Considering the Sacred series’ history of open-world action-RPG games, the release of Sacred Citadel as a downloadable side-scrolling brawler with light RPG samplings is a bit out of left field.
But despite the dramatic departure in gameplay, Sacred Citadel is an enjoyable addition to the XBLA library, albeit with some flaws.
Sacred Citadel serves as a prequel to the upcoming Sacred 3, and casts you as one of four playable characters – warrior, ranger, shaman or mage. Each character has their own unique weapons and abilities, but you’ll quickly find that some of them – like the shaman, with her focus on healing and team-buffing spells – are much better suited for support roles in the co-op game rather than stand-alone fighters in the single player campaign.
Combat is primarily divided into primary (X) and secondary attacks (Y), with a special attack (B) that builds over time, and the controls are easily the highlight of the game. Enemies can be stunned with a well-timed block, but given the amount of enemies that you’re usually facing at one time, a better strategy is to always employ the evade roll before continuing your attack. Performing combos is tight and responsive, and an emphasis on building combo streaks to heighten your score means that you’re constantly dodging and attacking in rapid succession.
Rather than drop players onto the battlefield with a list of combos already at their disposal, Sacred Citadel ties combos to its leveling system. In addition to increasing stat categories like attack and defense, leveling your character will unlock new combos that can stun, juggle, and launch enemies across the screen, and the result is combat that continues to feel fresh and varied well after most other brawlers have turned repetitive. Earning new combos across character levels also creates a natural learning curve, since you’re given plenty of time to familiarize yourself with one button sequence before unlocking the next.
But once you have unlocked all of the combos, things take a turn for the familiar. Later levels feature variants of earlier enemies but with more health and more of them, and grinding down their health meters begins to feel like just that – a grind. Environmental hazards like swinging logs and falling rocks add some variety, but by the fourth and final act, I was experiencing a serious case of déjà vu.
Boss battles do offer a change of pace, but the ridiculously overpowered special attacks of some characters take away any sense of dread or challenge. By the time I had unlocked my ranger’s third-tier special, I could quite literally wipe out a boss’ entire health bar with one press of the B button. With three health potions and three rage potions (which increase damage) in my possession at almost all times, there was rarely a time during my seven-hour campaign that I was ever close to death.
Your character can also collect and equip weapons and armor that are dropped from enemies or are purchased from towns in each act, but they lack personality beyond their stats or elemental damage. By the end of the game, my weapons were far superior to anything that was available for purchase or being dropped, so the addictive nature that usually comes with random item drops disappeared quickly.
Co-op play is available either locally or online, and playing with a friend or two does add to the fun considerably. Just make sure that your internet connection is strong, as some of my online sessions suffered from repeated lag and pop-in issues, making the combo- and doge-based combat difficult to pull off.
In all, Sacred Citadel is pretty to look at and entertaining to play, but too easy and light on secondary incentives to keep you coming back for more. I burned through my first playthrough in well under ten hours without dying once, and replaying earlier levels for higher rankings with your leveled character amounts to blasting through enemies that die in one or two hits. There’s fun to be had here, but this won’t be a game that keeps you coming back months after its release.
Sacred Citadel Xbox Live Arcade Review/ Deep Silver, 2013/ http://www.sacred-world.com/
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 with a review code provided by the publisher)
(Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Seattle Before8. Follow him on Twitter at @CGidari)