Expansive Overview: Sacred Citadel

The Sacred series deviates from its action RPG roots into the realm of the side-scrolling beat-em-up for this high octane prequel to the upcoming third installment,  but does the more energetic combat deliver a knockout blow or does this one pull its punches?

Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: SouthEnd Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Format: Xbox 360
Version Tested: Xbox 360

Genre mixing has become quite popular in recent years and while not always easy, when done correctly, blending the best elements of two types of game can create some truly compelling experiences.  There have been some interesting combinations over the years, such as Condemned’s First Person Melee / Brawler style, but the elements of the classic RPG seem to blend best with most other types of game.  We’ve gotten used to seeing titles like Borderlands, Far Cry, Dead Island and even the recent Tomb Raider remake incorporate these elements to enhance their core mechanics, and Sacred Citadel continues the tradition by adding in good old fashioned side-scrolling beat-em-up action to the experience points and skill trees.

Sacred Citadel returns us to the world of Ancaria in the midst of a nefarious plot by the Ashen Empire to overthrow the Seraphim.  It’s the standard fantasy setup we’ve come to expect from the RPG genre – and much more than we’re used to from beat-em-ups – painting a nice backdrop, and giving enough of an excuse for the player to cut through waves of enemies as one of four typical character classes; the mage, warrior, ranger or shaman.

Unfortunately this prematurely sums up Sacred Citadel – it’s standard, and what we’re used to.

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Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time with Sacred Citadel, just the more of it I played, the more cracks started to show.  The game holds up as an overall package and manages to incorporate all the right elements from the respective genres: the combat is varied, there are an assortment of enemy types and loot drops are frequent enough to keep grinders happy – on paper everything is here and it should make for a great game, but somehow it all feels lacking.  I’m not saying that Sacred Citadel does any of these things badly; it just doesn’t exactly do them justice either.

Take the levelling system for instance; as is usual we’re given a finite number of points to assign that increase the character’s Attack, Defence, Dexterity or Power.  Whilst this should give an opportunity to explore the effects of different builds or “min-max” if that’s your style, it instead falls flat as there’s little point doing anything except maxing your characters main stat and dumping the rest into Attack.  Why? Unless you’ve paid for the DLC, the majority of end-game weapons don’t have an elemental attack, making this stat useless for all but the mage, and with the mountains of gold you’ll rack up, you’ll have more than enough potions to keep yourself alive through boss fights –which, incidentally, are some of the most enjoyable beat-em-up fights I’ve experienced requiring you to figure out moves and patterns akin to popular MMORPGs, rather than just chip away at an excessively long health bar.

Normally I complain about RPGs that don’t allow you to respec your tree, after all the whole point is to experiment, but there’s no reason to do that here, unfortunately.  On top of that, whilst the visuals are indeed very nice and the animations superb, the characters themselves lack any real sense of personality and feel quite similar.  Despite their roster of moves being easy to pull off and visually varied, they are all very similar in their effects – leaving me with little desire to explore what the other 3 heroes beyond my Ranger had to offer.

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The “grind” here isn’t much better either as the enemies don’t level along with your character and there is no difficulty setting – meaning that, again, unless you’ve purchased the DLC, pushing towards the level cap is going to mean pushing through the same final few levels of Act 4 over and over.  Concurrently, weapon drops appear to be completely random and the lack of a challenging difficulty mean only the impatient will be buying armor and weapons from the town.  In another strange design choice, you’re unable to sell old weapons and armour, leading to a very cluttered inventory.  I suppose by allowing you to equip weaker gear this could be viewed as some form of difficulty setting, but I didn’t stop to remember which gear went with which levels. Isn’t the whole point of an RPG to grow and feel like more of a badass gaining in power, not to forcibly make yourself weaker?

That’s not to say the game is devoid of things to do, there are the requisite number of achievements and titles for your character to earn via in game challenges, but there’s no real reason to do this as any fun I was having during the campaign came grinding to a halt towards the end as there’s no challenge to keep pushing you forward – even on later levels good rolls, potions and spamming overpowered moves means you’re very unlikely to die.

Despite a slow start and some un-enjoyable vehicle sessions, there is defiantly some fun to be had with Sacred Citadel and I don’t want to send you away with the feeling that this is a bad game; you’ve most definitely played worse.  I’d even encourage you to give it a try, but with what is essentially a 1600MSP price tag to get an experience that feels complete, it’s hard to recommend the sort of game you’ll only boot up when there’s little else to do.