Review-in-Progress: Salt and Sanctuary for a Dark Souls n00b

Heads up: I’m reviewing Salt and Sanctuary, but I’m honestly not sure I’ll play enough to be able to offer a final review opinion on it by the end of the weekend, so I thought I would throw up a review in progress.

As I traveled down the dark, disturbing dungeon, I was sickened. My surroundings celebrated torture, figures nailed to the wall, giant torturers attempting to smash me to bits to steal my precious salt. I was also in over my head, a few levels too below the recommended difficulty, but I needed to find a sanctuary that was closer to my next boss fight, the closest haven too far away for me to find my next boss. Barely cutting down enemy after enemy, I was amazed at how excited and compelled I was to continue forward, with a substantial amount of salt to level up and better prepare myself.

Then I messed up, mistiming a block, and I was cut down. Vanquished appearing on my screen, losing an extravagant amount of salt that I know I’ll never get back.

Salt and Sanctuary comes to us from Ska Studios, developers of The Dishwasher series and Charlie Murder. It’s the first title that is a part of the PlayStation Launch Party, Sony’s attempt at pushing what they believe to be standout titles, with pre-order discounts hoping to entice gamers to download their game early. A 2D side scrolling action game, it’s fair in its challenging difficulty, educating players before the onslaught of enemy undead begins.

Its biggest inspiration comes from the Souls series (Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne), and it wears its inspiration on its bloodied, salt-crusted sleeve. You gather salt by defeating enemies that grow progressively harder as you progress. As you traverse through dilapidated castles, abandoned towns, and haunted forests, you’re tasked with fighting bosses on your quest to find a princess that you lost in a terrible storm that left you shipwrecked on this hellish isle. Each door you open also connects the previous areas, further syncing this terribly ghastly world.

Enemies range from slow pacing zombies, to slightly faster paced zombies with crossbows, to giant knight creatures with spider legs. The diversity amongst enemies is great, as they force you to switch up your playstyles on the fly as you’re thinking on your feet in order to not get killed.
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There’s also light platforming elements, as of the time I am writing this at about 17 hours so I have not found any way to double jump, and the game doesn’t hinge on these moments. You’ll jump around when you have to get to point A from point B, but that’s about it. Jumping does feel stilted, forcing you to carefully plan your next jump as you are virtually defenseless. I recall some failures feeling cheap, like moments when I was hit in midair, distracted or thrown off my tract, and then plunged to my death. The boss fight I am dealing with right now, who I won’t spoil for the sake of surprise, requires some serious platforming chop, alternating between platforms and such, and it’s more frustrating than slightly annoying due to jumping that often feels underpowered.

However, the combat is superb. As previously mentioned, your enemies will become progressively stronger, but you’ll also be able to tell when you are clearly out of your depth, both from the design of the enemies and their difficulty. It’s a great learning experience, learning how to dodge and when to strike.  Players will also have the chance to upgrade and equip a number of different weapons, in order to discover which play style works best for them. You can also customize two loadouts, and switch between them with the L1 button. It’s imperative to know which weapon loadout works best for you in your current situation. Currently, I’m rocking a mage build that focuses on mobility. I’ve got a sword equipped and a smaller sword in one loadout that allows me to fire off one spell. Then, my second load out utilizes a giant trident-like weapon that allows me to fire two different spells.

The art style resembles Ska Studios’s other games as well. Black and red colors are splashed over the dungeons, with blood streaked over the floor and a gothic style, at least at some points. You’ll also fight through marble laden castles, clean yet cold while resembling a more Grecian architecture. More open environments set in the forests are just as fun to play in, even if the necessary light platforming segments can become cumbersome.

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The Souls-inspirations are a bit nuts though, sometimes feeling slightly overused. But the game is played on a 2D plane, so it isn’t played the same way. You’ll also use sanctuaries, safe havens from your horrific rescue mission, to upgrade your equipment, level up your character, initiate co-op sessions, and take a brief respite from your journey. The sanctuaries themselves are vague in how they operate at times, making it unclear how the level tree actually works, but I appreciate their presence. The hint system is also very obtuse. In the earlier levels, I could find them all over the place. However, now I can’t find a single one. Do other players leave them? Do they appear after I beat the next boss? They’re ridiculously useful as well, meaning their absence is definitely felt.

Overall, I’m really enjoying this game. I could see my enjoyment dipping slightly if the game gets a bit too long in the tooth, but hopefully that isn’t the case. Look for my review in the coming days, with my final verdict of this descent into darkness.


Liam Crossey is the Executive Editor of Features for The Game Bolt. Follow him on Twitter  for too many retweets.