Video games allow me to explore vast worlds, experience epic stories, and encounter unique characters. Mostly however, they give me the opportunity to beat the crap out of enemies big and small. There are few things as satisfying as wading into a group of enemies and just whaling on them. Sacred Citadel, the new beat-em-up by Southend, sets out to scratch this itch by offering a game where you get to play as one of four classes and fight your way through a legion of fodder. Helping you are potions, new weapons, and animals/monsters that you can ride and use as mobile weapons. Essentially, Sacred Citadel is an updated version of arcade classic Golden Axe only without those little elf bastards that steal your potions. Does that mean this game is good? Hit the jump to find out what my man Trey Highland and I thought of it.
You know those games that take a bit to get started, but once they do, they end up being really fun? Sacred Citadel is kind of like that, except it never gets to the part where it’s fun. Playing Sacred Citadel felt more like a chore than an enjoyable experience. I like the game’s art style, and I think that they have a good idea here, but the entire time I was playing it I was waiting for it to get good, and it never did.
The game features RPG elements mixed in with it’s beat-em-up style gameplay. Beating up enemies grants you XP, and when you level you can spend skill points on different areas to boost your character’s abilities. You will also find new weapons, armor and gems to further increase your skills. This all sounds fine on paper, but in practice it doesn’t work. When you first start out, you feel incredibly weak. Monsters take a million hits to kill, your armor has the tensile strength of bed sheets and your progress depends on the (admittedly plentiful) health pickups.
This is not abnormal for RPG’s. What is abnormal is the fact that as you level up and get new weapons and armor, you don’t feel any stronger. It’s really discouraging when you find some awesome new gear off of the boss at the end of a level, only to find it’s no more effective than what you previously had equipped on the next stage’s enemies. You’re basically upgrading out of necessity to clear the next level. Unless you go back to old stages with your now higher level character, you never feel a real sense of power from your character progression.
It’s not a fun experience. In RPGs you want your character to feel more powerful, more capable of dealing with whatever is around the next corner. I always felt woefully unprepared and as a result I found myself going back to older stages to grind experience and gold to buy new gear. Grinding is not uncommon in RPGs either, but Sacred Citadel isn’t exclusively an RPG, so I was hoping for more badass action instead of hitting the same combo of buttons hundreds of times. I’ve never wanted a 360 controller with rapid-fire switches installed more in my life; it would have prevented all of the hand cramps I got from playing this game.
The combat in this game is nothing spectacular either. As you level up you unlock new combos that your character can do, such as a knock-back, an uppercut and a stun. You also have a magic meter that fills up as you fight, and unleashing your magic attack will have a different effect based on how many sections of the meter have been filled. With the way enemies swarm you in this game, the only combo I found myself regularly using was the knock-back, because I just needed some breathing room.
Speaking of knock-backs and swarming, those are two things that this game LOVES. I’m pretty sure that every single enemy is capable of knocking your character off their feet. Whether it knocks you back or knocks you up into the air, enemies love making your character a human pinball. What makes it worse is that you’re rarely fighting an enemy or two; it’s usually 3 or more. So unless you have them pretty heavily controlled, they will take every opportunity to charge/throw bombs/uppercut you and knock you off your feet.
The bosses in this game are disappointing as well. At the end of the regular stages you’ll either fight a group of strong enemies or you’ll fight an actual end boss… which is just a bigger, color-swapped version of an enemy you were already fighting on that stage. They have identical mannerisms to the standard enemy too, knockbacks included. They also will summon minions from that level to come assist them. So on top of fighting a boss that takes a billion hits to kill instead of a million, you’re fighting that boss and anywhere from one to six enemies at the same time. It’s overwhelming and leads to a lot of cheap deaths. It feels like they couldn’t come up with interesting or challenging boss mechanics (for the most part, there were one or two bosses I enjoyed fighting) so they created “challenge” by throwing in regular enemies you have to deal with.
I think they have a good concept with Sacred Citadel. It could be so much fun to play, but it’s just not there yet. I think with some rebalancing and some more interesting enemies/bosses, the game could have been something special. The lack of a compelling story or any interesting characters did not help make up for the uninteresting gameplay.
Sacred Citadel is definitely one of those games that I was genuinely excited to dive into, being a fan of the beat-em-up genre and arcade games as well. With its Klei-esque visual style and ridiculously generic fantasy storyline, I went into this game expecting a cathartic bash-em-up and that’s what I got….kind of.
There are four classes to choose from: Warrior, mage, ranger, and shaman. Each have distinct abilities and attributes, but there’s really not much difference at the end of the day. The name of the game here is to identify patterns of enemies, back them into a corner, and pound on them until their health bars are reduced to zero. That’s pretty much all there is to it.
In a very general sense, the presentation of Sacred Citadel is not too bad. It does however contain a few incredibly frustrating issues that crop up throughout. First is the hints, helpfully prompting you to press ‘X’ to attack for example. That’s great and all, but by the time you’re past the first level it’s really not necessary for the game to have to remind you. These messages also don’t disappear while in the level which can be distracting. Even more annoying is that new (i.e. useful) combo abilities flash on the screen when they are acquired and then quickly disappear, requiring you to go into the menu to see what it was.
There are also issues with the loot that gets randomly left behind by defeated enemies. One case of this was when I beat a mini-boss who dropped a sweet looking new weapon. The only problem was that before I could get to the weapon, determine whether it was something I wanted, and equip it, the level ended — leaving me stuck with my equipped gear and shit outta luck. Sure, I could go to town to buy it but here’s an idea — how about waiting for five seconds while I check this sword out? Are you in a hurry or something? This problem actually leads into a larger issues that made me want to pull my ever-graying hair out; you can’t pick up weapons and armor until all enemies in a specified zone have been defeated. So here I am, fighting a bunch of monsters with substandard weapons and one of them drops a nasty looking axe. Now, not only can I not use that item in a moment when it’s most needed, but if I end up getting killed it disappears and may never reappear.
I loved playing games like Golden Axe in the arcade, but the thing about it is that those types of games don’t really translate well to current development trends. Most arcade beat-em-ups were only about 45 minutes long if you were able to play it beginning to end. This game is just way too long and repetitive to sustain any level of interest beyond slogging through to the end. Sacred Citadel is a nice looking game, and is mindless enough to be a game that scratches the itch if you just want to blow off some steam. The bottom line however is that it is mired in tedium, poor balance, and frustrating little details that practically dare you to rage-quit and hit the ‘uninstall’ tab like a triphammer.
[+Throwback to arcade beat-em-ups] [+Nice visuals] [+Co-op] [-Boring, repetitive combat] [-Annoying item-related issues] [-Cheap, tedious enemies] [-Way too long for what it is]