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Sacred Citadel -- a fun RPG-lite beat 'em up

Game Review | May 17, 2013 1:57 pm
By Meta
Genre: 2.5D Action
Subgenre: Beat 'em Up / Hack 'n Slash
Players: 1-3 online or local
Developer: Ascaron, SouthEnd Interactive
Publisher: Deep Silver
Released: April 17th, 2013
ESRB Rating: T for Teen (blood, violence)

The original Sacred was a dungeon-crawling hack 'n slash title for the PC that was riding the wave of Diablo's popularity. Often mistakenly called a clone, Sacred offered many unique elements that set it apart from Diablo and other dungeon-crawlers--the map was huge and could be explored at will, you could freely re-organize your characters' skills, and you could purchase or steal mounts both for faster travel and a combat buff.

Sacred 2 released a few years later for PC and eventually consoles and served as a prequel to the story events in Sacred while also boasting an even bigger world map and several character-specific items that greatly affected combat, including unique mounts not unlike those you might see in an MMORPG.

Now the developers have released Sacred Citadel which is meant to be a prequel to the upcoming Sacred 3 but is also quite a departure. Instead of a hack 'n slash with RPG elements, you get a brawler/beat 'em up with hack 'n slash elements. The inventory is minimized to just one piece of armor, a couple weapons, and a few potions. The world is split in to 4 acts which each have 4-6 linear levels.
There are 4 playable characters. You have the Warrior who uses the largest melee weapons for damage output, the Mage who casts offensive spells and debuffs enemies, the Ranger who specializes in dealing damage from afar with his bow, and the Shaman who is a hybrid character, dealing some melee & ranged damage and also casting buffs.

One of the things that set Sacred and Sacred 2 apart from similar games was their unusual characters. You could choose from things like a surly dwarf with a cannon on his back, a Seraphim with metal winged armor, an undead warrior who specialized in melee combat and necromancy at the same time, and the Temple Guardian which was effectively a cyborg dog with a flying disc for a mount and an arm that could morph in to arc throwers, laser guns, and all sorts of other fun things you never see in the typical medieval-fantasy dungeon crawling games.

Considering the previous games, I was surprised at how boring and vanilla the characters in Sacred Citadel are. The Shaman is close to what I was expecting but unfortunately she is also the weakest in this particular bunch. She has the lowest potential damage output and her buffs don't last long enough to really help.

The story in Sacred Citadel is forgettable, told through 2d cutscenes and brief in-game dialog. It may be more relevant once Sacred 3 releases but for now it's good that everything can be skipped.
The combat is the star of the show and definitely the game's strongest feature. You have 3 main attack types, fast, strong and power, and you use these and directions to create combos not unlike an action game. For instance, XXupY will strike an enemy then launch them for continued juggled damage, and RB+Y will perform a character-specific maneuver such as a crippling power-blow from the Warrior or a blast wave from the Mage.

In addition to the standard combos, any Y attacks and finishers can be charged to increase damage or alter properties, creating a fun, fast and deep attack system that is a far cry from the usual 1-button-mashing found in beat 'em ups. Some levels also have temporary mounts like dinosaurs and tanks (?!) and these help break up the progress.

As you slay monsters, you gain XP, gold and loot. The game is playable by up to 3 players online or local, and the game smartly shares XP and gold drops. A new weapon or piece of armor can only be grabbed by 1 character during that level, but you can go to town between levels and the blacksmith keeps a copy of all dropped items so that everyone can eventually equip it, the exception being the character-specific secondary items.

Another interesting feature is that you can place "bets" with a shady town NPC to create level-specific Challenges. Each level has 3 of these: one for completion without dying, one for completion under a certain time limit, and one for scoring over a set amount. Each Challenge costs 100g per person but awards additional loot and XP if you are successful.
Each time you level up, you get 2 points to distribute between Attack, Defense, Dexterity and Power. Attack increases the damage output of melee weapons, Defense gives you health and damage resistance, Dexterity increases critical hit chance and ranged weapon damage, and Power increases the rate at which your B button attacks regenerate as well as making elemental effects from your weapons proc more often. If you wish, you can make a melee-centric Mage or a Shaman that specializes in ranged damage--hybridizing the characters is viable even if you won't be putting out the highest DPS.

The only problem with the combat system is that most of the enemies have way too much health, especially the mini-bosses. I highly recommend replaying early levels to grind out XP and power up your character, otherwise the last few levels of the game become tiring mash-fests.

Another thing I dislike about this game is that there are far too few enemy types. This is a common problem with beat 'em ups, but it really sticks out here because each type only has 1 or 2 palette swaps and all of them take too long to kill when you aren't overpowered and back-tracking.

Lastly, I would have liked some customization options for the characters. Other than how you place points and your power attacks, all 4 of the characters are basically the same. This is especially apparent when you see a Warrior and Ranger both dual-wielding the same set of maces. There are 3 tiers of armor and each one changes your character some but, considering the lush visuals, I was expecting more. Your abilities & power moves are wholly dependent on your level so there are no skill trees or choices to be made there.

The quick good and bad:
+ clean, interesting, colourful visuals
+ fun, surprisingly deep combat
+ smooth transition from offline/local to online co-op
+ shared XP, gold and loot in co-op
- enemy types too repetitive
- minibosses take way too long to kill
- no real customization or skill choices
- overall too grindy if played alone
? why is this 3 player if there are 4 characters

I give Sacred Citadel a 7.2 base score for the fun combo action. If you know you'll have 2 friends to play with, you could bump this up to a 7.5 easily. If you had to do the whole game alone, it would go down to a 7. Also, I feel like it should be priced a bit cheaper, maybe 800msp. If it was, I'd give it an 8.
Replayability: You can expect a solid 6+ hours for your first time through the game. Subsequent play-throughs will be a little shorter but also less fun since the characters are so similar. There is a DLC pack that adds a whole 5th Act as well as an additional level for each of the previous 4, but this is only recommended for completionists.

Extras: Sacred Citadel has no gamerpics or avatar awards to unlock.

Achievements: The base game is worth 400G, the DLC pack adds another 100G. To get all the Achievements, you will need to play every level with every character, including finishing all 3 Challenges on each level with 1 of them, and will have to do a few levels in co-op (easy enough with a 2nd controller). None of this is hard, but it's very grindy. By your third trip through Act 4, you'll have sore thumbs and probably be sick of this game.
Rating: 7.2 of 10
Reviewed: Sacred Citadel
Keywords: None

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Re: Sacred Citadel -- a fun RPG-lite beat 'em up
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Nice review. Sounds a bit too repetitive for my tastes. Castle Crashers still #1.
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Sacred Citadel currently has a 64 metascore rating and 7.2 user rating on Metacritic.

Here's what other reviewers gave it:

Destructoid - 6/10
OXM - 65
NowGamer - 7.0
Co-Optimus - 3/5
Game Over - 80%
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Hmm, last time I tried to get someone to play a similar game with me (Dungeon Siege 3) he was ready to break the game after about 2 hours of continuously dying :rofl: I wouldn't mind playing this when cheaper though.
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Great review. I think I will wait until this game goes on sale, though.
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Quote by Mo the Surfer:


Great review. I think I will wait until this game goes on sale, though.



I fully agree!
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