Salt & Sanctuary PS4, 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