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Salt and Sacrifice review: Mage season

Far away from the shores of its predecessor, Salt and Sacrifice takes us to a new land ruled and ravaged by corrupt magic.

4

Ska Studios put out quite the treat when it released Salt and Sanctuary back in 2016. The game took the Soulsborne formula and transitioned it to a challenging 2D action-platformer. Nearly six years later, Ska is back with Salt and Sacrifice. This game takes what Sanctuary did, refines it, and brings a new hunting narrative to the battles ahead. It can get unwieldy at times, but Salt and Sacrifice ultimately gives us another challenging action platformer with plenty of ways to play.

Unhinged elements

Salt and Sacrifice brings players to a kingdom which has been ravaged by mages. More than just magic users, these beings have utterly given in to the power of the elements and taken on twisted and corrupted forms to bring destruction across the lands. The answer to this wave of catastrophe lies in the Inquisitors. These are criminals who would have otherwise been condemned to die, but instead are given a second chance serving to hunt and kill mages.

The player is one of these criminals-turned-Inquisitors and, after undergoing a deadly rite which grants them their undying duty, they set off to aid other Inquisitors in the hunt. In Salt and Sacrifice, players will start at a base camp which will expand over time, acting as their hub as they gather blacksmiths, shopkeepers, faction leaders, and more that will help boost your abilities, equipment, and quest progress over time. Throughout the game, you go to various mage-ravaged lands and gather runes to allow you to travel to further new locations. You can also gather faction quests to help or hunt other Inquisitors in co-op and PVP or take on quests to hunt special mages.

When traveling to a new location, you’ll find many of them full of twisting tunnels, locked doors and shortcuts, various enemy encounters, treasures and gear, and, of course, mages. You’ll engage in a mix of melee and ranged combat, complete with strong and weak attacks, magic abilities, precariously-timed dodge rolls, and high-damaging critical attacks. Combat in Salt and Sacrifice feels even more fine-tuned than in the first game, but I will say I wasn’t fond of any fights that happened near ladders, as I found myself battling to keep from latching onto them in mid-fight. Despite having a permanent health recovery option like a flask in most Soulsborne games, Salt and Sacrifice also ties its health charges to a certain resource, which you can run out of. It’s easy to gather them, but on a hard boss fight, I drained my supplies more than once and had to waste time stocking up before getting back to the fight.

Mage encounters are at the core of this experience. There are regular bosses in Salt and Sacrifice, but fighting the mages is where much of the game is centered, and it’s quite an interesting system built around them. You’ll come across a hunt and a spiritual force will direct you to where in the biome the mage is located.

Each time you find the mage, it will engage you briefly in combat and summon minions (alongside other enemies in the area which will sometimes even fight with the mage, often getting decimated). Once enough damage is done, it will teleport away to a new location. You have to hunt it down to a final battling place and slay them once and for all, which will reward you with their hearts, salt (the game’s level-up currency), and tons of loot. Hunting a new mage for the first time is an intense chase pretty much every time as you contend with both them, the environment, and its pitfalls and denizens.

As you collect a mage’s loot, you can use their various components to craft elemental armor, weapons, accessories, and other tools to aid in becoming stronger. Each new mage you encounter adds a new set of gear attuned to the element that mage utilized, be it fire, cold, light, dark, poison, or combinations of elements. You can also specialize your character in various types of gear and weapons based on a class you choose at the beginning and how you level up through a skill tree. The game features a multitude of weapon classes like katanas, spears, bows, greatswords, and plenty more and you need to level up. This also provides resources to choose your path through the skill tree to specialize in higher level weapons and gear. The only thing I didn’t like about this last part is that I didn’t seem to see any way to respec, so you’d better decide what you want and be sure of it.

Retracing your steps

There are a few reasons to keep going back to various biomes even as you unlock new ones in Salt and Sacrifice. For one, there are a lot of different mechanisms you won’t be able to use until you collect permanent tools later in the game. There’s a grappling hook that allows you to swing off hanging hooks and rings to otherwise unreachable locations for one. There’s also a bag of energy crystals that power a pulley system and a veil that can catch magical drafts and boost you up to high locations. Additionally, there are doors that will only open to you in each biome once you’ve killed a certain number of unique mages. Each permanent tool and bit of advancement gives you new ways to explore places you’ve been to in a very Metroidvania fashion.

The other big reason to retrace your steps is because you likely won’t get all the materials you need to craft the gear and weapons you want from one fight with a mage. No worries there because after you kill a unique mage in a hunt once, it has a chance of spawning somewhere in the biome as a random encounter when you leave and return. In that way, it kind of reminds me of Monster Hunter, but where targeting a certain mage is key to getting the components you need to make your best gear instead of giant monsters.

It's also a double-edged sword though. As I said, each mage becomes a random encounter. Once the hunt is done, you can’t specifically target that mage again. That means you’re at the mercy of stumbling across the mage you want by scouring its usual hangouts in the biome and you won’t necessarily just encounter one of them throughout the biome. What’s difficult about that is there’s a good chance you can run into multiple mages appearing at the same location, turning that spot into a minion and spell-laden hell hole that will mince your health bar in seconds. These are boss battle encounters after all. Many of them are hard enough to fight solo.

What’s more annoying is that since you can’t activate a mission to hunt the mages once they’ve been killed the first, you also can’t track them when they teleport away to a new location. You have to watch which direction their aura goes to give you an idea of where they’re headed, which can be insanely hard to keep track of in the heat of combat. I lost random mages more than a few times and eventually gave up on finding them to instead move forward. I wish I could put a target on a mage I wanted to fight if I discovered and engaged them the way it does when I’m on an activated mission to hunt them.

The flipside of this is if you’re persistent, you can farm a lot of mage components in a jiffy and get some good leveling materials in the process. Once you’re at a pretty strong level, it feels quite good to go back with your new weapons and gear and beat the bejeezus out of mages that once gave you a hard time. Doing it to two or three mages at the same time when I was strong enough made me feel like I was wielding a corrupting amount of power myself.

Nicely seasoned sacrifice

Salt and Sacrifice does a lot of cool things on top of the Soulsborne 2D action-platforming system created for the first game. The focus on hunting mages is a cool twist and getting their components and making new gear was the stuff that’s made Monster Hunter a blast for decades. Even then, there’s plenty to explore in each biome between the mage hunts. I’m not fond of collecting berries for my healing flask and I feel it can get unfair when mages team up on me. However, getting stronger and coming back with enough might that not even multiple mages could stop me made Salt and Sacrifice’s 2D Soulsborne exploration and mage fights an intoxicating quest to wield the very power I was hunting.


This review is based on a PC digital copy supplied by the publisher. Salt and Sacrifice comes out on May 10, 2022 on PS4, PS5, and PC via the Epic Games Store.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

Review for
Salt and Sacrifice
8
Pros
  • Solid action-platforming and combat
  • Fun variety of classes, weapons, and gear
  • Extensive skill tree
  • Mage hunt focus is very Monster Hunter-like
  • Permanent tools provide Metroidvania exploration
  • Multiplayer PVP and co-op
Cons
  • Combat can get janky near ladders
  • Resource-driven healing in a Soulsborne game
  • Random mages are harder to hunt
  • No obvious way to respec
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