'Sacred' is pretty well your standard 3/4's view hack'n'slash RPG, with a few interesting elements thrown in and a capable execution throughout. You start out by choosing your character class: Gladiator, Battle Mage, Dark Elf, Wood Elf, Seraphim (angel), and Vampiress. Each of these classes will encounter unique subquests, be able to use character specific items, and as you might expect - develop their attributes along divergent paths. In addition, each class has a powerful set of special abilities to help them through the game.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward. You have a number of quests to complete, about thirty that advance the main storyline (we use that term loosely) and around another two hundred optional side-quests. Once you speak to a farmer who needs his daughter found, its a brisk walk to her location (helpfully identified on the map), plenty of killing, and a triumphant return for some gold and experience.
Character growth is handled in a familiar manner. Once enough experience is gained, another level is reached. You can distribute points to improve your skills and also have an attribute point to increase stats such as 'endurance' and 'dexterity'. The game assigns a number of attribute points automatically, ensuring character class strengths/weaknesses are essentially mantained.
The game also adds a few welcome features, which add some customization options and strategic elements to the gameplay. Weapons and armour can be carefully upgraded by blacksmiths, and characters can create custom combos from a variety of their special attacks. How you manage these can significantly affect your success against some of the nastier monsters out there (and there's a lot of nasty monsters to choose from).
'Sacred's biggest draw is simple. It's absolutely massive. There's an enormous amount of land waiting to be explored - from verdant grasslands to frozen tundra to burning desert - 'Sacred's scenery never goes stale. The sense of vastness is increased by the fact that you often have to walk on foot to cities flung across the map, and the journey is always interesting, and usually dangerous. Cities have distinctly unique visuals and layouts, ranging from a tent city in the desert to a truly enormous walled keep in the northlands. Right from the get go you can freely wander over two thirds of the available landspace, although it's advisable to level-up substantially before entering the more dangerous areas.
An extremely helpful mapping system keeps you from ever getting lost, and always points you to your next objective. Sometimes it can make the quests overly simple, as you always know where you have to head next. The alternative however - exploring every nook and cranny of such a prodigious world, would be much worse. Still, the map doesn't give everything away. Journeying off the beaten track is often worth your while, as some of the best items and secret places are far from any road.
In an interesting and welcome addition, 'Sacred' doesn't strictly limit you to walking. You also have the option of purchasing horses, and the game handles their implementation quite well. Attacks are more deadly from horseback, and defense is easier. As a drawback however, some special skills can't be used while you're mounted. The horse-riding animations are done extremely well, although the actual combat can be tricky at times when you're facing a large number of opponents.
Although the world of 'Sacred' is suitably large, its greatest drawback is the lack of atmosphere. As the non-player characters only spit out random sentences or ask you for quests, it's hard to get pulled into the game. A villager in southern deserts seems pretty well the same as one a world away. To make matters worse, the game doesn't build on its storyline at all. Aside from the main quests which sketch a blurred outline of events, there's nothing else in the game that works to draw the player in. The premise of the game is narrated very quickly in the introduction. A wizard summons a demon, and it gets loose. That's that in terms of setting the backstorym and the game suffers for it. After a while, it doesn't really matter who you're slashing, or why you're hacking through an army of orcs - it's just something that has to be done. It's a pity really that such a technically impressive world is so two-dimensional.
The battle system is also very straight forward. In general, if you have the its best to try and snap off a few shots with a ranged weapon before your enemies close (if you have the time), and then get your hands dirty. If things get rough, you can break out a special attack to create some breathing room. The vampiress for example, can turn into a (wait for it...) vampire! Her attack capability is doubled, and she can see much better at night. In addition, her other skills include summoning wolves to fight for her, draining the life of her opponent, and many more. As previously mentioned, these can be strung together to create many interesting combinations. In most cases you'll fight alone, but for a decent chunk of the game you'll have some companions to help you out. This is greatly appreciated, as it's nice to have some cover fire, or someone else to wade in, ax swinging. Thankfully, you don't have to worry about babysitting them as they're helpfully resurrected should they perish. Truly a sanity-preserving addition.
The graphics throughout 'Sacred' are done very well. There are three levels of zoom, and you can see there's been a good deal of effort put into individual character models. One of the benefits of the 3/4 perspective is that it's not very CPU intensive, and you can expect solid performance even on low-end machines. As a sidenote, the game runs very well in windowed mode, which is always a nice touch.
A few quick notes here: As of this writing, the North American release is awaiting some patches for multiplayer online play, as there have been some problems. Official word says it should be fixed pretty soon, the game is already online in Germany. On a sad note, the North American version has apparently been stripped of blood and gore, which is pretty disappointing.
'Sacred' works as a very enjoyable game. You won't be blown away by any of the concepts, but they're all executed strongly. It's nice to get out of dungeons and have a huge world to explore. Although the battles can get repetitive - 'Sacred' throws enough into the mix to keep things interesting. Enemies are well balanced with charcers, and with a little bit of planning, you can make it past even the hardest fights. 'Sacred' is sure to please fans of 'Diablo' and 'Baldur's Gate', and is a welcome addition to the RPG genre.