Salt and Sacrifice

Salt & Sacrifice by Ska Studios is the sequel to Salt & Sanctuary, a game that took Dark Souls gameplay and delivered a side-scrolling masterpiece. The second entry in the Salt franchise has made changes to the formula, some of which may have returning fans excited and others frustrated.

Starting off with character creation, you choose a class and customize your look. A crime must also be chosen, as your character starts the adventure by being banished to another land as an inquisitor. Inquisitors hunt mages as penance for crimes. To defeat a mage, you must hunt it down and devour its heart. As you make your way through the main worlds of the game, other details are slowly revealed. I found the story and world dangerous and mysterious, but significantly less intriguing than the first game.

My expectations for exploration were set the first time around. One large, interconnected map. Unfortunately, the big world is gone in Salt & Sacrifice and has been replaced with a campsite hub area with five levels you unlock and can teleport to throughout the adventure. This made the world seem smaller and inorganic as a result. This hub area combined with the new gameplay loop of hunting mages changed the vibe of progressing through the game.

Mage hunts are started by interacting with strange relics inside levels. Before accepting the hunt, you will be shown the challenge level, type of mage, and material drops from the mage. If you accept, a mist will emanate from your character, pointing you towards your target. This helps a lot, as there is no map in the Salt games and navigating the labyrinthine levels can be confusing. Devouring mage hearts help progress the game in a few ways. Firstly, there are doors that are sealed until you’ve defeated a certain number. Secondly, they are worth a ton of salt that you will use to level up. And lastly, they drop materials that can be taken to the smith to craft new weapons, armour, and trinkets. Mage hunts ultimately feel like a way of extending the length of the game, as there are fewer unique bosses in Salt & Sacrifice outside of the mages, and hunting mages repeatedly is a great way of getting stronger in a world that easily kills you even when you’re equipped with the best gear you can make.

Damage taken in this game is intense. Two or three hits will kill you in most situations; one or two during mage hunts and boss fights. I started off as an assassin with light armour. Never through my full playthrough did I feel that I was properly defended. Spending all my materials on upgrading my top level armour still left me feeling like I was wrapped in tissue paper. Magic, physical attacks, and traps all took a third or more of my health. Using the game’s skill tree to unlock as many health upgrades as I could never made me feel like I was ready to take a hit without immediately wanting to heal up using a precious charge of my healing flask.

The skill tree in Salt & Sacrifice is the same as its predecessor, which is great.Using salt earned from kills to level up, earn skill points, and navigate the spider web of stat points and equipment training. Your starting position on the skill tree depends on the class you choose during character creation. Outside of those points on the tree, you are free to invest anywhere you like along your path and grow in strength, dexterity, or any other statistic you want to build.I recommend getting as much health as you can, as it cannot be overstated how much damage you take in this game. Silver is also gained as a currency when fighting, but I found it to be almost entirely useless. The merchant you can send back to town seems to never expand his inventory and doesn’t have any items worth buying.

Cheap deaths are around every corner. Not just maliciously hidden traps, but enemies are built to send you flying with big hits and kill you with fall damage. Hopefully wherever your body landed was a place you recognize because that’s where all your salt drops. Doesn’t matter if you fall twenty stories to the bottom of a level that you’ve never explored; that is where you need to make it to reclaim your salt before your next death wipes it off the map. This made me want to return to town to level up whenever I had enough salt to level. However, leaving a level means you start from the teleport pad when you return, forcing you to navigate back through the entire level to return to where you are progressing. 

Multiplayer in the first Salt game was great. The focus was on co-operation. I have great memories playing the game co-op on the same screen, offline. In Salt & Sacrifice, the multiplayer mode has expanded to focus more on what other games are doing. This seemingly scrapped the local co-op mode for online Player-Vs-Player invasions when playing with another helper.PVP is simply a “ganker’s paradise”. This language simply means players invading your game are so powerful you literally have ZERO chance of winning against them. Invaders almost always have made their character with the sole purpose of disposing of others from a distance in one or two hits without any chance of being targeted. Luckily, these players are only able to enter your game when you are partnered with another player. Unfortunately, this encouraged me to play the game by myself and not suggest any of my friends get this game to play with me. I was looking forward to playing Salt & Sacrifice co-op with my partner, but between the PVP invaders and annoying platforming areas, a same-screen co-op mode just wouldn’t work with how they built this sequel.

Salt &Sacrifice has added new platforming mechanics and challenges. Unlike the first game, you start off with the ability to wall jump. A few other traversal mechanics are added throughout the adventure, and they can be as deadly as they are helpful. Missing a jump due to being hit by an enemy, misjudging your roll, or just not being popped up as high as you expected form a gust of wind or grappling hook pull will most times cost you a chunk of your health from fall damage.All other times will cause you to perish entirely.  Sometimes, the jumps you have to make and the objects you need to interact with are just a little too far off screen or at the edges of the screen to safely judge every time.

This was a difficult review to write. At its heart, Salt & Sacrifice is a solid action adventure RPG. There were a lot of choices made to differentiate this game from its predecessor. Personally, very few of these choices enhance what I felt were the things that made Salt & Sanctuary so dammed good. I’m glad to have played and completed Salt & Sacrifice, but I’m disappointed in the direction they took the franchise and hope the feedback they receive from other fans echoes my own.

~~Ian Voegtle~~

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