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The Sacred series of games has always lived in the shadow of competitor Diablo as an isometic hack-and-slash loot-driven action roleplaying game. However, Deep Silver and SouthEnd have taken a different approach to their downloadble prequel to Sacred 3 with Sacred Citadel, a 2D sidescrolling beat-em-up reminiscient of games like the soon-to-be-remade Capcom arcade classic Dungeons and Dragons: Tower of Doom. Released on PSN, XBLA as well as Steam for PCs, does Sacred Citadel work its way out from under the shadow of much better titles?

Wrong Place, Wrong Time
In Sacred Citadel, the big bad Grimmoc (see also: Orc) army is marching on the stronghold of the Angelic Seraphim, who have been locked away for centuries and have sworn off fighting for a life of meditation and reflexion. Why are the Orcs…I mean, Grimmocs, trying to destroy the Seraphim? Who can say? Why does anything bad try to destroy anything good? The Grimmoc battle engine, the Gatebreaker, is not strong enough to break the walls of the Seraphim stronghold, and requires two artifacts to do so. The entirety of the game consists of your band of adventurers getting accidentally caught in the fold as a tavern you just happen to be relaxing in is overrun by Grimmocs searching for the artifacts. Being the heroes you are, you vow to recover the relics and stop the siege. Fairly standard stuff, but told with a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek. The Grimmoc war chieftain is a good for a few laughs, and for as serious as the game could have been, Sacred Citadel doesn’t try to take itself too seriously…which helps tremendously.

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The Gang’s All Here
You and two co-op friends can play as four character classes: warrior, ranger, shaman and mage. If you’ve ever played a video game before, you can figure out how each of the classes play in Sacred Citadel, outside of the shaman, who acts as a bit of all three: some ranged, some magic, some melee, but with a focus on buffing the team. While you learn series of combat combinations that would feel right at home in a God of War game (light, light, light, heavy strike, etc), you will find yourself mashing the attack button and mixing it up just for the sake of mixing things up. As you progress through the game’s four acts, you level up your character and gain gold, which can be used to purchase stronger gear and potions at the town hub. However, pretty decent loot dropped off slain enemies to the point where if I spent all my gold on a new piece of gear, within five minutes, a better item would drop.

No Death Playthrough?
Sacred Citadel is abysmally simple, even sporting an achievement for not dying throughout the entire game. Having played through as a warrior, I didn’t put a single point into defense the whole time, only dying on the last act to a single fight, most likely because I wasn’t paying enough attention. Only then did I start putting my character’s level up points into defense, but leveling up my character didn’t seem to make nearly as much of a dent in my abilities as just having a new hammer or sword dropping.

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Rigged Bet!
An innovative difference in Sacred Citadel is the betting system, where you can go into town, drop 100 gold on the local gambler and bet that you make it through a chapter without dying, under a certain time restriction, or scoring a set high score. This would have been great, but the system was broken for me: I had a bet in with the local gambler, but it wouldn’t register on the level I was attempting it in. When I tried to reset the bet (which means you default and lose your first bet), it would continue not to recognize that I’d bet at all. I did get it to work once…

Hack, Hack, Hack
Walk from left to right, mashing the X button, kill everything on the screen, continue walking right. Fight mini-boss at end of chapter, fight end boss at the end of an act. Lather, rinse, repeat. While the art style is unique and very well done, the incentive to mash my way through the game while watching television wasn’t exactly there. I ended up banging through all four acts (five chapters per act) in a matter of hours, only having died once or twice. It was this lack of difficulty that made me wonder why it would have even been necessary to play this game with friends at all; you split your experience and loot with a second or third player: why bother when I can smash my way through the game by myself? There is nothing really here in Sacred Citadel to challenge you. Despite having a decent variety of enemies, mini bosses and pretty good boss fights, standard fights didn’t have enough variables to challenge you. Devil May Cry’s remake gave you a multitude of weapons with light and dark powers you would have to switch as light and dark creatures attacked you. Here, enemies are just fodder for you to mash the X button on. Even if they hit you, they usually drop food that gives you your health back, or you can drink a health potion.

This Makes No Sense
Everything in Sacred Citadel seems to make sense as good game design, and it all works: role playing game elements, persistent leveling, a good fighting combo system, local and online co-op, challenges to take you back through for replayability, loot drops…it’s all here. So why was I so bored playing Sacred Citadel? It’s a shame, because Sacred Citadel is definitely a well put together game…but will likely leave you with no real desire to play it.

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