Salt and Sacrifice Review – Mage Hunter

After the success of 2016’s Salt and Sanctuary, indie developer Ska Studios might have rested on their laurels designing a 2D Souls-like sequel. Instead, the two-person studio has done the opposite, drawing on an amalgamation of influences to create a game that differs greatly from its predecessor. Salt and Sacrifice isn’t just another 2D soul; it still retains many of the genre’s underpinnings, but its allusions to Metroidvania and, crucially, Monster Hunter, are much more pronounced. While it features satisfying combat and progression, many of its risks aren’t always worth it, and this curious mix falls short of its full potential.

Salt and Sacrifice casts you as a doomed prisoner in a realm corrupted by evil magic. Monstrous creatures now roam the lands, and the source of all this desecration can be traced back to the nefarious mages that now haunt every region. Given the choice of execution or a life of wizard hunting, you choose the latter and become a marked inquisitor sent to track down these dangerous wizards and devour their hearts to ensure the kingdom survives. After creating a character and being routinely demolished by a Souls-style overpowered boss, you wake up in Pardoner’s Vale, a hub area where you can converse with various NPCs, level up your character’s class, craft and upgrade new weapons and armor. , and pets an adorable cat with horns.

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It is also here that you will find Mirrorgate, an enchanted portal that allows you to teleport to different regions of the realm. Each is home to numerous wizards who must be hunted down and killed, serving as the core gameplay cycle of Salt and Sacrifice. As you explore a region, you’ll uncover evidence that will initiate a Wizard Hunt, creating a trail of particles for you to follow straight to your prey. Like the beasts in Monster Hunter, mages aren’t limited to a single boss arena. You need to fight them a handful of times as they roam the region, summoning themed mobs to slow you down as they go. After dealing enough damage, you’ll eventually trigger a final showdown and transition into a traditional boss battle where you can finally finish off the mage for good.

Each region has a set number of named mages that must be defeated to progress through the game and open the sealed doors that block access to new areas. Dividing the game world into separate zones, similar to Demon’s Souls, loses some of the interconnectivity of the first game’s sprawling map, but each region is still quite large and labyrinthine in design, with all the hallmarks of classic Metroidvania. You’ll see glimpses of out-of-reach areas that you’ll need to return to later when you have the necessary traversal tool, discover satisfying shortcuts that lead to obelisks you can rest beside, and scale towering cliffs with precise platforms. The regions are also visually diverse, whether you’re inching through the tight confines of an underground mine or searching the bowels of a wooden ship perched on top of a snow-capped mountain.

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The problem with these intricately designed regions is that, somewhat disconcertingly, Salt and Sacrifice doesn’t have a map. This wouldn’t be a problem if it were still fairly linear and conventional Souls, but when you consider the game’s Metroidvania roots, it’s an especially odd omission. Having to re-find a door you discovered hours earlier but can only open now adds an element of tedium that shouldn’t exist, and this is compounded by the fact that you can’t fast travel between obelisks or choose which one you spawn on. enter a region. There are a lot of repetitive setbacks that just don’t need to be here, and detract from the rest of the game.

This also means you’ll be fighting the same monsters multiple times as you venture through familiar locations. So it’s fortunate that the sheer variety of enemy types is numerically impressive. They range from standard goblins and archers to skeletons with insect pincers protruding from their shoulders and towering sentinels armed with electrified hammers. The art direction and creativity on display is a delight, and each enemy type keeps you on your toes with unique attack patterns and potential weaknesses to exploit. Salt and Sacrifice adopts a fluid combat system consisting of light and heavy attacks, dodge-rolls, parries, and blocks. Your attacks and movements are noticeably faster compared to the previous game, giving each fight a fast pace that belies stamina management. Stabbing and slashing your way through hordes of enemies is inherently satisfying, as spurts of blood follow each wounding blow, and while weightless, each battle offers an engaging challenge.

The arsenal of weapons at your disposal comes from the Monster Hunter school of thought, with each weapon type having its own feel and move set. I started with a generic Highblade before creating upgraded versions that could deal elemental damage and deal more pain, but each still used the same combos and basic attacks. This may sound limiting, but it allows you to get comfortable with one moveset and then augment it with each weapon’s potential rune arts. These are special abilities unique to certain weapons that give them a sense of individuality within the larger framework of weapon types. When killing enemies to build up a rage meter, the first Highblade I crafted could be engulfed in flames, while the Arc Surge I used for much of the second half of the game conjured up a wave of dark energy projectiles that destroyed everything in its path. He passed.

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Salt and Sacrifice’s Monster Hunter DNA is also evident in the way you create and upgrade weapons and armor. Killing a single mage and a group of his summoned minions will net you a bounty of body parts which can then be used to make a piece of gear or two. If you want to craft a full set of armor or craft additional weapons, you’ll need to hunt the same mage again to acquire the mage-specific materials and upgrade components. This can be done by returning to a region and tracking them down again, or by opening up hidden areas to reveal more difficult variations of each boss that will drop more rewards upon defeat.

It’s a grind, sure, which is exacerbated by the lack of an in-game map and fast travel, but for the most part, it offers an enjoyable gameplay loop if you’re willing to accept it. The boss fights are diverse, with each one presenting its own set of challenges. They can seem overwhelming and almost insurmountable at first, but once you learn their attack patterns and discover the openings where you can dodge and attack, it’s easy to establish a pleasant but tense rhythm. Loot progression is also satisfying.

However, as you progress through the game, the combat system begins to reveal some questionable design decisions that coincide with the increasing difficulty of the bosses. Stamina regen stops when you take damage, for example, making it incredibly easy to die stunned. This issue will occasionally come up when facing multiple enemies, but it happens more often once you start fighting overly aggressive mages with no cooldowns on offense. Most bosses also launch attacks that launch you into the sky, but without i-frames, as seen in most Souls-likes, to keep from getting killed, it’s very easy to lose a full health bar without having any way to escape and defend. Healing is also a bit slow, especially considering some mages will hit you with attacks that deal damage over time. Enemies also have a habit of standing on ledges or at the top of stairs to prevent you from going up. This is a minor frustration compared to the others, but they all add up.

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Even healing potions are limited, though they are replenished at each obelisk. It’s unlikely you’ll ever run out of them, as the materials you need to craft them are so plentiful that you’ll rarely have to go out of your way to farm them, but if you repeatedly dash into a single boss, they can potentially run dry. Your only resource. in this situation it is to abandon the hunt to go gather materials, which adds even more pushback. It feels like an unnecessary layer of grinding that specifically punishes those who are struggling.

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To make things a bit more manageable, Salt and Sacrifice has added some familiar multiplayer options. You can play the entire game cooperatively with a friend if you both enter the same access code. Players can summon each other to happily cooperate, and PvP invasions are also present, with multiple NPC factions offering different rewards for taking out fellow Inquisitors. However, it remains to be seen if the player base will be large enough to support these options, at least on PC. So far I’ve had trouble connecting with someone else, either trying to summon someone to my world or volunteering as a co-op, which is a shame.

It’s also a shame that Salt and Sacrifice can’t live up to its potential. Ska Studios has created an ambitious sequel that takes various elements from both Monster Hunter and the Metroidvania genre and combines them into a sprawling 2D Souls style. For the most part, this curious amalgam succeeds, offering snappy combat, a labyrinthine world to explore, and tense boss battles against a wide range of challenging enemies. Unfortunately, it also leads to plenty of frustrating moments, either because the absence of a map and fast travel system adds extra tedium to its grind, or because the combat system is too punishing in a way that feels unfair and unbalanced. Salt and Sacrifice still offers a nice distillation of familiar elements, but too many problems keep it from achieving greatness.

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