack to the next. This may happen as often as your health allows you to withstand assaults. That isn’t a negative design choice on its own. It penalizes reckless play while rewarding perfect spacing.

However, boss attack hitboxes last as long as the monster strikes, so if you’re knocked out by the first hit, you can wind up getting two or three more hits from the same hitbox. If this occurs, you won’t be able to recover adequately since the boss will most likely be on top of you after the assault is done.

Unlike Eldest Souls, Salt and Sacrifice does not contain bosses that impede dodges. Still, it’s aggravating to see oneself juggled not just by an assault that seemed to juggle, but also by a single large weapon or fist that continued rushing at me.

The lack of recovery time on certain assaults adds to the frustration. A big smash by a boss, even if it fills up half the screen, should cause the monster to recover. There were a few occasions when this wasn’t the case, and instead of being given a chance to catch my breath and respond, I was desperately attempting to avoid a second assault.

However, my overall experience with the major plot bosses was positive. The battles are typically extremely theatrical, and it was a simple issue to respond appropriately after I knew what strike did what, how, and when. Even the most irritating or poorly conceived parts may be dealt with if you anticipate them. If endurance, knowledge, and experimenting are sufficient to conquer a difficulty, it is a sign of an eventually solid Souls-like.

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You may build their gear using the resources they and their summoned creatures drop when you beat a Mage. They spawn randomly on the battlefield after being defeated, making them farmable for various weapons, armor, rings, and other items. Focus Hunts, which are randomly generated Mage hunts focused on target-farming certain treasure, are also available. These are more of an endgame activity, although you may take part in them anytime you like.

It’s a shame that standard boss equipment can’t be crafted, since several of them have unique weapons and armor that may have been fascinating to use. Fortunately, there are a variety of Mage kinds to slaughter, and each one is fundamentally diverse in a manner that translates into their craftable gear.

The sort of gear you can make is determined on the Mage you are. Big, ponderous brutes become heavy armor and weapons, whereas supple, quick-moving brutes become light armor and weaponry, and so on. There’s lots of replayability here, despite the aggravation of the clash between beginning class and skill grid. Any Souls-like save game, such as Nioh, is certain to be unoptimized and inefficient on the first run. Going in with a clear goal in mind and full understanding of the skill grid will undoubtedly be a very different experience.

It’s a pity, though, that the music in Salt and Sacrifice is so uninteresting in comparison to some of the game’s finer designs and concepts. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the soundtrack, and although it does improve during later boss bouts, that was to be anticipated.

The plot is also a little lacking, not because it is horrible or dull (it isn’t), but because of how often it is shoved in your face by every NPC. In Salt & Sacrifice, there’s a lot more telling than showing, with folks all across the globe eager to expand on the last item you killed or the latest subject you learnt about. The environmental storyline is a little better, and the settings are always fun to explore.

The Bottom Line on Salt and Sacrifice

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Pros

  • There’s a huge, strange world to explore and uncover.
  • Heavy fighting with a surprising amount of complexity.
  • There are a lot of fun boss battles to be had.

Cons

  • A soundtrack that is fairly forgettable.
  • The rare tense battle with bosses or common opponents.
  • Hitboxes that don’t work and boss response times that are too slow.

Salt & Sacrifice is a labor of love for the genre, satisfying any veteran’s desire to explore more enigmatic realms. It never quite hits the heights of the finest Souls-likes, but it also never quite reaches the depths of those that try and fail to operate within the framework.

It deserves praise for its vastness, which accounts for the majority of its mechanic and system design, as well as the strangeness of the environment in which you play. Even the ideas it draws from previous popular games work in its favor. Despite its few flaws, Salt and Sacrifice is one of the few games on the market that does what it does, and does it well.

[Note: The copy of Salt and Sacrifice used for this review was given by Ska Studios.]

Salt and Sanctuary is a 2D action-adventure platformer that was released in 2016. The game has no sacrifice for quality, as it is one of the best games on PC right now. Reference: salt and sanctuary rps.

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