Salt and Sacrifice - Lacking a Little Bit of Soul
Salt and Sacrifice reminds me of a game, but it is hard to put my finger on it. This other game is kind of DARK, and you go around all these DARK places, killing bad guys and when you do their spirit hovers on their bodies, like a SOUL. So, you end up collecting these SOULS from these DARK places and use them to level up and progress through the game. I think it was called … The Low Light Spirits that you kill and collect or something! Terrible sarcastic Simpsons jokes aside, Salt and Sacrifice (SaS) is very much a game that has been heavily influenced by Dark Souls, and when I say influenced, I mean they made a 2D platformer of the same game. But that’s ok, right? Dark Souls is loved by millions after all! What could possibly be wrong with that? As always, the answer to that is complicated without having to articulate it well first, so here we go.
The similarities between Dark Souls and SaS are not obtuse or accidental, it’s better to think of this as a homage to the 3D platformer, but if it were played on a 2D plane. Even the opening tutorial is reminiscent of Dark Souls by forcing you to fight against an un-winnable opponent. Instead of collecting souls, you’ll be collecting Salt, which you use to level up your character and unlock more points to use in the skill tree. Combat is brutal and unforgiving and being careless, even for normal mobs, can result in a fast death. Save points are few and far between and the game specifically goes out of its way to keep you in the dark (pun not intended) on how the specifics of the game actually work. Visually there’s not a whole lot going on, but its look really fits the theme of a dank and drab world that doesn’t exactly invoke happy feelings.
Now let’s talk narrative, there is a story, but it is often vague and devoid of detail. All you really need to know is there are Mages, and they are bad. It is your job to find their scent, hunt them down and murder them. This is how the game pushes you forward, you will come across a scent which activates a Mage hunt and directs you to where they are. You will have a few brief encounters before facing off against them in a final battle to the death. After slaying them, you then get to eat their heart (no, really). This allows you to access other locked away areas on the level, rinse and repeat.
The gameplay itself is quite simple when you boil it down, what makes it difficult is the ambiguity of it all. As mentioned previously, SaS goes out of its way to not let you in on how the dynamics of the game work. Simple things like attack combinations, items and levelling up are meant to be figured out by exploring and experimenting. You are meant to struggle, this is meant to be hard, and you’re meant to die … a lot. This is by design, the question you may be asking though is whether or not it improves the game. Everything mentioned can be found by researching the internets and you will decide what things you would rather find out for yourself or have an online resource explain it to you. The problem is that any time I figured something out on my own, that lovely, gooey feeling of a job well done was null and void and I would only ask myself the question of why they didn’t bother just telling me this in the tutorial.
Deaths often feel cheap as opposed to fair. Naturally, you will die a lot to the harder bosses until you take your time to memorise their attack patterns and engage accordingly. But even then, a slip-up can result in a one-hit kill death. What was lacking was that intrinsic reward mechanism in my head one usually gets for pulling off something skilful. Instead, it was a feeling more akin that you are glad that specific part is over and done with. The game will even do this with low-level mobs, where it purposely places you in a position where you get repeatably attacked and end up in a permanent hit stun until the sweet release of death. You will then have to make your way back to that death area to pick up your lost items and God help you if you die before you get there.
The question really comes down to this, if this is by design, then is it a good thing or a bad thing? To answer that you will need to ignore whatever score this game got and imagine if this sort of challenging gameplay is something you strive for or would rather avoid. From a more subjective point of view, this felt like work. Not because the game was poorly designed, or glitchy, or crummy gameplay, but because I was continuously being forced to work for my progress, but when I made said progress, I was not left with any feelings of reward. As an example, during some of the boss battles, I found that the best way to approach them was to cheese my way to victory. This left me with the feeling that I was exploiting the AI rather than using skill to overcome adversity. Think long and hard if this is the game for you, but for this reviewer, it isn’t something I will likely never pick up again.
Salt and Sacrifice was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by the publisher.