I’ve played the Sacred series, and though I enjoyed it if you’d asked me if I thought it would be a good arcade brawler, I would have tipped my head like a confused pug. Sure, it did a great job of capturing the Diablo feel, but in what way does that qualify it to take on the likes of Golden Axe or Castle Crashers? Well, that’s exactly what we get with Sacred Citadel. How did they do? Time to dig in.
The visuals of Citadel are fun and stylized. Enemies, characters, and environments are all a cartoonie 3D rather than attempting to capture realism. I was quickly struck by how lively and colorful the setting was. You aren’t just walking through a forest or a mine. There is motion and detail everywhere. Frequently these take the form of what I call “Background Gags.” On one level, for example, you find a dwarf instructing a few orcs on the finer points of combat, complete with a chalkboard and stick figures. (I think technically it was a “miner” and “grimmocs” respectively, but I’m having some trouble unlearning the Tolkien, so bear with me.) Once you show up, they attack. Here’s a spoiler: The extra tutoring didn’t do any good. I’ve seen enemies fleeing in the background, smashing into a tree, and then being dragged inside by an unseen scavenger, and a shrimpy enemy spending an entire battle resuscitating a fellow soldier, only to bring him around at the final moment and be soundly defeated again. Best of all, if you see an enemy lurking in the background, chances are good that foe will be leaping into the fray at some point. It isn’t just decoration, it is foreshadowing!
The animations are good, with power moves having the proper feeling of heft and the mystic moves having the requisite twinkly sparkles. In my Dead Island Riptide Review I mentioned “Number Porn” in reference to the little numbers that spray from an injured enemy, and they are present in this game too, color coded for the type of damage they represent. The UI was effective too.
I played the Steam version, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there were a handful of graphical glitches. The mage has a stasis spell as her level 2 special, and it freezes enemies in a swirly orb of paralysis. Once they recover, though, the swirly orb just sort of stays there. I’ve died and returned to a battle only to find the same swirly orbs still swirling. Likewise, the little signs that let you know that there’s an attack or action that has become available to you have a tendency to stick around on the screen long after I performed said act. Neither caused any problem, but they are worth a mention.
This is an arcade brawler with significant RPG elements. Let’s start at the beginning. There are ostensibly four classes: Fighter, Mage, Ranger, and Shaman. In my experience, it really just boils down to two classes: Melee and Ranged. True, once the characters start to develop the differences between the ranged classes—shaman, mage, and ranger—start to show themselves, but in the beginning it all boils down to whether you’ll be up lose or far away from the action. Each player has three weapons; two dual-wielded weapons plus a class specific one. The dual-wielded weapons are responsible for your primary attacks, the class specific weapon is for secondaries. All three weapons, plus armor, can be dropped from defeated enemies and looted after each combat section. The comparison to your present weapon is displayed for you, and choosing to swap will replace your weakest weapon with the new one. Weapons have base damage plus a possible elemental type, and any weapon you’ve used before can be swapped in or out of your rotation at a town between levels. While you also level up with experience and can assign stat points to build your character, I cannot emphasize enough how much it adds to the game to be able to improve your attack and defense with equipment. Looting satisfies a fundamental urge deep within my reptilian brain.
You start the game doing only standard button-masher attacks, which chain into combos. Your primary attacks are fast and start combos, while your alternates are powerful and can knock-back, pop-up, or daze enemies. There is also blocking, which interrupts weak enemy attacks, and the indispensable dodge-roll, which gets you out of the way of danger. Now, I’ve seen some reviewers accuse this game of being a pure button-masher. I could certainly see their point at the beginning, but by the time you’ve reached level 10 or so, you’ve got a wide array of combos unlocked, and simply mashing the buttons is not only unnecessary, it is unwise. Like any such game you’ll adopt a small subset of moves that you like best. In my case, I like to do a 1-2-3 + Knock-back, then dodge-roll forward to do the tremendously satisfying ground stab-stab-stab (these are industry terms). Later I had to mix in some projectiles and projectile-waves for crowd control too. Other options could have included air-juggling and the like. Chaining attacks gets you a high multiplier, which in turn gets you a high score, and thus a high grade. Attacks also build a special attack meter, which gives you 3 levels of attack. For the mage, this was Level 1: Environmental damage to all enemies, Level 2: Stasis attack to all enemies, Level 3: All weak enemies become suicidal chickens. Good stuff! There are also vehicles and creatures you can ride on some levels, ranging from the standard “big mean mount” to a giant brute with a comfy chair on its back to a buzz-saw tank that reminded me more than a little bit of something from Metal Slug.
There are potions to build your health, boost your attack, or build your special, there are crystals that give you time-limited buffs to various aspects, and there are cities that let you purchase each between levels. In the city you can also purchase challenges to earn greater rewards for each level, either via high score, low time, or no deaths.
Multiplayer was excellent (though we had some de-synch and disconnect issues once or twice), and adds not only the ability to resurrect fallen allies, but group tactics. If I was a smart fighter, I could have dazed groups of enemies to that my ranger pal could fill them full of holes, then roll back to do some knock-back attacks to keep him safe. Perhaps best of all, experience is shared, which not only means that players level up at the same time, they also co-operate rather than compete, because if anyone wins, everyone wins.
I played the game with the Jungle DLC, which meant I got 5 acts, with a bunch of levels each, plus one extra-tough bonus level for the first four acts. Good length, and the challenges and score mean good replay value.
The voice work in the game is decent, and the music is varied and memorable. The title screen has what can only be described as “fantasy dubstep,” and levels have music that goes from standard fantasy to almost wild-west scores. I was impressed. I was further impressed by the references and gags that the devs snuck in. One of the first lines of in game dialogue is “Run to the hills! Run for your life!”, which I am prepared to call an Iron Maiden reference. There was also something of the format “One does not simply…” but that could have been a coincidence.
The story is rooted in some Sacred lore, involving things like Ashen and Seraphim, but what I like about it is that your characters aren’t some epic warriors of legend, they are just random adventurers. Not only are you just in it for the money, the narrator himself chides you for falling into obvious traps and betrayals. There is a deeper thread of ancient wars and rival races, but the fact that you’re just slashing your way along for a paycheck makes me smile.
Sacred Citadel is a stunningly deep and truly fun arcade brawler. It may not have the personality of Castle Crashers, but it adds some strong RPG aspects to the genre, and does its best to keep player interest high and replay value strong. Top notch work.
9.3 / 10: A worthy entry into the genre made great by Golden Axe and Castle Crashers, Sacred Citadel is a fun and addictive arcade brawler with great RPG elements.