Hack. Slash. Grab loot. Repeat. That formula is followed to a tee in Sacred 2: Fallen Angel, another action-first RPG you can toss onto the pile atop Diablo, Titan Quest, and the first Sacred, now more than four years old. But this isn't just another paint-by-numbers take on the fast-clicking genre that gave too many of us carpal tunnel syndrome. While the new game hews closely to the modus operandi of traditional hack-and-slash role-players, it offsets the lack of innovation with a monster-slaying rhythm guaranteed to hook you so thoroughly that you might as well have been hypnotized. This, plus a decidedly offbeat sense of humor and great multiplayer support, makes the game stand apart from the pack.
Dungeon crawls in Sacred 2 are relatively rare, but always dramatic and spooky.
As usual with clickfest role-players, there isn't much here in the way of plot. Bad things are going down in the D&D-style land of Ancaria, and you play either the noble hero who can set everything right in the light campaign or the evil villain who can wreak even more havoc in the campaign of shadows. The main plot isn't well laid out at all, particularly in the beginning. You can figure out on your own that problems are brewing with the High Elves and T-Energy, a glowing blue substance pumped all over the land in what look to be oil pipelines, and hone in on the main story by forgoing side quests for plot-oriented ones (which is easy to do as side quests are marked with gray circles on the map and story quests are marked with orange ones). But beyond that, nothing is given any serious dramatic push.
At least the game keeps you busy. Running around handling tons of quests is always in the forefront, which gives everything a hectic, odd-job feel. It's as if the game is constantly building toward something, but never gets there. Just when you think you're going to finally find out what the deal is with the elves and the T-Energy going nutso, you're instead hit with another apparently random assignment to find rare herbs for a potion, search a graveyard for a lost chicken, find somebody's missing spouse, kill a bunch of undead, or whatever. Only the sheer number of quests, their good variety, and the way that the game constantly hits you with these rat-a-tat-tat errands keeps you interested. It's tough to get bored when you have over a dozen quests on the go. Still, the massive size of the map will occasionally annoy you. A lot of time is spent hoofing it from Point A to Point B to solve or wrap up quests, as the game's teleportation system is awkward and lacking in gates. At times, you'll think the world feels unnecessarily big, and that you're spending more time in transit than you are killing monsters and collecting loot.
Most of Sacred 2's character is actually provided through visuals and sound. This is a real looker, with gorgeous sylvan scenes that include flower-strewn fields, dense forests, and babbling brooks, along with mountain and desert terrain reminiscent of postcards. Load times are practically nonexistent, except for those odd moments when you venture below ground for a bit of dungeon-crawling. Added details are everywhere, particularly in the towns and villages that seem to have been laid out by master architects and landscapers. The only drawback to the countryside is that it is often too meticulously sculpted. There are lots of impassable cliffs, uncrossable rivers, and impenetrable bushes, forcing you to check with the full-screen map constantly to avoid wandering into a dead end or cul-de-sac. Unless you're one of those people who never gets lost, you will run into a lot of "can't get there from here" moments. Character art and animation are equally superb. Many creatures in the game are given distinctive touches that separate them from fantasy archetypes. Kobolds here, for instance, are wizened gnomes with massive schnozzes, not the little lizard-goblin things of D&D fame. Earth elementals are muddy flying spirits. And even more generic fantasy monsters tend to show off at least one distinctive design element, such as the weird, spiky helmets on the skeletal undead. Each type of creature also generally comes in a half-dozen or more varieties with differing appearances and abilities, from grunts all the way up to bosses.
God-given powers like Will-O-Wisp come with blinding light shows befitting their divine origins.
Audio adds even more personality. Background music and battle effects deal in the usual Renaissance fair string plucking and sword clashing, but the game also has a unique take on some of the tunes and the character voices. Part of the soundtrack consists of licensed songs from German hair-metal band Blind Guardian, most notably a title track so gloriously stupid that you can't help banging your head to the opening cinematic. Character lines occasionally consist of droll commentaries that break the fourth wall. Dying enemies will mutter things like, "I knew it, I'm nothing more than an extra" and "I know where you parked your car, player!" Heroes shout typical battle cries along with comments such as, "My statistics continue to improve."