Salt And Sacrifice – Review In Progress
Ska Studios is on the cusp of launching a successor to its own 2016 platforming action game Salt and Sanctuary, this time called Salt and Sacrifice. While it officially releases tomorrow, I've only had the game for the past weekend and have plenty more to explore. In lieu of a full review before the game launches, I present my initial impressions of Salt and Sacrifice, which are decidedly mixed after a dozen hours of hunting Mages.
Following its predecessor's footsteps, Salt and Sacrifice hits a similar 2D Soulslike feel. After perishing in the opening moments, your character becomes Spellmarked, an entity that treads the line between life and death by the power of magic. Your other title is that of an Inquisitor tasked with hunting and devouring the hearts of dangerous Mages, the giant monster bosses you'll fight throughout the game. It's all very boilerplate for the genre but does its job to get you into the world and track down Mages, though the plight of the Inquisitors hasn't gripped me beyond the setup.
I've enjoyed running through Ashbourne Village and Bol Gerahn, the first two locations I was sent to on my mission to kill various Mages. The former is a decimated settlement with dreary green hills and forests surrounding it, while the latter has me exploring sand-drenched ruins in the desert. I like the diversity in the settings, and there are some fun platforming challenges to be had. These levels are large and have all kinds of paths and shortcuts to find while fighting through the native enemies for each place. Hidden around the world are the key spots to progress in Salt and Sacrifice, hazy points of interest that start up the main trials in the game: hunting down a Named Mage.
Mages are humans who have taken monstrous forms embodying various elements such as ice, fire, water, poison, light, and many more. Marked Inquisitors track Mages around a level and clash with them in shot encounters with summoned enemy minions. Mages will hide again after a short time, and the process repeats itself until the boss settles in one place, and the true fight begins. These bosses are half fun, half a pain to slog through. My favorite fights thus far have been those that rewarded recognition of the Mage's attack patterns, resulting in a satisfying kill after a handful of tries. Unfortunately, the further I get in the game, the more their attacks become one-hit cheap shots. I've only found success in recent fights if I got lucky rather than resulting from learning anything useful from the encounter.
Salt and Sacrifice reminds me of Monster Hunter in its crafting and gear system; however, I'm not sold on its implementation yet. Defeated Mages and their minions will drop crafting ingredients used to build armor and weapons styled after those creatures and the elements they represent. I really like that Mage fights aren't a one-and-done situation and can be found and defeated outside of their Named Mage hunts to grind for more materials. What holds the system back severely for me is the necessity to unlock certain armor and weapon tiers in the Tree of Skill.
Because the ability to use just about every craftable item is locked behind skill points, there's limited flexibility for trying different weapon types or using armor that will make a fight against a specific Mage easier. For example, I went deep into the Highblade (katana) Dexterity build in the skill tree early on, thinking the use of gear would be tied solely to stats. Because of that, I'm now limited in what I can wear and use in battle because all light and heavy armor skill nodes are on other sections of the tree. I feel hindered by the lack of experimentation of trying different weapons, and the same goes for preparing for battles I have the proper gear for but can't effectively wear. It has been frustrating having to go back and figure out which skills to refund – with a limited number of reagents to do so – and reallocate these precious skill points elsewhere to unlock the ability to wear some different armor.
While my most recent hours in Salt and Sacrifice have been, for lack of a better term, salty, I think there's a lot to like here for Souls fans and even Monster Hunter buffs. They're two series that share a lot of DNA with prioritized attack animations and a focus on learning boss patterns to be victorious. Playing one helped me out in the other, so marrying the hunting and crafting aspects into a Souls-like is a brilliant idea on paper. However, Ska Studios hasn't adopted the best ideas from each to make the perfect amalgamation. I'm cautiously optimistic that the rest of Salt and Sacrifice will redeem itself in the end, but from what I've played so far, it's flawed in ways that make hours of grinding boss fights feel fruitless in the lack of rewards I can realistically use. I don't think I have a grasp of everything Salt and Sacrifice has to offer yet, but I'll share my final thoughts in a full review when I do.