I once had a friend who introduced me to Dark Souls. FromSoftware’s modern classic, an endlessly detailed game about being human and what it means to live and die, introduced me to “Watch this game as hard as shit, bet you can’t even beat the first boss.” They Make no mistake, I couldn’t even beat the Asylum Demon as it grabbed my panicked characters from the ledge and splattered them to the ground below.
Salt and Sacrifice is like that friend. Ska Studios’ 2016 sequel to Salt and Sanctuary is a 2D side-scrolling hack-and-slash adventure that pits your poor adventurer against monsters of tall, hulking shapes and sizes that ask you to venture into a wider world, literally Eat the mages alive on to restore balance to the entire land.
The Ska Studios sequel is like that friend in that it’s mostly a superficial study of the genre of games it plays. Any nuance in storytelling and dialogue is gone, as the NPCs and other supporting characters are almost entirely a note, designed to serve the player character and advance your quest to restore the world. What’s left is a tough-as-nails combat system that underpins everything.
That’s not to say the combat system is bad, though. Salt and Sacrifice’s eponymous hero swoops and dodges enemy attacks, or comes forward with a shield in hand – but with a very limited stamina reserve available, the game pushes you to keep attacking. There are truly heart-wrenching moments in combat where you try to sneak heals or try to whack an enemy before the enemy’s attack can contact you.
The whole thing can be really, really tough. Because your stamina doesn’t regenerate when you take damage, you’re likely to be killed by a combo of two or more enemies in Salt and Sacrifice without really getting out. Enemies standing taller than you (there are many here) can knock you two or three into the air like they’re Devil May Cry protagonists, or fly you back half the screen to press on you while their minions are raging .
Salt and sacrifice can be tough, but it’s not quite bulky. Salt and Sacrifice’s protagonists and the gear they carry are actually heavily customized. You can strike your enemies from range with ice or lightning-based magic, splash them with massive weapons, or weaken their health with elemental damage-laden daggers. Salt and Sacrifice makes items fall surprisingly thick and fast from downed enemies, so you’ll often find you have a ton of items to tinker with and customize your weapons.
Salt and Sacrifice lets you experiment with its weapons of war, which is only fair considering how brutal its boss fights are. The early game bosses feature a variety of monster mages, each the size of a house, good at whacking you with magical attacks, from ice and fire to lightning and poison. A couple of tall bosses and a small 2D arena work, and that’s the secret to tense encounters that just a millimeter can separate you from the attacks that send your heroes to their early graves.
The Rogue’s Boss Gallery has a staggering amount of health, and all you can do is nerf it while dodging and weaving an endless onslaught. Boss encounters definitely feel a little unfair at times, as blocking with a shield or standing on the edge of the arena and throwing at them with ranged attacks is not a viable option. “Good luck if you’ve been on the defensive until now,” Salt and Sacrifice seems to say to its boss, as the latest giant is coming your way and the attack will level the building.
Ska Studios’ sequel is a tense, worrisome combat system with tons of customization options, but the storytelling doesn’t stop it from being a bargain.
The aforementioned mages are a key point in the Salt and Sacrifice story, as the purpose of the game is to eat them alive and heal the world (in a very mysterious way). Aside from the dubious morals of devouring a living being, this plot is where many Ska Studios sequels fail: not much to say, as every character in the Game Center world will remind you of the plot and make things clear at the most In a public sense to you. Few have personalities or roles other than explaining things to you, as if they were museum exhibits designed to leak information at your request. Salt and Sacrifice might expand the world and scope of the original Salt and Sanctuary, but it doesn’t make it any more meaningful.
Throughout the drab central area, Salt and Sacrifice’s various biomes are still a lot of fun. Take the starting area as an example: a village full of monsters that looks almost completely horizontal at first, but turns into a vertical playground once you unlock the grappling hook, allowing you to literally ascend to new heights, Explore dank caves and houses littered with corpses. In fact, the vast majority of Salt and Sacrifice’s various worlds have a surprising amount of verticality, which is a very pleasant treat when you’re not being beaten by beasts.
Salt and Sacrifice is a repetition of what came before, but not a complete success. Ska Studios’ sequel is a tense, worrisome combat system with tons of customization options, and boss fights are fun if at times too intense, but Salt and Sanctuary’s storytelling and narrative design can’t hold up their bargain .