Salt & Sacrifice is a 2D Soulslike action RPG developed and published by Ska Studios. The game has moments of exciting fantasy action, but a repetitive gameplay loop and numerous balance issues with the combat system mean that it doesn’t live up to its predecessor.
Salt & Sacrifice is the spiritual successor to 2016’s Salt & Sanctuary. The story of Salt & Sacrifice involves the player being banished to the far reaches of society, after being convicted of a terrible crime that is chosen at character creation. The player character is forced to undergo the Magebane rite, allowing them to return to life upon being slain, but losing most of their coin and Salt (experience points), which is left in a pile where they died. If they can return to the spot where they died, they can reclaim their lost items, but dying again before reclaiming them means they’re lost forever. The player’s goal is to travel the land and hunt Mages, who have been consumed by their lust for magic and are causing chaos in frontier towns.
The player has a hub area, where they can level up, craft/improve gear, and buy new items. Once they are ready to depart, they can use the Mirrorgate to teleport to different stages. The gameplay loop of Salt & Sacrifice combines Dark Souls‘ action RPG combat with a 2D Metroidvania, where the player explores stages, kills foes for cash & experience points, and slowly unlocks new shortcuts through stages. The player will gradually find items that will let them explore new areas, such as a grappling hook and a parachute-style cloak.
The main new gimmick of Sal & Sacrifice are the Mages that the player is sent to hunt. The player needs to defeat a certain number of these as part of quests to progress through the game, but Mages can still be found hanging out in the levels, where they can summon henchmen that will battle the regular foes in the stage, along with the player. These add a chaotic twist to the exploration, as the player never knows what Mages they will encounter or where, whenever they enter a new stage. The actual level exploration and fighting regular foes in Salt & Sacrifice is a lot of fun, but there are issues with the Mage mechanic.
The Mage hunts are the main gimmick of Salt & Sacrifice, but they are also the worst part of the game by a wide margin. The player cannot just fight a Mage straight away. Instead, they have to chase it throughout the stage, slowly whittling it down and taking out its henchmen whenever they appear. Once the player has finally finished chasing the Mage down, they become trapped in a tiny boss arena, where the Mage has an overwhelming advantage, thanks to the wide AoE of their spells and attacks. Salt & Sacrifice has the same issue as Returnal‘s attempt at being a bullet hell shooter, as the protagonist isn’t adequately equipped to stave off the Mage’s attacks.
Salt & Sacrifice has several issues with its combat system. The dodge roll is the player’s main mode of defense, outside of difficult to perform parry attacks, or blocking, which is only good for one or two hits before leaving the player staggered. The problem with the dodge roll move is that the invincibility frames it provides are a lot shorter than the animation. The fact that bosses tend to have attacks with large AoEs means that the player will still get hit during a different part of the animation, as the attack is too big to avoid, and the small 2D arenas don’t leave many escape routes. The second biggest problem is air juggling, as the player character flies around like a rag doll when hit, and they are not invincible while in the air. This means the bigger enemies can just keep hitting the player after knocking them up once and killing them in a flurry of follow-up blows that cannot be avoided.
Salt & Sacrifice is extremely punishing when it comes to running out of stamina and stamina recovery, as being staggered leaves the player wide open for a few seconds, and they are then penalized with a delayed stamina recovery for a few seconds. There are also instances where the game withholds stamina recovery for no reason, such as while drinking a potion. All of these issues combined lead to a combat system that has far too many frustrating moments, when the player faces OHKO air juggles, or from instances where there was no way of defending themself.
All of the battles boil down to the same loop of running as far as possible from the Mage to heal, getting a few hits in, and trying to dodge its attacks as best as possible, but a hit is always waiting, as the dodge roll won’t fully clear a lot of attacks, and the shield will leave the player staggered if they can’t pull off a parry. The Mages in Salt & Sacrifice have incredible designs, but their fights are so similar, and the method of chasing them becomes so familiar, that they drag down the entire experience. It’s also impossible to avoid engaging with Mage hunts, as the player needs to hunt the Named Mages to unlock doors to new areas.
It’s a shame that the Mages bring down the experience, as the few non-Mage boss battles in Salt & Sacrifice are a lot more entertaining, with interesting gimmicks and challenging battles that evoke that Soulslike feeling of accomplishment. The visuals in the game are a marked improvement over Salt & Sanctuary, as the Mage and regular boss designs are all fantastic, while some of the stages are oozing with atmosphere. One of the big new additions to Salt & Sacrifice is its multiplayer system. It’s possible to invade the worlds of other players, and team up with friends or strangers. In the Salt & Sacrifice multiplayer preview, it was possible to be invaded by enemy players, which would make the stages even more chaotic.
Salt & Sacrifice has the potential to be a great game, but it badly needs balancing fixes to allow it to live up to its potential, especially in regard to its battle system. A few tweaks to the stamina meter, the dodge roll & blocking mechanics, and the enemy attack patterns would do wonders for the game, as would a way to skip the chasing sequences and jump straight to the Mage bosses. As it stands, Salt & Sacrifice is a game full of frustrating moments that bog down the rest of the experience.
Salt & Sacrifice will be released for PC and PlayStation 5 on May 10, 2022. Screen Rant was provided with a code for the PC version of the game for the purposes of this review.
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