Review : Salt and Sacrifice : Mage Hunter

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Monster Hunter is one of my favorite franchises, with a core gameplay loop that feeds the addiction quite well. “But wait,” I hear in protest, “I thought this review was for Salt and Sacrifice!” Yes, that is technically true, but Salt and Sacrifice borrows so many elements from Monster Hunter that you could be forgiven for thinking it the next installation in the Monster Hunter franchise. The original Salt and Sanctuary was a clear 2D Souls clone, and while its sequel still very much sits in that box, Salt and Sacrifice also pours several of Monster Hunter’s bells and whistles into the mix before blending it into a fine puree.

But does the blend, and gamble, work for Salt and Sacrifice? In most aspects, it absolutely does. Whenever an attempt is made to add more solutions to a mix, however, the balance needs to be worked out. There are some issues with this for Salt and Sacrifice, and it could even deter fans of the first incredible game. But before we get into that any deeper, let’s lay out exactly what Salt and Sacrifice is for those new to the franchise.

Little town, it’s a quiet village.

Even with the Monster Hunter aspects, Salt and Sacrifice is a Souls-like game made with a 2D perspective. For those that may scoff at that mix, you must not have played the phenomenal Salt and Sanctuary, which pours the Souls-like formula about as neatly into a 2D plane as could ever be possible. And, like its predecessor, Salt and Sacrifice is, first and foremost, a Souls-like game.

Enemies hit hard and can end your game in a blink if you are not careful. You have an endurance bar to manage, and a button mashing strategy will be a successful strategy at increasing your number of deaths. You must calculate your every move as you utilize your resource gained with each vanquished foe (salt) to level up and become more powerful. All manner of foul creatures will thwart your progress until you properly dispatch of their well-animated pixels. The baddies can feel quite unfair at first, especially the bosses, but there is always a way to avoid punishment and, thus, death. If you do get caught by something, however, Salt and Sacrifice loves to rub your nose in your failure as there are many times your helpless body will fall victim to an ultra combo of deadly blows, effectively making the first hit you took a fatal one.

That’s why they call it bloodsport, kid.

Yes, you will die a lot, as is the case in any fine Souls-like experience. However, much like other games in the genre, each death is a learning experience. You will learn attack patterns. You will learn the locations of traps and enemies. You will learn effective strengths, weaknesses, and strategies for the game’s many ne’er-do-wells. You will quickly learn not to expend all of your stamina, as that would render you unable to dodge or defend against an enemy’s telegraphed attacks. And they are very well telegraphed, which is a blessing because, unlike most of its 3D contemporaries, Salt and Sacrifice only allows stamina regrowth in far fewer uncompromised situations. If you’re doing anything other than walking or standing still, your stamina regeneration will be thwarted. There is an item which helps with that, and, like most items in the game, it can be crafted using a myriad of items you will acquire while facing off against the main antagonists of Salt and Sacrifice: the Mages.

Mages are to Salt and Sacrifice as Monsters are to Monster Hunter. There are several elemental types of Mages, and each of them is quite a spectacle to fight. Across the varied areas, you’ll encounter named and unnamed Mages. When you first reach a new location, you’ll realize that many doors require you to defeat a certain amount of named Mages to unlock the door. As you encounter and defeat named Mages, you will find unnamed versions of them populating the areas.

Clean up on treetop 6.

Defeating the unnamed Mages will not help in accessing new areas, but you’ll be able to get all sorts of crafting items from them. By taking these items to the crafting area in the main hub area, you can create all manner of weapons, armor, relics, trophies, and anything else you might need to aid in your annihilation of the Mages and the other disrespectful critters populating each area. You can also use the items to improve your weapons and armor, and you will consistently be checking to see if you’re able to do so.

When you first encounter a Mage, it will battle you in an area of the map, and it will then scurry across to a nearby area to wage war there. After repeating this process a few times, the Mage will finally bunker down for the real battle, and an introductory nameplate will accompany the screen, along with a health bar for the boss. Once you deplete the Mage’s health, you will then be prompted to devour its heart while it is down in a weakened state. Upon doing so, a number of items will be dropped, and if it was a named Mage, that Mage’s fragile husk will speak with you. There are various responses you will have to engage with the Mage, but none of them will change the story at all.

What shall we talk about…

Much like other titles in the genre, the story in Salt and Sacrifice is told mostly through the item descriptions and environment, with a few key characters serving to explain a few morsels as you go along, including one particular figure who serves as a catalyst to the story’s progression. Not surprisingly, hunting Mages and sacrifice are the central themes, and it does well enough to compel you forward through the game’s several sizeable maps.

At the start of the game, you will reach a hub area, and you will quickly be escorted to a portal that eventually grants access to several areas in the world. It is not unlike Demon’s Souls, where each area is its own contained world. Unlike Demon’s Souls, however, you must venture through the areas one at a time until you discover specific runes, which you can then use to attune the portal to go to different areas. Each of the areas also contains a tool of some sort that will allow you to access previously unreachable areas, much like the Metroid-type games that inspired the map designs of Souls-like games. Upon discovering a new traversal tool, you will no doubt remember areas that you want to go back and use them on.

What light from yonder bow breaks?

Unfortunately, because of the nature of the game’s set up, the discovery part of the exploration is thwarted. Since your only real goal in any new map is to find the runes to access the next map, you’ll find that all of the other areas to discover are essentially paths to more Mages. That’s not a terrible thing on its own; finding Mages is comparable to finding treasure because, with each new Mage type encountered, you’ll have access to a new catalog of equipment that you may craft. But knowing that every new path to discover is essentially just a new Mage location (with the occasional treasure chest sprinkled here and there), you may find yourself not caring that there are new things to discover on a previous map, especially once you have your “go-to” weapons and armor that work for your style of play.

Thankfully, there are several varied types of weapons, melee and ranged, that you may equip on your adventure. Each category of weapons also has a decent amount of variation, lending a lot of fun to be had with experimentation. The weapons may have various elemental properties, and each may include magic spells that you can wield, provided you have the proper pre-requisites unlocked on the skill tree.

Like strands through the hour glass…

At the beginning of your journey, you’ll be tasked with creating your character and choosing a class. That class will have a couple of starter unlocks on a skill tree that spiderwebs across a bevy of unlockable skill traits. It is quite enjoyable to plan a path across the board, trying to piece together a hero that works exactly as you want.

As you accrue equipment and unlock skills, you will want to plan ahead with each of the Mages. When you discover one, a short description will brief you on what you will be facing. At that time, you may choose to face the Mage, or you may choose to cancel the battle for that moment and then go back to the hub area to regroup, equipping items that you believe will counter the foe. For instance, you may notice that the Mage will use ice, so you may consider bolstering your resistance to ice while countering with fire attributes on your arms. You may find that you need a few more items to craft a fire weapon, or ice-resistant armor, and you may choose to face a nameless Mage that grants these items. This is the very cycle that has popularized the Monster Hunter franchise, and it is ever so prevalent in Salt and Sacrifice.

Thank goodness for all of these pockets!

Another nod to Monster Hunter comes in the form of the different Mages themselves. As your Mage body count grows, more of them will appear on each map. And none of them will be particularly friendly with each other. So you will often waltz right into a war going on between Mages, and the spoils will all be yours! But one thing about the Mages you’ll quickly realize: it’s not the Mages that you are so concerned with at first, but rather their summons. See, the Mages will call upon the aid of several friends of their faction, and the wars that ensue are a sight to behold, akin to the Monster Hunter turf wars. These summoned baddies are friends to only their own faction, wiping out any normal enemies or counter-faction denizens they may encounter. As such, when you begin a Mage hunt, other Mages may also be called upon to intensify the chaos, and figuring out a strategy to either engage or keep away is thrilling as you go about dismantling the Mage’s defenses.

With all of the influences from Monster Hunter added, Salt and Sacrifice is still very much a Souls-like game. The Monster Hunter-style aspects may grate on some Souls-like players due to the differences in play they present. And sometimes the two styles directly clash. For instance, there were a couple of times when the Mage would scurry to blocked places that I couldn’t yet access. Because Mages run to random parts of the map instead of being scripted, this scenario can happen. It is clear that the Mages are given a basic set of locations that they are supposed to be able to access, making them somewhat predictable, but they can flee to an inaccessible part of the map for you while taunting about your father smelling of elderberries. This has thankfully never happened with a named Mage for me (the ones you’ll really care about), but it did happen at least twice with unnamed Mages.

So I went left at Albuquerque…

Souls-like games often present a grind of sorts if you want to beef yourself up to face the ever-tougher challenges that await. Adding another source of grind, such as that which fuels the entirety of the Monster Hunter experience, may seem superfluous to some. While there is a lot of cathartic bliss to be found in acquiring the materials needed for that new, shiny equipment, some may sour on the prospect of grinding materials while also needing to grind salt for levels and silver to buy items from stores. That is certainly a point of contention, though the grind for materials tends to be much less than that found in traditional Monster Hunter. In fact, if you want to craft every available item option from one Mage type, it will only take around 3 to 6 fights with that Mage type to do so. Even so, I would understand some not being thrilled at the implementation. But go in with an open mind, and you may even find it to be refreshing!

So does Salt and Sacrifice succeed in being an enjoyable experience? Absolutely, it does. The controls are responsive, there are many viable styles of play, the music is engaging, the sound effects are crunchy, and the animations are fun and stylized. While very challenging, and at times frustrating while learning the patterns of the enemies, you’ll find that there is always a way to avoid or defend against their many attacks. The game doesn’t quite reach the high marks of the original Salt and Sanctuary, but it is indeed a worthy experience that will have you wanting to dive into New Game + the moment your first adventure concludes, making Salt and Sacrifice a sacrifice worth its salt, and then some.

Final Verdict : 8

     Fun Factor : 8
     Technical Prowess : 7
     Time Investment : 15+ Hours
     Replayability : 8

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By Patrick Shields

I love the outdoors as well as the indoors, and when I'm not gaming, writing, or being musical, you can find me outside, climbing trees and getting lost off the road less traveled. It is a known fact that I've been blessed with the greatest kids in the world and an incredible wife who is an awesome nurse and my superhero. I've played games on nearly every system ever made and regularly go back to the classic games that helped raise this fine fellow. When asked which system or computer I prefer, there's only one answer: yes.

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