Sacred 2: Fallen Angel Review

I've had my eye on this game for quite some time now, but not for the reasons we gamers usually put stuff on our watch lists. I never played the original Sacred and to be honest, I'm not even sure it exists. I haven't been starved for an action RPG on the Xbox 360. Perhaps worst of all, though, is that if I weren't following this game's progress, I might not even be sure whether it was out, delayed or canceled. So why would I be so hotly anticipating a game that wouldn't otherwise thrill me? Two words: Blind Guardian. No, I don't mean the "What is your favorite color?" bridge guy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail; Blind Guardian is a German power metal band and one of my all-time favorites. I even got a chance to interview them and sit backstage during their show a couple of years ago. So, what does amazing German metal have to do with a hack 'n slash role-playing console game? Well, Blind Guardian was directly involved with crafting Sacred 2's soundtrack, and even recorded a brand new song just for this game. That alone made this game a necessity in my household, and I was surprised to find a fairly fun, though almost too simple, top-down action RPG on the disc… I mean in addition to the expectedly awesome Blind Guardian stuff, that is.

Normally I try to leave the nitpicky nonsense out of my reviews, but as I was plowing through the game, this little tidbit never left my mind: When you start up Sacred 2 for the first time, there is no title screen, no intro, no nothing… just a direct skip to the "create a character" menu. Once you've chosen your avatar from the less-than-exhaustive range of selections (more on this in a minute), you get your title screen, your FMV intro… all the stuff we've come to expect from games such as these. It's all nicely done and sets up the action well, but putting the character select at the very front makes the $60+ game feel like a rushed demo, rather than an AAA RPG experience. I have to stress that this is NOT a comment on the game itself; it is just an aesthetic choice that didn't really work for me personally. But if you weren't interested in my opinion, you wouldn't be reading this, right?

Ok, let's get to the game itself now. Sacred 2: Fallen Angel tells the story of generic fantasy plot #741 through a handful of barely customizable character classes. The plot hits all the high points of the cliché-driven RPG genre; gods, angels, elves, robots (kinda,) swords and sorcery… you've seen this all before. Thankfully, past the first handful of hours you'll spend playing, the story retreats a bit in favor of micromanaging smaller story-based and/or optional quests. By the time you finish this game, you'll have been told a story you've heard before, but that certainly won't be what this game is remembered for.

The game's graphics are nothing special either. Your character, your enemies, the environments, the bosses, the cut scenes… all are more or less passable by today's visual standards, but don't expect to be blown away. Like most other top-down action RPG hack 'n slash titles, the camera will follow your character as you fight your way across the land, but a quick zoom shows that the characters in-game are less than spectacularly detailed. Even worse, Sacred 2 has more screen tearing than any other game in my recent memory (if you aren't familiar with "screen tearing," Google it and come back… I'll wait). Astonishingly, though, is the fact that even during the largest battles, Sacred 2 never once falls victim to framerate skips or slowdowns. Considering the size and scope of some of the game's larger battles (which are even larger during co-op or online play), the avoidance of those two pitfalls is a commendable feat.

We've finally gotten to the most important question you should have: "How does the game play?" I'm happy to report it plays pretty damn well, even if there isn't any groundbreaking stuff going on here. Sacred 2 plays like so many dungeon crawling games before it – X-Men: Legends. Champions of Norrath, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Untold Legends, etc., etc., etc. If you aren't familiar with those titles, you'll spend most of the game fighting endless waves of enemies as you explore the land, collect items, weapons and armor and complete quests to build your character into an unstoppable force and champion for either good or evil. And while the good/evil temperament choice is probably one of the most simplistic uses of the concept in quite a while, it still adds another dimension to how things will go down.

I mentioned earlier that the character customization is pretty weak, but the ability to map up to four weapons AND four spells onto an easy-to-use d-pad quick select more than makes up for it. When you're firing off spells and switching effortlessly between melee weapons, you'll probably forget the only thing you were allowed to fiddle with while building your character was hairstyle and hair color (no, I'm not kidding… no skin tone, no clothing swaps, not even a choice on your character's gender… shameful, really). I suppose you have to give a little to get a little, but no choice on gender?! That is giving up way too much.

Also tied to Sacred 2's gameplay are the quests and leveling up your warrior. Like all kinds of other games in the genre, you'll be constantly given tasks to carry out as you get stronger and move through the main objectives. For example, as you begin the game, you'll be given a main quest right off, but while working toward its completion, you'll be assigned a whole mess of other tasks as well – kill (insert number) of enemies, collect this item or that, help so-and-so with (insert job here); you've done it all before. How these quests are doled out and completed is smart and easy. You don't HAVE to do everything you've been assigned to do, but the game's quick pace and lack of Elder Scrolls-type "This is gonna take me a freakin' year" objectives keeps things interesting and fresh.

And even if you can't do much to your character right off the bat, as you gain levels and power up, you'll be given much more reign over how you want to play and develop. With a little planning and practice, you can turn your character into nearly anything. An archer who uses magic? Easy. A tank who is also a healer? Even easier. The aforementioned good/evil temperament choice affects your development in minor ways as well. Sacred 2 might seem too linear at first glance, but after a few hours the possibilities open up a bit more.

As much as I detest online and multiplayer gaming, Sacred 2 does manage to make things easy and fun if you want to team up with other warriors, whether in your living room or halfway across the world. Simply set a list of preferences before starting and people will drop in and out of your game as you play through the otherwise single player campaign. It sounded weird to me, too, but it actually works, mostly because of the options you are given concerning others in your game. You can set level caps, experience share ratios treasure share ratios, etc. Just by fine-tuning your online menu, you can handpick fellow warriors based on your wants, not theirs. During a particularly tough spot, I set an incoming player level cap above mine and um… lets say I made the experience sharing a little slanted in my favor. After only a few minutes, a player dropped in, helped me move forward and promptly disappeared after the task was done, leaving me with new armor, a ton of experience and an open path to move on. If only all online games were this intuitive and useful, right?

Ok… I saved the best for last. You might remember me mentioning a little band called Blind Guardian working on the music and a new song for this game. Well, if it stopped there, Sacred 2 would have been just another game with a little input from a band and another way to entice game-buying customers (remember the Aerosmith and Kiss games?). That absolutely isn't the case here. Not only is the new song, presumably called 'Sacred,' a great one, it actually appears in the game, rather than over the final credits like so many other cop-outs. So where do the song show up? I won't give too much away but not only is the song in the game, every member of the band appears in game as well, and even put on a concert to perform the song. For fans, this is un-freaking-believable. Each member of the band actually looks like their real life counterparts and while I suppose the concert could be considered bonus material, it makes the game that much more rewarding. Video of the concert is available on YouTube, but since Sacred 2 turned out to actually be pretty fun, I'd recommend just playing the game and earning the bonus for yourself.

Let's be honest: Sacred 2: Fallen Angel has some problems. Certain aspects of the finished product seem rushed and incomplete, and both the story and graphics leave a good bit to be desired. BUT… the game has its positive points as well. Blind Guardian's song and appearance are at the top of my list, but even those who aren't familiar with the band will find a lot to like in this game. The online components and staggering amount of stuff to do will keep those who give it a chance playing for a good while to come. Stuff I didn't even get to in this review (mounts, monstrous bosses, etc.) will thrill some and repel others, but if you need an RPG on the 360 (or PS3, though this review is only concerned with the 360 version) and you like the more action-oriented stuff, Sacred 2 is more than worth your time and money.

In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 80%.