Review: Salt and Sanctuary (PS4)

salt-and-sanctuary-review-banner

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible No
  • Cross-Buy Yes
  • Cross-Save No
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Salt and Sanctuary
Format: PlayStation Network Download (2.33 GB)
Release Date: March 15, 2016
Publisher: Ska Studios
Developer: Ska Studios
Original MSRP: $17.99
ESRB Rating: M
Salt and Sanctuary is also available on PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
You begin by naming your character. Then you are given choices to personalize your character. Where it gets tricky is when you have to choose a class and effects to bestow upon yourself for a game you haven’t started. How do I know how I want to play? I do not.

So I chose the character-type which had the most resonance for me: paladin. I played an all night D&D game on graph paper once, once, in high school circa 1982. I chose to play as a paladin. There was a silly song which went “Let’s talk dirty to the paladin….”, based on an old song by Gilda Radner, because, my friend Rick Northam said that if they get aroused they turn uncontrollably evil! (EDITOR’S NOTE: HA! That was a favorite of mine growing up.) So even today, as then, if I haven’t played a game and if paladin is a class I can choose, I always do. In the absence of any other indicators, I find history and fond memories are a great tie-breaker.

All stories begin at sea with a number of different stats and some inventory. It seems unusual to begin a game at a level higher than one with various accoutrements and abilities already in inventory which is the case of playing as a paladin. The chef, however, starts at level one.

Holding Square allows for a block followed by a stronger attack. But there’s no control over when the block ends and the strike occurs so learn to finesse the controls. Timing is very important.

… far more than a happy hack and slash mutton basher …
Using L1 switches between having your shield in one hand and mace, which they call “Morningstar”, in the other to a two-handed, quicker attack with your shield slung over your back. In this case your stronger attack leaves you unguarded during the backswing of about one and a half seconds.

Nothing to sneeze at and further evidence you have to learn how these controls work in practice. The strongest attack comes from the Triangle button. Holding makes it stronger still. Holding L2 will also block. R2 is dive and roll. This is far more than a happy hack and slash mutton basher, uh…I mean button masher.

Mmmmmmmm…..mutton.

PRO TIP:
Let me save you precious minutes of confusion as you try to climb the first ladder thirty seconds into the game. If you want to climb a ladder stand near it and push UP on the left stick.

Yes. I am here for you and suffer so thou mayenst not. Further, to get to items below a platform or some such, push the left stick DOWN and hit the Cross button. Et voila.

The tutorial instructions come as notes left around your path in bottles like that great song by The Police. (HEY EDITOR: How’s THAT for synchronicity?) (HEY REVIEWER: You dare to get punny with one of my favorite bands of all time? That stings.) I started to write them all down but now, I’m just going to put this screenshot carousel here for your perusal. Less pithy than I usually am but also fewer opportunities for my usual obscure tangent fest.

Saving is great. As long as you reach and claim a sanctuary where you will respawn in case of death or if you quit the game. By “quit the game” I mean go into your pause screen and go to MENU and quit the game from there. If you don’t and you just use the PS button to stop playing and then stop the application it won’t save for you. SO… SAVE MANUALLY for safety’s sake. You do not want to fight that boss again.

Additionally there are ten save slots available and eight classes from which to choose! You can start up to ten different class characters and the game will not overwrite your various saves! Not only does this multi-save factor increase replayability but it practically demands it. And why not?

If you enjoy this game, if this is the type of game for you then you’re practically getting DLC within the game itself. “Gee, I liked playing as a knight but wouldn’t it be a hoot to play as a chef?!” Yes. Yes it would. And you do not have to wait to find out. As a matter of fact, my little gamer, why don’t you play them concurrently? Bounce back and forth from one to the other! The developers at Ska have granted your wish before you even wished it.

If you die in battle you awaken in your most recently visited sanctuary but lose all your salt and must return and defeat the miscreant who killed you to reclaim it. Salt and sanctuary. Dying also costs money so I imagine when you’re out of money it’s game over, baby! What a concept! Losing the game! So be sure to keep some gold on you.

Also, to quote the Rocky Horror Picture Show sequel Shock Treatment, “There are many ways the spider may catch the fly… there are monetary inducements…” And what I mean by that here is make use of jumping and rolling because if you can leap over an enemy and attack from behind you will gain precious seconds of invulnerability. (HEY EDITOR: Slap a link on that, won’t you? Before you get sent to Happy Homes and end-up in the surgical chair like Brad! Eh viewers?!) (HEY REVIEWER: Of course. The master doesn’t like to be kept waiting.)

… very many choices …
I am playing several classes now to compare and contrast them. The thief has a blade while the chef has a big skillet which works like the “morning star” used by the paladin. Attacks are all launched by the same buttons but the animations really change from the chef and paladin to the thief. I won’t spoil it but rather let you readers discover these things on your own.

Zombies in this game are called “walkers”. I guess words can’t be copyrighted. But I’d prefer an homage to the man who began it all, George Romero! (HEY EDITOR: Can you help me out here?) (HEY REVIEWER: Work, work, work. This is no Sunday School picnic!)

Early on you’ll need to choose a kind of faction or affinity to certain Gods. Fear not, my atheistic brethren. There is a no-God choice as well called The Iron Ones. This is just a video game but if you are so inclined or just want to see how the game plays without a Godly affiliation you have that choice. One a very many choices you’ll be making.

The game does not throw the player in the deep end and shout, “SWIM OR DIE!!!” Making it necessary, à la Bloodborne, to die a lot right off the bat. That happens a-plenty but it happens at a pace every gamer can understand. Salt and Sanctuary isn’t easy on you but it’s not punitive.

Each “dungeon” area has various exits to other areas which hold enemies as well as some which only contain some more salt. Salt is of the highest import so get your salt!

… You will return stronger …
You may get to a point where you feel so powerful! Feelin’ cocky! And then, WHAM! You die. That’s just a piece of the puzzle. A slice of this Souls pie. Get back out there and dominate! Or you have the choice, if and when you want a break, to start another character with different attributes and abilities. How many times have gamers and reviewers of games used the term “addictive”? Very many times. Here is another.

The Sanctuary:
This is your place of succor. I highly recommend returning to your nearest sanctuary, even during the middle of a dungeon, to guard against losing the salt you’ve acquired which you need to level-up. You will return stronger. Don’t forget to pay homage to your chosen altar because this is how you can turn your sanctuary into a store and increase its usefulness in other ways as well.

The Skill Tree:
Need I say more? I will. The skill tree in Salt and Sanctuary reminds me of the skill trees from Final Fantasy XIII because the skills are different for each character and the branches feed off one another.

What say you? FFXIII wasn’t the first? It was actually a traditional skill tree filled with opportunity? I know that, silly! I spent over 100 hours on PS2 playing Final Fantasy XII. A good skill tree is a good skill tree! And Salt and Sanctuary has practically built, collectively, a video game version of the World’s Largest Banyan Tree of skills. (HEY EDITOR: The World’s Largest Banyan Tree is located on Maui in the town of Lahaina. I was SO lucky to visit it in 1980. Oh damn. That’s nothing you can sell! Is it?) (HEY REVIEWER: Well, if your facts were correct, then maybe. Instead, you’ll just have to settle for this.)

You have the ability to choose so many abilities for so many classes. The skill trees in this game are deep and rich like you’d expect to find in Final Fantasy or any well-done, exciting RPG.

If you leave a location you’re pillaging to get back to your local sanctuary to level-up you will find that, when you return, the enemies you’ve defeated have respawned but that’s just more salt and gold to collect. You’ve added skills and you’re even more powered-up than before. It’s not a hardship. Unless you lose your salt by dying. Still not technically a hardship as you just have to repeat what you’ve played and not suck this time. You’ll get your salt back. Unless you lose some permanently. That happens too.

As the game goes on the enemy types increase as do their attacks and tells. Think one part poker and one part rhythm game. You have to learn the cadence of their attacks. All enemy types have a different rhythm. Like *guard, guard, strikestrikestrike, jump back, lunge far forward*. The first time you encounter a new enemy you will probably die because you haven’t learned to fight that type yet. You have to learn their rhythms.

… A clever bit of game design indeed …
There are myriad items to collect but few are as useful as the Salt Seeker’s Ring which you can acquire early. It puts a floating indicator on the HUD leading you to the enemy which has the salt you lost to them when they “obliterated” you. Be sure to equip this item as soon as you find it. Keep an eye out for various rings to equip because their buffs and usefulness can’t be overstated.

The Salt Seeker’s Ring in particular is really very useful in the case of, gamers being gamers, if you go away from Salt and Sanctuary for a while and come back it will show you exactly where to go and thus what to do to continue. A clever bit of game design indeed. How often do we think, “I can never get back into that game because I have no idea what to do now.” This item is a bit like a piece of string tied around your finger to remind you.

You may acquire some throwing daggers and other weapons like bombs. They will be available to you on the R1 button as will many things including health items. Be careful you don’t throw a dagger instead of taking your potion. Cycle through them with the D-pad and keep your eye on your current R1 item. L1 is for cycling through your equipped weapons. From mace to sword and various other weapons like the whip.

Take some care in learning the controls so you can become a real badass slicing, dicing, exploding and healing in quick succession. Also realize that the animations of attacks take timing. You may not want to get too close to your enemies depending on their class and how long their animations take before they hit back. Salt and Sanctuary contains elements, in this regard, of fighting games. Timing can be crucial!

… leave hints or warnings in bottles …
When I arrived at my first boss fight on the island and was quickly and summarily massacred I feared I would re-appear at my sanctuary and need to go through the whole “dungeon” again. But HUZZAH! I awoke just a short way below the boss in the structure where I found him. To be certain I wouldn’t be required to fight through from the beginning again, I quit out of the game and restarted to find myself… just where I left myself! So again I say, the game is very fair and doesn’t feel punitive.

This is where I left my first Jurney Bottle, not a misspelling. You will find them in your inventory. As with messages to other players whom you will never meet in Dead Souls games, you may leave hints or warnings in bottles you scatter about the environment. They have wisely kept the words you may use to a prescribed vocabulary.

That’s one part bummer because I wanted to use “cakewalk” but it’s also a blessing which keeps out epithets, hate speech, and other blue language while preserving the feel of the game. Be sure to use punctuation or the message will not be delivered to any other “universe”. Well done, Ska!

Visuals:
As one can see, the artstyle and animations are quirky and beautiful and varied. It’s great work!

Audio:
From soothing acoustic guitar and strings to inquisitive electric guitar, the music in Salt and Sanctuary is perfection. The sound effects include crows, zombie moans, clangs, and massive sprays of blood. There is no voice acting and trust me, you don’t want any. The “voice acting” you’ll find in streams, a host of languages all translating to “ARRRRRGH!!”, is enough.

There is a section of the score which reminds me of Good-Bye Cruel World from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I don’t know if that is a purposeful interpolation like in the score of Close Encounters of the Third Kind by John Williams when he borrows (and credits – don’t get it twisted) Disney’s When You Wish Upon a Star but it is apt and just a bit genius!

Online/Multiplayer:
Multiplayer is couch co-op and PVP.

If you plan on playing couch co-op/PVP the character you create must choose Sellsword as their effect during character creation. As I’ve said, you do have multiple characters to play including two more than the total number of options if you choose to play once as every class.

So you could save the other two slots for family or friends who may venture over and want to play co-op with you. But it still isn’t as simple as handing them the other controller. If they are going to play along they have to have created a character in the game and play through the first quick section from the boat to the sanctuary while in their own PSN ID.

I discovered all this when I decided to check out the co-op and needed to switch profiles to my UK alt profile, play through the beginning and then switch back to my main profile, choose the Sellsword in my sanctuary and choose hire. At that moment the other controller and logged-in profile came into play and I could choose it to join me. Before that profile had played the game, it was not available as a player.

… What a thrilling game …
When your co-op companion is killed they are out of the game until you go back to the sanctuary where you will discover they have had a nice nap awaiting your return. Unless you die too, in which case you’ll both be back at the sanctuary except you’ll be missing the salt you lost to the blackguard who took your life. You then can only get it back by defeating him.

I must interject a bit of English language help here because I see there is a new game coming out in the future called Blackguard. The pronunciation of this word, as it is wholly British and never uttered in the USA, is “BLA-gawd”. It is not divided into syllables and said as “BLACK guard” or any other permutation. Practice it with me now thusly, “Why you, BLA-gawd!” It means scoundrel. You are most welcome.

If you want to play PVP, The Egg of Wrath item starts that multiplayer.

Conclusion:
What a thrilling game! This side-scrolling RPG with timing and exploration and lore and enormous skill tree depth is just the kind of game to keep players coming back for more over and over with its various classes and affiliations and accoutrements.

Then to include the element so popular in the Dark Souls series, and in the HD remake of Wind Waker on Wii U, whereby players may leave messages to one mother in bottles scattered about the game. Thank goodness for Journey to have pioneered the idea of this anonymous interaction of online players.

The only failing of the online play is that friends are stuck with gameplay couch partners. I understand why it is the way it is from a development perspective but players like me, who may not have people at home with whom to play, miss that wonderful interactive opportunity.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Keith Dunn-Fernández

Keith Dunn-Fernández

An actor/director and more lucratively an Administrative Assistant at a small paper company in NYC, Keith loves his games. And he loves to write. And he is a bit of a sarcasmo.

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  • himdeel

    Really enjoying this game, thanks for the pro tips. Great review!