Ever since Dark Souls made it big, there has been an explosion of tributes, eventually even spawning the new subgenre of Soulslikes. Everyone then developed their own opinions on which Soulslike is the most accurate in recreating the Dark Souls experience, and for me, I always screamed Salt and Sanctuary any time I got the chance. So immediately upon hearing that Ska Studious was developing a sequel, Salt and Sacrifice rocketed up my list of “Get these games immediately and play non-stop.”
I received a copy of the multiplayer beta, and while I’m not going to get too into my impressions on it, it definitely tamped down my excitement. But what kind of idiot judges a finished single-player experience based on an unfinished multiplayer experience? So having played the finished single-player game, I can safely say that, yeah, I am an idiot. Salt and Sacrifice has, in no way, disappointed me. Not to say the game is perfect, but it manages to build and expand upon the things I loved so much in Sanctuary while introducing new mechanics that clearly state Ska Studios’s is not resting on their laurels.
The story is immediately set up, presenting your character as a magehunter. You’re a felon of some sort and given the choice between death or becoming a Marked Inquisitor, tasked with hunting down mages and putting them to your special mage-killing dagger. This introduces what I think is the absolute coolest new mechanic in the game, the actual act of hunting the mages. Salt and Sacrifice takes a paragraph out of the Monster Hunter book, having you discover a message from an NPC, which then sets up a trail for you to follow that leads you to the mage. You then follow the mage around, entering into periodic little skirmishes before chasing the mage to their boss arena. Once in the boss arena, the health bar pops up and reflects any damage you were able to get in during the previously mentioned little skirmishes. It’s just a fun little mini-adventure with consequences, albeit a small little chunk of health missing being the only consequence, but it’s a nice touch, for sure.
As for how maneuvering around the map and the combat go, I’m pleased to say that Salt and Sacrifice has a grappling hook, therefore, giving it at least three bonus points if I was to give a numerical value. Grappling hooks rule, and they need to be in more games. With the addition of the grappling hook, there’s a new way of adventuring around, which is a welcomed mixup between the combat sections in the game.
The small amount of resource gathering introduced in this game only goes to further that overall enjoyability outside of the combat. The combat itself hasn’t changed much from Sanctuary outside of the addition of always having a ranged weapon of sorts on your character, but I don’t think there was ever much need to change it. Ska Studios created a solid loop the first time around and knew they didn’t need to reinvent the wheel here; they just had to add more dope wheels.
One thing they did change about the exploration, and this harks back to Demon’s Souls, is the idea of a hub world and using gateways to access different areas, as opposed to just one massive map like in Sanctuary. I’m not necessarily opposed, and I actually like the freedom it gives them in creating entirely separate biomes and environments.
With that said, oh lordy, did I go into the second area way too soon. I got WRECKED by the first boss there, doing chip damage and getting two shots. But hey! That’s part of the learning curve, and me getting my ass beat adds to the effect the disembodied head was getting at when he accused me of being a dirty colonizer in his homeland. Congrats, disembodied head; I was indeed humbled. That is not to say that having multiple maps meant Ska Studios went small. There’s still a ton of exploration to be had in the different maps, and with the aforementioned grappling hook, the maps have a very fun amount of verticality this time around as opposed to a mostly horizontal journey.
The one aspect I do not like at all about this is the change in fast travel. Maybe it’s a feature unlocked later, but so far, I’ve only been able to fast travel to the entrance of the areas, despite there being multiple checkpoints littered throughout the maps. Hopefully, that’s just a late-game thing, but I’d like the option to at least return to the checkpoint I used to warp back to the hub world.
One last little comment on something I didn’t like before getting back to the other 98% of the game. I don’t know who came up with the whole concept of “If you die, you lose a little part of your max health until you use a consumable item to restore your full health bar,” but I wish they step on, at minimum, 5 Legos a day for the rest of their life. Just straight up, get that Lego deep into your heel. I don’t even feel bad about wishing this evil on the person. Everyone who has decided to continue incorporating this practice into their games can step on 4 Legos every other day. I’m not a tyrant, okay? I can have mercy.
For all the technical aspects, I’m not reinventing the wheel to say that Ska Studios once again did not reinvent the wheel. The unique art style paired with the overall aesthetic present in the fonts used goes a far way in giving the overall feel of a foreign and fantastical world, while the music adds in an ever-present aspect of horror. The return of the almost-but-not-really ragdoll physics adds a nice touch of flavor, which almost serves to take some of the stress out of being brutally murdered and losing all my currency.
Overall, Ska Studious took what was my favorite Soulslike game and managed to dodge the sophomore slump. They knew exactly what they had to do to make a worthwhile sequel, adding enough to warrant a second game but not going overboard and losing sight of what made the first game so dang enjoyable. The gameplay loop has grown to include a hunting mechanic, which, by looking at the popularity boom in Monster Hunter, is a very smart move, and I think it works flawlessly, Adding in the small resource gathering bit as well as incorporating more diverse areas to explore while rooting the character into a home base makes the game feel more “complete” in a sense, more fulfilled, like it really found its footing. So at the end of all of this, the one thing I’m left with, other than a big ol’ smile and realized hopes, is the question of “Special Edition Nintendo Switch launch when?”