The Sacred franchise may not be the biggest name in the videogames industry, but it’s developed enough of a following to support not only a third title, but also a spin-off in another genre. Sacred Citadel is the unlikely scrolling beat-‘em-up offspring of an action role-playing game, but Electronic Theatre is most certainly pleased that Deep Silver had such faith in the brand as here they offer one of the finest of it’s ilk on recent years.
Available to download for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC now, Sacred Citadel is a genre product at its core. Up to four players will pick a character from one of four available, Warrior, Ranger, Mage and Shaman, and enter side-scrolling levels filled with dozens of enemies. Players will mash the X and Y buttons to execute a variety of combos and chip away at the enemy’s health. Each character class has a different moveset and their own special abilities, and they must use them to eliminate all enemies, large or small, in order to progress. So far Sacred Citadel is delivering an enjoyable but fairly standard scrolling beat-‘em-up.
On top of this familiar foundation Sacred Citadel piles a number of original mechanics and small creative ideas that patch over many of the holes on the genre template. Sacred Citadel borrows a number of its progression mechanics from its parent series, with players earning experience points and levelling-up with progress allowing them to customise their character in four attribute channels. A player’s save data prioritises each character their own in favour of their progress through the story, encouraging repeated play of earlier levels in an attempt to further strengthen an attribute or find better items.
All experience points and cash collected within a level are equally divided between all players, so you needn’t worry about getting the last hot or being first to the rewards. However, weapons, armour, crystals and potions are only given to the player that collects them (as are health replenishing items). Every character has basic weapons that all have shared use, and also a special weapon that is only for their class. These and armour can be picked-up and dropped mid-level with on-screen prompts informing you of the compared statistics of your current equipment and that on the floor. Crystals are temporary statistics boosts and potions boost health or special attack counts, or can induce a Rage mode on which all attacks are significantly stronger.
The amount of upgrading and customisation available to the player is what makes Sacred Citadel appealing. There are many similar titles with more elaborate combo systems and just as much of a measurable impact of weapon against cranium, but Scared Citadel ranks above most of them by offering a progression system that is both deep enough to be encouraging yet infinitely more immediate than Dungeon Fighter LIVE: The Fall of Hendon Myre. Furthermore, the fact that you can play multiplayer locally or online with the same character means that there’s never a single kill that doesn’t count for something.
The visual design of Sacred Citadel is of a high standard throughout, but never truly pushes the hardware. The pastel colours and cartoon-like aesthetic belie the bloodshed and demonic creatures that exist within, with the assumed family friendly appeal sitting ahead of some mature themes. Sacred Citadel is a true high fantasy production – with all the connotations that brings with it – wrapped up in the Sacred universe, offering it enough familiarity and unique backstory to remain interesting.
Falling short of redefining the scrolling beat-‘em-up genre, Sacred Citadel makes a good job of readdressing some of its weaker areas and adding depth where the gameplay was previously paper-thin. It’s an addictive design when played with friends and remains solid as a solo experience, and is arguably one of the best scrolling beat-‘em-up titles on modern hardware. Sacred Citadel isn’t just for Sacred fans; it’s for all those gamers who have been crying out for a Streets of Rage follow-up for the last twenty years too.