Nearly everything about Salt and Sanctuary is bleak. Its muted colors, overcast environments, and ruined buildings are symptoms of a world as dead and rotting as the enemies found within. It’s a difficult dark fantasy game with each new room and encounter providing challenges for a player to face against great odds.
And death is certainly inevitable.
The latest from developer Ska Studios, Salt and Sanctuary has repeatedly been compared to Dark Souls on account of its gloomy atmosphere, items, slow and deliberate combat, and grueling challenge. But according to Ska’s Michelle Juett Silva, it draws its inspiration from something much older than From Software’s action RPG.
“We tend to think much of Dark Souls as a 3D version of the 2D Castlevania [games], especially Symphony of the Night,” she explains, noting Symphony of the Night’s influence on Salt and Sanctuary.
Everything from the world design to the way the player character moves and fights is similar to the 1997 classic. Multiple staircases, branching areas filled with different enemies, and a Gothic horror-esque setting all make Salt and Sanctuary a wonderfully dour game with equal amounts of gloom and personality.
Salt and Sanctuary seems like an unlikely successor to the studio’s previous game, the 2013 brawler Charlie Murder. But, as Michele points out, Salt and Sanctuary is very much within Ska Studios’ wheelhouse and is a culmination of the many lessons they’ve learned through the years.
“Charlie Murder was actually more of the departure in game styles for us. Salt and Sanctuary is much more like our older games, The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai and The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile,” Michelle says. “We wanted to see if we could take the fast-paced action style of our Dishwasher games and add heavier RPG mechanics.”
They’re proud of the results. “We succeeded in creating a really fun, challenging game that stays true to our style while creating something a little different.”
The Dishwasher’s fingerprint is clearly seen, but the differences are equally apparent. Whereas The Dishwasher was a combo-based action game, Salt and Sanctuary is a methodical action RPG with more precise combat and multiple classes. It utilizes magic and stamina bars. And while it retained some of the aerial combat of The Dishwasher games, Salt and Sanctuary is an amalgam of many different ideas borrowed from outside sources of inspiration.
One of the major achievements in Salt and Sanctuary is the player’s ability to avoid taking damage. This can be done through several ways, Michelle explains. Some can use a shield to block incoming attacks, quickly dodge roll away from enemies, and use aerial attacks to keep on the offense while platforming.
The same dull visual quality of The Dishwasher was also incorporated in Salt and Sanctuary to build the game’s evocative mood and atmosphere. Outside of safe zones—aptly named sanctuaries—the colors are washed out, filtered through multiple shades of grey and blurred.
“… We wanted to utilize [the de-saturation of color] to emphasize gloom and danger in the world outside of sanctuaries,” she explains. “The sanctuary utilizes color and warmth to indicate an area of refuge and safety.”
According to her, it utilizes the same tech and art style the studio has become known for. They’ve used the same general approach and tech for all of their projects from the past nine years, and its jagged cartoonish art style is pulled from the work of Ska’s James Silva. Michelle jokingly claims the art comes from “James’ middle school notebooks, because it’s just the way he’s always drawn.”
The style works in tandem with all of the other visual aspects of the world, creating a formidable place both unfamiliar and hostile, with creatures inspired by monsters from Gothic and medieval lore.
Salt and Sanctuary’s first free challenge update “Everything is Spindlebeasts” recently became available for all owners of the game. Going forward, free updates are what the studio plans on utilizing to continue support.
Salt and Sanctuary is available now on PlayStaiton 4 and is currently in development for the PlayStation Vita and PC. Check out our first look to learn more.