The sequel to Salt And Sanctuary is another impressive attempt at a 2D version of Dark Souls, but how does it fare post-Elden Ring?
Now that Elden Ring is out we’re going to need a new term for Soulsborne games, because changing it to Soulsbornering just sounds like some twee German village. Or perhaps the term will stay, because everyone already uses it to mean a game that is in the same style as Dark Souls or Bloodborne, whether it’s by FromSoftware or not. There have been many such copycats in the over 10 years since Demon’s Souls and while some have come relatively close to the same quality none have pushed the boundaries of the design to create something uniquely their own.
Salt And Sacrifice is in very much the same position, as while its 2D artwork and gameplay makes it look very different to a regular Soulsborne it sticks closer to the established template than most. A change of perspective can often make all the difference though and while, like predecessor Salt And Sanctuary, this offers almost no new ideas of its own, at least it borrows from the best.
There are some new features, such as a grappling hook and an interesting new approach to boss battles, but overall this is just Salt And Sanctuary again, only with different level design and improved graphics. In other words, it’s a sequel just like any other, although if you are already a fan of the first game that doesn’t guarantee you’ll like this one.
One area where Salt And Sacrifice does diverge from the Soulsborne formula is that the story isn’t quite so obscure. It’s not completely transparent as to what’s going on, but basically mages are causing trouble raising the dead and conjuring monsters and you’re press-ganged into a special inquisition made up of minor criminals, who are expected to hunt down the mages and their allies in typical Dark Souls style.
Because of the 2D visuals the game naturally has an air of Metroidvania about it, and developer Ska Studios sensibly leans into this, by blocking off areas until you have the correct item or ability. There are seven different classes, but everyone starts of with a melee and ranged weapon, from small daggers to swords the size of a bus.
As in any Soulsborne game the combat is not mechanically complicated, but each weapon has its own super move to power up and elemental damage and resistances to consider. Dodging is vitally important, but since you’re only moving along a 2D plane it’s naturally more simplistic, from a tactical point of view, than a 3D game.
Like Dark Souls, this is technically an action role-playing game but the levelling up system is closer to something like Skyrim, in that you don’t increase individual stats but instead unlock new abilities from a skill tree. The crafting and armour system also borrows from outside sources and is similar in concept to Monster Hunter, as you craft new items and weapons from material dropped by defeated mages.
There’s also a Monster Hunter influence in terms of how mobile the mages are, as rather than just hanging out in their own specific boss area they’ll often take off of their own accord and you’ll have to pursue them back through the level. This is a nice idea in theory, and works in Monster Hunter because there’s not much difference in how difficult it is to traverse different parts of a level, but in Salt And Sacrifice things are a lot more complicated, with difficult jumps that are not always easy to judge in a split second.
Salt And Sacrifice may not invent anything new itself but it’s definitely not just the same game again. The graphics have certainly improved and while they’re still not very attractive they are at least more colourful and look less like a low-tech Flash game. We still don’t really like the aesthetic, but we don’t like to complain too much as not only is it Ska Studios’ established style, going back to 2009’s The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, but the game has primarily been made by just two people.
As impressive as that is though it’s not really a factor when considering whether to spend your time or money on the game, and the truth is that the novelty of a 2D Dark Souls has warn off in the six years since the release of Salt And Sanctuary. It’s also less easy to forgive the somewhat imprecise combat, which often struggles with accurate collision detection, especially when dodging. Indeed, the movement in general feels a little too weightless to be satisfying, despite attempts by the animation to compensate.
Soulsborne games get away with being as hard as they are because no matter how much you kid yourself it’s always your fault you fail, not the game’s. In Salt And Sacrifice that’s not always the case, as you never feel 100% confident of your actions or that the game will be playing entirely fair.
There are other disappointments too, such as the dull selection of level biomes and the way the game world is organised into small, sperate areas rather than everything being interconnected like before. This seem to be because of the mage hunts but, really, if that’s the case it wasn’t worth the sacrifice, no pun intended.
Salt And Sacrifice isn’t quite as much fun as its predecessor, and that’s partly due to some questionable design decisions and partly because things have moved on in six years. If there was going to be a sequel to Salt And Sanctuary it needed to be something more daring than this, which is if anything a small step backwards from the original.
Salt And Sacrifice review summary
In Short: Another impressive attempt at a 2D Soulsborne but a less entertaining game than Salt And Sanctuary, with some frustrating combat that doesn’t always feel entirely fair.
Pros: Well-designed levels, with a ton of content including a substantial new crafting system. The new grappling hook is fun and there’s a raft of optional multiplayer options.
Cons: Inconsistent difficultly level thanks in large part to the imprecise and weightless combat. No original ideas of its own, even compared to the first game. Art style is still pretty unappealing.
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