Preview: Salt and Sacrifice
In the wake of the massive success that was Dark Souls, a whole crop of imitators popped up with gothic tones, corpse run mechanics, and expectations that you will die a lot. Few were quite as successful and memorable as Salt and Sanctuary by Ska Studios. With a shift to 2D platforming and a style all its own, it stood out and even to this day when I talk to peers about good Soulslikes, it’s the first that comes to mind. Today we’re taking a first look at the sequel, Salt and Sacrifice, coming out for PC and PS5 early in 2022. The PC version was played for this preview.
If you never played the original Salt and Sanctuary, fear not: Salt and Sacrifice takes place in a different environment, and with a different conflict going on. In the Alterstone Kingdom criminals have one choice to avoid the chopping block: become a Marked Inquisitor and hunt down mages. After performing the magebane rite they are left in a half-state, neither alive nor dead, their one goal to hunt down the mages tormenting the land, tear their still beating hearts from their bodies, and devour them.
Now, it sounds a bit “are we the baddies” going into it with this information, but it wasn’t long before I came across my first mage. Far from a term for just any magic user, these mages are specifically warped by the element they exhibit, walking forces of destruction that swore they were entitled to destroy everything around them even as they laid there dying. Granted, this is an early preview demo and I wouldn’t be surprised if later revelations flip everything we know on its head given the inspiration and their previous work, but at the very least this is where our tale begins.
As for the gameplay, long story short it’s a 2D Metroidvania with weapon diversity and punishing difficulty. Long version, it’s a 2D platformer that, over time, offers plenty of varied weapons to try and enemies that hit hard enough that you’re heavily encouraged to make use of your weapons speed and range as well as frequent dodge rolls to try and avoid getting hit if you can help it. Over the course of your adventure you’ll unlock new abilities and new doors, with the way forward typically NOT being where you just were, but found by backtracking and finding a passageway you couldn’t access before, forming more a web of connected areas than a straight line.
Now, this wouldn’t be a good sequel if they didn’t change things, and boy howdy did they change things up. Keeping this a bit brief to avoid this preview being a mile long, one immediate change I noticed was a change to magic. Rather than learning new magic, each spell is a special ability attached to a weapon. There’s also two types of spell resources now: “Focus,” which comes back with resting or consumables and is basically MP; and “Rage,” which starts at zero, slowly drains, and goes up as you deal or receive damage. This means your choice of what weapon types you learn plays a significant role in what spells you learn, and the weapons that use Rage (primarily “non-caster” weapons like swords) seem to encourage hybrid builds a bit more.
Another new addition is online multiplayer. The original game only had local co-op and even then there were hoops one had to jump through just to get it set up. Salt and Sacrifice adds a variety of ways to play together, all of which will be familiar to Dark Souls fans (especially Dark Souls 3). You’ve got cooperating for PVE, invading for PVP, a covenant for getting summoned to fight back against invaders, an oddball covenant that can just decide to PVP or help with PVE on a whim, and even one weird covenant I’m still trying to understand that invades someone’s world not to kill them, but to kill certain monsters in their world. Along with another covenant whose sole purpose is to protect hosts from those invaders? …I’m not exactly sure what lore or gameplay reasons there are to want to get rid of someone who’s just hopping in to deal with some monsters, but I’m sure I’ll see in the full release with a larger playerbase to experiment with.
Lastly, there is the addition of the mages, which come in two flavors. There’s named ones which have a sidequest attached to them, dialogue, and there are many doors gated by how many named mages you’ve killed. Then there’s nameless mages which may have a sidequest attached or may not… and honestly it’s the ones without a quest that I find more interesting.
The quests are fairly simple, you find your target somewhere in the area, then chase it down as it teleports around until eventually it ends up in a boss arena for a showdown. The ones without quests are mostly the same minus the arena fight at the end. You just chase them down until they’re dead, but the interesting part is how they can appear anywhere. So you can just be going through an area you’ve already explored and suddenly have a miniboss to fight.
Now, you’re not necessarily locked into fighting them. You do have the option of just hitting them until they teleport away and then not pursuing, but considering they’re a great source of salt (your XP) and the sole source of materials for crafting items (which in the demo at least was where ALL the good gear came from) finding one was simultaneously a rise in difficulty and a feisty pinata to pop. Both aspects really add a lot of excitement to the typically boring backtracking that Metroidvanias are prone to.
The hand-drawn art remains as great as its predecessor, giving it quite a unique feel that sets it apart from the competition while remaining clear and distinct. The monster designs in particular are VERY well done, and I’m sure I’ve only seen a small handful of what’s in store. The animations look a little off sometimes, but that just kind of adds to the charm in my opinion.
This is easily the most time I’ve ever spent on a demo just searching for secrets and trying out different builds and weapons. I can’t wait to learn the final release date and mark my calendar. This is absolutely something I’m going to get lost in for weeks.
Preview copy provided by Ska Studios. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Ska Studios.