Salt & Sanc­tu­ary PS4, Vita

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher/de­vel­oper Ska Stu­dios For­mat PS4 (tested), Vita Re­lease Out now (PS4), TBA (Vita)

Well, this is just in­con­sid­er­ate. Were it not so lov­ing an homage, Salt & Sanc­tu­ary would be a brazen clone of the Souls se­ries. It bor­rows shame­lessly from nearly ev­ery as­pect of FromSoft­ware’s re­mark­able for­mula – ex­cept the but­ton lay­out. Your light and strong at­tacks are mapped to face but­tons. Item us­age and eva­sive ma­noeu­vres are per­formed with the shoul­ders and trig­gers. In the heat of the mo­ment, we’ve at­tacked when we wanted to heal; we’ve rolled straight into an en­emy when we wanted to slice their heads off. If you’re go­ing to make what amounts to a 2D cover of a Souls game, you might as well go the whole hog and give us the con­troller con­fig our thou­sands of hours of Souls- game mus­cle mem­ory ex­pects.

In al­most ev­ery other as­pect, Salt & Sanc­tu­ary fol­lows the FromSoft­ware house style to the let­ter. De­feated en­e­mies drop salt, which you use to up­grade gear and level up; die, and you lose the lot, un­less you can make it back to where you fell on your next life. Sanc­tu­ar­ies pro­vide the so­lace of can­dle­light, a place to level up and shop, and act as res­pawn and fast-travel points. Bosses hit hard and have learn­able at­tack pat­terns. Loot is cos­set­ted about the world and dropped by en­e­mies. Mes­sages in bot­tles, left by other play­ers, of­fer handy ad­vice about what’s ahead in a spi­ralling world filled with short­cuts and se­crets.

Ska Stu­dios has a few ideas of its own, thank­fully. Lev­el­ling up isn’t just a mat­ter of adding a digit to a par­tic­u­lar stat, but awards a skill point to be spent in a sprawl­ing skill tree. With that comes a stream­lin­ing of From’s of­ten ob­tuse re­la­tion­ship be­tween gear and stats. Here, weapons are di­vided by archetypes and, within that, num­bered classes. Items and gear are bought with gold, a sep­a­rate cur­rency that doesn’t van­ish when you die (though the cleric that re­vives you and takes you back to a sanc­tu­ary levies a small fee). Sin­gle-use items, mean­while, al­low you to sum­mon black­smiths and mer­chants to spe­cific sanc­tu­ar­ies to save you warp­ing back to the same base camp time and again.

Salt & Sanc­tu­ary can be bril­liant, but it’s held back by un­der­sized vis­ual de­sign, both in UI and open play, mak­ing play­ing it from dis­tance a pain. The art style it­self is a bone of con­tention too, the car­toony char­ac­ter de­signs clash­ing with the bleak aus­ter­ity of the world. But the game’s big­gest sin is fa­mil­iar­ity. A few weeks af­ter we chas­tised the lat­est Souls game for feel­ing too much like it­self, along comes a game that takes the con­cept to its most log­i­cal ex­treme. Ul­ti­mately, the prob­lem is a con­cep­tual one: putting your­self along­side a uniquely bril­liant se­ries of games is a com­par­i­son that can never be too flat­ter­ing.

Sur­prise! As in the Souls games, stamina is your most im­por­tant re­source, gov­ern­ing at­tack­ing and block­ing, though it doesn’t de­plete when you jump, and there’s no sprint but­ton to wear it down ei­ther

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