Sacred 3 is a slap in the face to longtime Sacred fans. Not that I count myself among them, but remember the discontent that outspoken Diablo veterans felt in the relapse from Diablo II’s complex character leveling systems to the role-playing nuts and bolts of the third. Although Sacred 3 ‒ another action RPG ‒ streamlines anything too daunting for beginners (by depriving players of an open world, multiple campaigns, and quest lines), somebody forgot to tell Keen Games when to quit. There is no loot to heckle your friends for taking, merely eight powers to mix and match, and a narrative that wallows between merry and grim. One character also says "noob" and "amazeballs" without a wink or nudge. Sacred fans, you may want to skip to the score on this one.

Mostly, Sacred 3 is a meandering hodgepodge of events. The merciless Emperor Zane intends to desecrate the magical Heart of Ancaria because several heroes killed his mom before he could 3,000 years ago, and the Seraphim ‒ a clan of warrior angels ‒ have only recently assembled an all-star fighter ensemble to end him. While the game plays Zane’s insanity off as one of many lazily written jokes, I had to watch the starting cutscene multiple times to make heads or tails of the setup. While Diablo III’s plot seemed redundant, Sacred 3 sweeps the category for Most Throwaway Exposition of 2014. 

The story insults rational narratives everywhere. The game opens with your characters protecting the Heart from Zane’s Ashen Empire, yet soon degrades into typical MMO errands: stop mercenaries from assaulting this beach, free those prisoners, kill that city’s unspeakable evil-demon-thing, and ‒ to keep clichés alive ‒ clear out a zombie infestation. For all the talk of Zane’s villainy, he spends less time on-screen than any of his generals ... which rarely appear until an end-game boss rush.

You might remember this battle from Diablo III!

Rather, these objectives facilitate a tour of Ancaria. From active volcanos to torture dungeons to undead ghost towns, Sacred 3 is not want for set dressing. The usual forest and mountain backdrops show up as well, but the brevity of each level keeps the sights from becoming too mundane. Sacred 2 imbued its world with beautiful contrasting hues, and I am glad Keen Games at least preserved part of the series’ spirit.

That praise almost extends to the actual visuals, but the console versions cannot stack up to Diablo and its ilk. Every panoramic shot reveals landscapes that belong in an oil painting, all muddied and difficult to gaze at for long. Character portraits resemble pictures taken on an outdated flip phone, too. With a few more months of furbish, I believe the devs could have produced memorable venues, not ones that fade the moment the credits stop.

By then, in normal action RPGs, you should be a devastating guardian that not even Mother Nature would cross. Since the devs relieved Sacred 3 of collectible armor, weapons, and other goodies, however, you will execute the same “A to swing sword,” “B to dodge,” and “X to bash” tactics until your controller pleads for mercy. Sacred 3 distributes upgrades for the sparse special moves (called “combat arts”) after ranking up and completing the straightforward levels, though players cannot skip over the ones they never equip. An area-of-effect electrical attack for the heroine Claire ‒ given five tiers of improvements ‒ does not max out until rank 33, nearly 10 levels higher than when I crushed the incorrigible Zane.

If you must play Sacred 3, the PC version is the definitive edition.

Keen Games even thins the number of champions to choose from, from seven to four, and reduces them to lousy archetypes. Marak is the group’s tank, versed in fire magic; Vajra, the archer, utilizes frigid ice attacks; Alithea, a jungle ranger, wields the power of earth as an extension of her spear; and Claire, the paladin and Seraphim’s second-in-command, rains lightning down on her foes. I confess I felt a small smile tugging at my lips when slaughtering dozens of orcs, spiders, and zombies in fluid motions, and there is the implicit fun of busting enough chairs, vases, and crates to turn a furniture salesman pale.

Sacred 3 boasts local co-op, too, a diminishing feature in today’s market. Having a friend to share the mediocrity is a gratifying counter to the game’s dimwitted thinking, despite the online slayer antics being much more preferable. Four players teaming up makes time fly faster, if not for the unwelcome lag. As it stands, three heroes is the sweet spot.

However, the protagonists are not your Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy. Their banter ‒ to put it extremely mildly ‒ has more in common with scribbles on a restroom wall than anything meant to inspire confidence or laughs. Vajra, who says the Khukuri usually respond to imposing fortresses of darkness by cowering in fear, admits his people captured three harbors and a chihuahua. They returned everything, except the chihuahua.

Despite there being four heroes, all but the archer play identically. 

The childish writing gets worse.

Marak tops his dialogue off with lines like: “By the sunlight that makes me quint” or “that is a kick in the pants.” And the character, Aria, that casually throws “noob” and “amazeballs” into exchanges happens to be your telepathic guide, chatting incessantly in your ear, lest you forget about her. I sure wish I could forget about her, even if the conversations sink lower. 

Warrior spirits augment your passive skills in combat. The battlemage chains bolts of lightning from foe to foe, for example, while the dryad decreases the damage that enemies inflict. Regrettably, they also compete with Aria to see who can state the most useless information. The battlemage made constant remarks about three-ways or Claire’s figure, and the lovey-dovey dryad babbles about harmony when you are not murdering monsters. 

No one will mistake Sacred 3 for an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 game. Sorry, Keen Games.

Enemy varieties remain similarly bland. They come in three flavors: the small, lanky type; the medium, throwable type; and the giant, shielded type. Sacred 3 repurposes these classes regularly ‒ be they orcs, lizards, or men ‒ and they never grow smarter. Hitting them with Claire’s concussive wind blasts works well in the tutorial; it also works well eight hours later. The same goes for the mid-mission roadblocks that Keen Games rehashes. Wheels need rotating, magic doors need opening, and falling boulders/icicles need evading. They slow progress, nothing more. Regardless of how you disguise it, garbage is still garbage.

And nothing seems damning quite like the game bugging out when you need to advance. Twice, I knocked an enemy out of bounds where I could not reach him, preventing the luminescent barriers from vanishing. In other instances, a mini-boss spawned without the key to a door, or I simply rolled into the environment, where I watched ‒ flabbergasted ‒ as my attackers failed to eliminate me. Barring any way to suicide or reset from the last checkpoint, Sacred 3 forces a mission restart.

The best Sacred 3 moments can be prefaced by: “Like Diablo, but…” Case in point: Bursting monsters like blood piñatas has not been this fulfilling since Diablo III, but Keen Games weeded out the fundamentals, leaving behind a skeletal hack and slasher. Yes, wasting hundreds of small-fry goblins at the press of a button is a rewarding sensation no genre could imitate. With releases such as Diablo, Torchlight, and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, however, fans have an endless list of action RPGs to pick from.

Don’t pick Sacred 3. 

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