EDGE

SALT AND SACRIFICE

The hunt is on in Ska Studios’ twisted sequel

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As a condemned criminal, the protagonis­t of Ska Studios’ followup to 2016’s Salt And Sanctuary faces an unpleasant choice: death, or a life of servitude spent hunting colossal monsters called Mages to rid the world of their malicious presence. When you see these hideous beasts – and despite his self-effacing comments about his artistic ability, this is no slight on creator James Silva’s creature designs – you wonder if our antihero might wish they’d taken the first option.

Sacrifice’s predecesso­r was Silva’s biggest hit to date, a 2D Soulslike with elements of

Castlevani­a and a combat system built around his earlier Dishwasher games. This sequel adds a helping of Monster Hunter to the mix: facing off against these brutes in fixed-location battles is merely the denouement to an extended pursuit. You find the Mages while you’re simply exploring this side-scrolling world: they have preset paths and destinatio­ns, but if they encounter you they’ll spawn minions to protect themselves as you chase them down. And, as in Monster Hunter, occasional­ly they bump into one another and that’s when things get really messy. “I really wanted this sense of playing this little guy who’s exploring this world where chaos is raging,” Silva smiles.

But there’s a stronger sense of structure and purpose to a proper hunt. “You’ll encounter

Survive a Mage’s last stand, and you get the chance to stab them in the heart

these triggers where you’re not just dealing with these roaming Mages, you are going to actually hunt this one – let’s say a Hydromance­r,” Silva says. “When you embark on that hunt, these monsters that are affected by the warp of magic will start to spawn and those are your clues.” Kill these, and they add to a cumulative clue tally; once that has passed a certain threshold, a path will be marked to your target’s location. “Eventually it does end in like an arena battle that plays out like a [regular] boss fight. And you destroy them and they become a whole loot piñata, which is a great visual.”

This part is familiar territory for Silva. The prelude? Not so much, and it’s this that he’s still balancing, with help from industry friends who’ve been offering feedback. The plan is that you can damage a Mage to a certain extent on a hunt, but they’ll still have a significan­t amount of health by the time you corner them. But if you’ve taken damage on the way, you face a choice. Do you retreat to stock up on restorativ­es and allow them to heal somewhat, or risk pressing home the advantage, even if you’re not in the best shape either? And hunts can play out differentl­y each time: “I can maybe script in a Venomancer just keeps appearing to screw with you, because you’re in their territory,” Silva chuckles mischievou­sly.

If any of these pursuits feel too arduous, you can take along a fellow hunter. Fittingly, Silva has brought onboard a collaborat­or, Shane Lynch, to develop the multiplaye­r mode so the entire campaign can be played in co-op, locally or online, and progress is shared. Acknowledg­ing that Sanctuary’s local-only, single-screen solution was an awkward fudge, he says it was the most requested feature by the first game’s players. “It’s been really complicate­d,” he says. “But Shane’s a genius at netcode.”

Whether you’re alone or not, during the chase, Silva says, your quarry will hold back some of their power; when they reach their final destinatio­n, they’ll cut loose with their most vicious attacks. Survive a Mage’s last stand, and you get the chance to stab them in the heart, a successful finisher greeting you with the legend ‘MAGE DEVOURED’. It’s a violent but satisfying ending to these lengthy battles. “The idea is that they’re so infused with chaotic magic, if you just slay one, it’s not enough – you have to destroy the heart. And it gives the whole thing a finality that removes this otherwise immortal creature from reality,” Silva says. “When you bring them down, I just wanted that punchy feeling where you’re like, ‘Finally! I put up with you for so long!’”

 ??  ?? Silva says the response to the first game played a big part in his decision to develop a followup. “But it’s also the gamer mindset in me that’s like, ‘This is good, but can you imagine This 2?’” he laughs
Silva says the response to the first game played a big part in his decision to develop a followup. “But it’s also the gamer mindset in me that’s like, ‘This is good, but can you imagine This 2?’” he laughs
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 ??  ?? “Not great, not terrible,” Silva modestly says of his art style, inadverten­tly conjuring memories of Chernobyl. His current inspiratio­n for the Mages is Scandinavi­an folklore, he says, “but who knows where I’ll be in a couple of months?”
“Not great, not terrible,” Silva modestly says of his art style, inadverten­tly conjuring memories of Chernobyl. His current inspiratio­n for the Mages is Scandinavi­an folklore, he says, “but who knows where I’ll be in a couple of months?”
 ??  ?? So roughly how many Mages are in the game? “Oh, a lot,” Silva says enthusiast­ially. “We want to have a lot of replayabil­ity – higher level hunts, hunts [with] modifiers, that sort of thing”
So roughly how many Mages are in the game? “Oh, a lot,” Silva says enthusiast­ially. “We want to have a lot of replayabil­ity – higher level hunts, hunts [with] modifiers, that sort of thing”

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