Sacred 2: Fallen Angel Preview

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Perhaps surprisingly given their broad appeal, full Diablo-style action RPG romps come along fairly infrequently these days. German developer Ascaron Entertainment gave it a shot in 2004 with its successful single- and multiplayer game Sacred, and now the company hopes to one-up that game in as many respects as possible with its upcoming Sacred 2: Fallen Angel. Set in the fantasy world of Ancaria where the life-giving T Energy has become warped and malicious, the player becomes part of a massive conflict surrounding the mysterious power. I recently had a chance to get an early demonstration of the game to get a handle on where Ascaron is taking it.

Sacred 2's fundamental properties will be familiar to fans of the genre: it is a third person action RPG with a variety of playable characters, a quest-based campaign with many side quests, and online cooperative multiplayer. Ascaron plans to differentiate the game through various unique features as well as an overall scale that is uncommon to the format. At this point, Ascaron is only showing off the High Elf portion of the world, which comprises about 25% of the game's total geography, but according to the developer that section alone takes about five hours to traverse if walking from corner to corner. This massive area should contain a single-player game that runs about 25-30 hours, along with some 600 side quests or more. Dungeons are dynamically generated, with some being crucial to story quests and some simply existing for the sake of exploration and combat.

What I have seen of Sacred 2 is very attractive at the normal camera zoom level, and as demonstrated by the few released screenshots holds up quite well even when zoomed in up against the action. The game's lighting is well done and atmospheric, and touches like attractively rippling water help as well. There is a day/night cycle that players can set; while the team expects people to stay within a range of a 30-minute to two-hour day, it is possible to scale it all the way up to real time. Each self-contained area in the game has its own unique assets which are not reused elsewhere, down to pavement stones, statues, fountains, and so on. In an appreciated touch, Ascaron is foregoing motion captured animation and opting for hand-crafted keyframed animation for all models. Some of the animations are quite detailed. I was shown a mine area from a high-level portion of the game; there, the Ascaron rep showing the game fought and defeated a large stone troll. Upon death, the troll's body went through a crystallization process, after which it sunk down into the ground.

Accompanying the visuals is a fairly eclective soundtrack being provided by an external team. It ranges from the expected--a typical High Elf area features a pastoral theme with plucked strings--to the slightly less expected--one battle theme features a driving mix of organs, choir, and distorted electric guitar that is admittedly quite well suited to the leather-and-chainmail-bikini aesthetic of the Seraphim character.

Players can choose between six classes. So far, the only one to be revealed in screenshot form are is the ancient race of the technologically advanced Seraphim, formidable female fighters with armor that becomes surprisingly futuristic as players start to acquire more powerful equipment. Equipping new armor in the game can significantly change the look of your character, and one set of Seraphim armor shown during the demonstration was actually quite reminiscent of the helmet worn by heroine Samus in Nintendo's classic Metroid series.

Each class has a preset morality alignment, either good, neutral, or bad; Seraphim, for example, are good. This alignment has various effects on the game experience, such as what elements of environments are hostile or welcoming, or whether NPCs are willing to help you out in a jam. I was able to learn the names and alignments of the remaining five classes, though visuals and specific details are still under wraps. The other good character is the Dryad; taking the middle path are the High Elf and Shadow Warrior; and walking on the bad side are the Inquisitor and the Temple Guard.

When I saw Sacred 2 late last year, it was too early for Ascaron to be sharing comprehensive information on the game's skill and combat systems, but I did get a few details. Spells in the game are granted by the character's chosen deity, which the player chooses at the beginning of the game. Player then acquire additional spells from that god's progression. It is possible to switch allegiences, but doing so will require the player to start over from the beginning in terms of earning spells.

As far as the game's combat systems go, different aspects of them will be customizable in different ways. For example, an archer will have access to arrows with different properties--some arrows are lighter, while others are fire-enchanted, and so on. Players can also combine individual spells to create new effects. For the most part, these tend to be fairly intuitive: combining a fireball spell with a storm spell creates an impressive firestorm. Obviously, not all combinations make sense--trying to combine that fire spell with a water spell is likely to just fizzle--but Ascaron noted that there are a significant number of matchups represented in the game.

Ascaron noted that Sacred 2's multiplayer component is a big area of focus, though only fairly basic details could be shared at this point. Online cooperative multiplayer games will be able to contain up to either 16 or 32 players--the number is not yet set in stone--with parties of up to eight characters each. Like other games of the sort, it will have a pre-game lobby with chat and friends management, but less typically it supports both voice and video chat out of the box. Similarly to Battle.net, there will be two online options, open and closed, with the former allowing players a greater deal of freedom to set up servers and the latter featuring only Ascaron-run servers in order to limit cheating and provide reliability. For those who still like to play within earshot of others, Sacred 2 will feature a special LAN campaign, though it is unclear how substantial it will be relative to the main single-player/online campaign.

Sacred 2 is still in a fairly early state, but what has been shown so far looks to be part of a solid and ambitious entry in a genre that could use more such games. Ascaron has not yet announced a specific release projection, but expect to see more from the game this year.

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