Salt & Shake with Frustration
I’ll confess now, I am a huge Soulsborne fan. I wasn’t always, and the tale of how I became one would be best left for another day. So, I am always on the lookout for my next rage-filled game. Salt and Sanctuary is the lucky sod this time.
Sod being the keyword.
Salt and Sanctuary is a beautiful game, the team of two – well, four if you include their cats – have done a masterful job of taking sound, art, atmosphere, and the sense of claustrophobia, and putting it into a blender. It’s rendered in 2D, Metroidvania style, though with a heavy dose of dark. The result is a game that immediately feels familiar because, let’s be honest, it is hugely inspired by Dark Souls. I’d say Dark Souls is Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Salt is Danny DeVito; though this version of DeVito is as bad ass as Schwarzenegger.
As with its Austrian twin, Salt is thin on narrative; at least on the surface. Though, once you start to acquire items, slay enemies, and meet the NPCs of the world, of which there are many, you’ll start to see the cogs working. There is a lot to be found in Salt, and the structure of the game is ripe for backtracking.
“Oooh, that ladder leads down there. That’ll shave off a minute or two on my next death run”
Throughout the world are sanctuaries, this is where you go to rest up; spend your salt at various NPCs or at the shrine. Shrines can be aligned with different devotions to yours. You can abandon your current belief, so you can get the full benefits of the current sanctuary. Doing so has benefits, although turning your back will have other sanctuaries’ restricting their wares at best….
Salt is used for a good many things, such as levelling up, reinforcing weapons and armour. They are also used to transmute weapons, and this is one of the best features in the game. You take items from slain enemies, both normal and bosses, find the correct NPC, and cross their palm with Salt. The results are always worth it, as this process will take a Class 0 weapon and level it to Class 1, whilst also changing the name and look.
“My Warhammer was treating me well, but I felt it needed some more kick. So, I transmuted it into Monstrous Mace. Mace. Smash!”
Combat in Salt and Sanctuary is as rewarding as it is frustrating. Square and Triangle are your attacks, light and heavy, respectively. You can chain combos together, holding Square and press Triangle right after will execute a sweeping uppercut with my mace. There are a lot of combos to be discovered per weapon, of which there are dozens. You can block, parry, jump, and roll. Parrying, rolling and jumping are defined by your equipment load. A few times I have died due to fat rolling through an attack, on my way back to level up after gaining some new loot.
As you level up via the Tree of Skill, think advance Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, you’ll be able to unlock nodes that enable you to equip higher class traits. As with the aforementioned advance Sphere Grid, this allows for a magnitude of depth – that well…. has no right to be in such a game. It however is here and Ska Studios have nailed it.
I started out as a Paladin, a bastion of light. I then moved into Mage nodes, and then dabbled in Reaper weapons.
So, last but no means least, the boss encounters, of which are there close to two dozen. Each boss seems to have a weakness, such as poison, fire, holy, etc. You can buff your weapons with elemental effects, so your damage will be increased. However, some fights do feel truly unfair at times. Getting cornered by a hulking brute, and being unable to escape due a combo-from-hell.
The most frustrating boss for cheesy instakills is The Mad Alchemist. I had killed him on a few other characters, no issues. Then, I go at him again with a new character, and his slimes stun lock me into oblivion.
I know I sound salty, and maybe I am. Yet, once you get past the cheese of some of those instakill encounters, you’ll be treated to boss fights that require much more learning, coordination and skills than this game has a right to. I know I have said that before, but it holds true with this point, too. Standard enemies are all a cakewalk, excluding the shield Knights. So, the learning curve takes a huge leap once you go past the candles. All that said, it’s so rewarding to down a boss. Every. Single. Time. It appears that each boss has much more in their arsenal than they let on the first few times you face them.
All in all, Salt and Sanctuary is an excellent game. From the art style to the Tree of Skill, and the areas that you didn’t know were there, it all works so well together. I’ll admit, I had moments where I had to put down my controller, take a few minutes, and then go back in. Heck, I even restarted the game three times, as I felt I’d messed up my character build – and the respect items weren’t in sight.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go scrub myself down so I can be utterly destroyed by Dark Souls III.