Deep Silver and Keen Games have announced that 2013 will see the release of action-RPG sequel Sacred 3 and at gamescom 2012 we got to see some of the action in this upcoming title first hand.
The whole game experience is being built around a core of cooperative multiplayer, driven by action-packed gameplay and supported by a cast of very different characters. The decision to focus on cooperative play was driven by the desire to foster longevity in the title and focusing on how to do that. The solution to making a title last, according to Deep Silver and Keen Games, is playing together and with this in mind Sacred 3 aims to elevate multiplayer to a level in which it is both rewarding and meaningful.
Keen Games have some big shoes to fill in taking over the franchise from the developer of the first two instalments, the sadly now-defunct Ascaron Entertainment. Critical reception of the first two games in the series were not exceptionally high, with most reviews falling in around the 7/10 mark. Despite not being hugely acclaimed, the Sacred series has always had a loyal following of core fans who will no doubt be both excited and apprehensive at the idea of a new development team being behind the reigns of a brand new Sacred project.
Setting-wise, well let's just say we were left a little confused. We were told that Sacred 3 will be set 900 years after the events of "the original Sacred games". However, Sacred 2 was set 2000 years before the original Sacred. We presume then that Sacred 3 is set 900 years after the first Sacred game, which would make sense based on the plot information revealed; in which the mysterious Ashen Empire has arisen from a faraway land and taken much of Ancaria as it's own, leaving the indigenous population to fight to reclaim their homeland.
For our hands-off demonstration we were introduced to the two characters that would be our guides through our time with the title: the Merak Berserker and and Ancarian Lancer. The Berserker is a muscle bound warrior of the Sophiri; a noble merchant race who have dispatched their finest warriors to assist the Ancarians in their fight against the Empire. The Lancer is a much more agile character, a barely-clothed spear-wielding warrior woman with greater emphasis on dexterity and speed when compared to her companion's brute force approach.
In the section shown we were walked through a linear campaign section in which the heroes moved though a fort guarded by several orc and goblin-like foes, larger ogre types and harpies. The emphasis was heavily on the hack and slash action and was showcased to demonstrate how the characters worked together in true cooperative play.
Abilities are combined with those of other players and by using coordination in their approach both players fill a special meter, which can then be used to strengthen regular and power attacks. We see numerous cooperative moves, such as combined finishing moves and moves where one player knocks down an enemy to allow the other to finish them off. During a sequence on a narrow bridge, the Lancer would stun enemies and the Berserker would then use a charge attack to knock them over the edge for an instant kill.
It is clear from just a short combat demonstration that the emphasis has definitely shifted away from more traditional RPG tactics of inflicting as much 'damage per second' as possible to a more skill based and tactical approach. For example, in one section against a heavily defended group of shield wielding enemies one player used a seismic pulse ability which splits the group in two and stuns them for a few moments. Both players then used this opportunity to get behind their shields and take them out.
Character models and environments are well done, with lots of detail and colourful backdrops lending some exciting eye candy to the proceedings. Camera effects play a part in this by adjusting to the environments, not only making sure that the player gets a good angle for combat but also highlighting significant background features and areas and giving a nice sense of scale to proceedings.
Of particular note is that the sequence we witnessed was entirely linear with no sign of the vast overworld present in the previous Sacred games. We were told that there is a deep, overarching storyline present in Sacred 3 that will be broken in individual, self contained scenarios; which would seem to imply that this will be a more structured, episodic affair and that the overworld may be a thing of the past.
Although we saw two player cooperative play we were informed the Sacred 3 will allow up to four players simultaneously. While cooperative play is the aim of the game a sense of competition will be present as each player will be awarded individual scores and medals at the end of each level.
It's fair to say that Keen Games are not afraid to make bold changes to the Sacred franchise. First of all, the developer is hoping to create an action-RPG title where there is less emphasis on 'numbers' and more emphasis on the action, leaning towards more of a hack and slash experience than a true RPG. The demonstrations witnessed and subsequent comments also seem to imply that the openly explorable overworld of the previous two instalments may not be making an appearance in this latest title.
There is certainly a market for action packed, hack and slash, RPG-lite experiences and no doubt if done well Sacred 3 will find a fair share of fans amongst those who enjoy such experiences. However, fans of the original Sacred games may find this reimagining of their beloved franchise is a substantially changed beast.
Both Deep Silver and Keen Games are taking a gamble by streamlining Sacred 3 into a more accessible experience. While it is possible that the finished result will have more broad appeal to a wider audience they also run the risk of alienating an already substantial fanbase by the sweeping changes made to the core of the Sacred design. We'll find out if this gamble pays off when Sacred 3 hits shelves sometime in 2013.