Salt and Sanctuary Xbox One Review
If Dark Souls was a 2D, RPG platformer, it would be called Salt and Sanctuary. Paying homage to a legendary title is no bad thing and, despite the obvious influences, S&S manages to create a life of its own (which is subsequently stomped to death in a massive boss fight).
From two person developer team Ska Studios, Salt and Sanctuary wastes no time in getting you into the action. Shipwrecked on a foggy, mysterious island, you are quickly assaulted by shambling skeletons – who very quickly become the least of your worries. Despite the limitations of the 2d environments, the island offers plenty of scope for exploration.
Dilapidated buildings complete with daunting basements offer the usual risk vs reward conundrum as you endeavour to progress and level up. Some locations are so extensive and filled with twists, turns and shortcuts that I became confused about where I’d been and where to go next. Some of that’s on me, but there is the occasional stretch of very similar environments which will test the observation skills of most. There’s an element of diversity to the various island locales, but there’s nothing graphically to wow you, which contributes to the aforementioned similarities to some of the labyrinthine environments.
The levelling up process is something to behold. An intimidating amount of options awaits you, with each weapon, piece of armour and (depending on the character class you select) magic. Your currency, as the title suggests, is salt. With another nod to the Souls formula, dying will result in significant salt loss which can then be reclaimed by fighting your way back to the same place.
The Sanctuary of the title is reminiscent of Souls’ bonfires, but takes the concept further. Find your way to one of these havens and you can choose to pay homage to one of several faith groups on the island. Use items you’ve gathered to fancy up your shrine and islanders will move in, offering various benefits in trade and so on. Conversely, if you inadvertently pay homage to the wrong God at a shrine, you’ll make enemies of adherents to another faith, who will then set about you. It’s the video game equivalent of wearing the wrong colours in a Glasgow pub – choose your faith wisely, and don’t offend the natives.
Combat is surprisingly good. My expectations for a 2D title were low, but Salt and Sanctuary has an intuitive, enjoyable system of blocks, attacks and combos which increase in strength as you work through the skill tree. Enhancing and mastering the games 600 weapons, spells and armour pieces becomes essential as you encounter the games increasingly difficult bosses. With apologies for yet another Souls comparison, I’ll stress that it never quite reaches the teeth grinding difficulty level of the series which inspired it, but Salt and Sanctuary is tricky enough that button mashing just won’t do. Thankfully, the control system is excellent and you’ll rarely be able to blame the game for your failures (although I did try).
That well-honed combat system transfers well into movement too. Dodges, rolls and blocks can be pulled off with ease, provided your timing is on point. That’s slightly less the case when it comes to the platforming areas, which seemed unnecessarily tricky at times. Perhaps it’s a by-product of the 2D environments, but platforming often feels tacked on by default in these games. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, and doesn’t add much to the experience. Or maybe I’m just bad at platforming (this should not be ruled out).
Being inspired by a monster hit is no bad thing, and twisting that inspiration into something new is a smart move. Without Minecraft, there’d be no Terraria for example, and as in that case, it’s possible for the derived title to stand on its own two feet. Salt and Sanctuary is inescapably and unmistakeably Soulsesque. From the character creation page to the exploration, the combat and the bosses, it’s impossible not to see the lines connecting the titles. But that doesn’t result in a derivative, watered down game. In fact, even with the spectre of Souls looming large, Salt and Sanctuary emerges from its shadow to become an enjoyable game in its own right. There don’t seem to be any additions to the earlier PS4, Switch and Steam releases for Xbox One players, so if you’ve enjoyed it already on one of those platforms, there’s nothing new to see here.
However, for new and returning players alike, Salt and Sanctuary is challenging, rich in lore, lovingly detailed and a very enjoyable experience. The excellent level design and finely honed combat ensure that while it may test your skills, it won’t test your patience. Like its inspiration, each failure leaves you a little wiser and positively demands that you jump back in. Exercise some caution in combat, explore extensively (but carefully) and you’ll be rewarded with an experience that, while not exactly unique, is both memorable and enjoyable.
Many thanks to Stride PR for the review code.
Developer: Ska Studios
Website: Ska Studios
Available February 6th, 2019
$17.99 US – UK Store price TBC – expect £14.99 or thereabouts.