401: Salt and Sanctuary for the PS4, Vita, and PC Review

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With the final game in the Dark Souls franchise coming out soon, it’s now time to see how many Dark Souls-style games come out. We already have the upcoming Necropolis from the team that is bringing you the reboot of BattleTech, and today’s review, Salt and Sanctuary, a 2D version of Dark Souls brought to you by the same people who did Charlie Murder and The Dishwasher, Ska Studios. How is it? Well, let’s find out.

You play as an individual on a mission going over the ocean for some kind of peace treaty. Unfortunately, while doing so, the ship gets attacked by pirates and an unknown monster from the depths. The unknown horror wrecks your ship, and you end up washed ashore on an unknown island. It is up to you to find out where you are, and what the heck is going on. The overall setting is unsettling, and I love the atmosphere. I was interested enough to keep going even though this is another game that favors lore and atmosphere over a well told story. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s always a fine line where you care enough to keep going, or say ‘screw it’ when a game pulls a move in difficulty to make the experience not worth it.

Salt and Sanctuary is a mix of Dark Souls and Metroid. You will pick a class that suits you, in the same vein as any of the Dark Souls games, and then traverse the maze-like world of the island you end up on. Combat is not like anything from Platinum Games. If it isn’t clear, the gameplay is basically 2D Dark Souls. You have weapons and armor that have weight to them, and each time you attack, jump, and roll, it will deplete your stamina bar. Combat feels like it has weight, and makes all the attacks, from my cleric mace turning zombies into meat jelly, to my arrows taking out targets from afar more satisfying. You can also join guilds at certain points in the game. A unique element about these guild/save points is that you can offer up totems to give you different perks for that area. Granted, you can only be in one guild at a time, and your healing item changes depends on which one you join. You can join back with other guilds, but you have to go through a cleansing process to do so. The ending will also change, depending on which one you join. If the enemies become too tough, you can upgrade your weapons and abilities with special items and a stat tree. Just be careful, because to level up, you have to spend salt. Salt is what you gain from fallen enemies or special items, and if you die, you lose them, and either have to go back to where you lost them or beat the enemy that took them. Just like in Dark Souls, if you die before you regain them, you lose them forever. The cost of leveling up will also increase in price, so it’s wise to trek back to a safe point to upgrade the salt you have obtained so you don’t end up losing a huge amount of it. Luckily, gold is separate from your salt, and can be used to buy items. If exploring through this horrible place, and going through the game’s 19+ hours seems daunting, you can luckily play this game with a friend in co-op. Unfortunately there is no online co-op, but if you want a game to play with your friend, you can definitely pick this one up. Overall, you have one of the heftier indie games of 2016, and the overall experience is great.

Graphically, I love the dark drab tones. The massive amounts of grays, blacks, and splashes of red from time to time really bring you into this hellish landscape. You are never safe, and even if you are about to face easy enemies, it’s still unsettling because the atmosphere is well executed. The music is pretty good, even if it’s sort of in the background and quiet for the most part, but it fits the miserable world you are traversing. I also like the character designs, the humans’ kind of look, like these gritty dark Muppets, and it definitely looks unique.

As much as I love Salt and Sanctuary, it does have some major problems. First off, they needed a mini-map or something, because traversing this game’s world can be a bit tedious, since you have to go through tough enemies and twist and turns, not knowing where you exactly go. I also wish it was a little easier to know when you are about run into a boss. I remember beating the alchemist boss, then luckily spending all the salt on upgrades before exploring more, and then taking the wrong turn and facing the giant cyclops boss, mere minutes after fighting the alchemist boss. I know there is supposed to be that element of surprise, but I wish I could know a little better than “look around for torches and candles.” I also ran into a few enemy encounters that annoyingly overwhelmed me, and it can get grating when you can’t really escape or pause the game to get your bearings straight. I get that you have to take certain situations with a calmer plan, but still. However, the biggest gripe I have about Salt and Sanctuary is that it really isn’t that original. I love the love letter to the Dark Souls franchise, due to how much it has “changed the landscape of gaming”, but Salt and Sanctuary has way too many similar elements to Dark Souls, from how the health bar, magic, and stamina are set up, to the brutal difficulty, and how it favors lore over a concrete story. I wish it had a few more interesting/different ideas than “make Dark Souls: the flat version.”  Heck, you can’t even pause correctly unless you are in a safe spot away from enemies. Enemies even come back to life after you rest at a save point. You can probably argue with me that this is a nitpick, but It’s going to be the same criticism I have with games doing the Metroidvania design. You have to up your game or else people are going to find examples of this style of game done better.

Salt and Sanctuary is a fantastic game. I might think it’s not very original, but it’s one of the best games of the year, and should be checked out by anyone while they wait for Dark Souls III to launch here in the states. If you have a PlayStation 4, PC, or PlayStation Vita, you should definitely pick up the PlayStation 4 version, unless you prefer to wait for the PC and Vita version. I can’t wait to see how they plan to update the game or come up with a sequel. It might be too similar to Dark Souls, but Salt and Sanctuary is still a grueling fun time!

This game gets an 8 out of 10