Ed Note: This is part two of my review of Salt and Sanctuary, a game that wears it Dark Souls inspiration firmly on its sleeve. You can read part one here. There will be spoilers abound in this review, so be forewarned. Now, on with the show.
I just finished Salt and Sanctuary last night, and I have several things to say about it. Buckle in, boys and girls, it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride. I have a hard time talking about this game because my feelings on it are over the place. On the one hand, I’ve been obsessively playing this game, even starting a new game as a melee player (much more on that later), thinking about it even when I wasn’t playing it. That’s a sign of a game that has crawled up in your spine and made its home there. I finished the game in roughly forty-five hours, which is one-third the time it took me to finish the original Dark Souls plus DLC (don’t judge), and that’s with plenty of exploring and grinding. I probably could have finished it in thirty-five to forty hours if I really booked it through. This way, though, I feel as if I’ve seen most of what the game has to offer, though I’m aware of a few things I’ve missed.
However, about a half to two-thirds of the way through the game, I begin to hate it. It started to feel like a destructive relationship in which you’re totally in love with the other person, but you know they’re going to be the death of you. No, I’m not saying Salt and Sanctuary is going to kill me–let’s not take the analogy too far. You know what’s a better analogy? Having a big bucket of popcorn at a movie. At the beginning, I’m munching the popcorn and feeling pretty good about. Who doesn’t love theater popcorn with the mysterious butter-like syrup they pour over it? I’m munching through the previews, and the popcorn is delicious! I have handful after handful, and about halfway through the bucket, I start to feel slightly sick to your stomach. “I should put this down,” I think, but do I? Of course not. I paid good money for it, and who likes stale popcorn? Plus, some theaters now give free refills(!), so better keep on eating that popcorn. Three-fourths of the way through the bucket, I’m grim. I don’t even know what movie I’m watching any longer because my stomach is hurting, and all I can think about is that damn popcorn. I know I should just get up and throw the bucket away, but I’ll be damned if I let it best me. I am going to finish the bucket if it kills me, which it probably will. By the end of the movie, I’ve stuffed every kernel down my gullet, and I’m already regretting it. Once I’m done, I feel nothing other than remorse, shame, and bitterness at the popcorn for being there. Then, I go to the concession stand to get my free bucket just because I can. I never learn.
Again, it’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s pretty close to my feelings as I went through Salt and Sanctuary. I want to make it clear that the game is still a solid game, but the last third of it really made me sour on the experience in general. I also have to say that I went through a similar fatigue while playing Dark Souls, and it’s probably because when I play a game, I gobble it down as quickly as possible. It’s similar to when I watch a TV series; I binge-watch until I feel slightly ill. Anyway, in the last third, the game started becoming more focused on platforming, which is not the part of the game I enjoyed. I mentioned in my earlier post that the platforming feels oddly squishy, and that it’s hard to tell when you can safely jump and when you can’t. In addition, there are disappearing platforms, crumbling platforms, and platforms you can’t see until you’ve jumped a certain distance. What’s worse, there are combinations of all these, which nearly did me in.
The absolute worst example of this is in an optional section called Pitchwoods. Oh my god. I still get pissed off just thinking about it. What a fucking nightmare. There are two ways to get there, and both are filled with platforming that is just insane. Now, I will fully admit that I’m awful at platforming, but there are several forum threads dedicated to how terrible this area is. I tried to get there the ‘easy’ way before I had access to the proper way, and my god. I gave up after half an hour or so, then when I could get there the official way….I don’t even know how to explain it. Look. Here’s a video of the jumping going the shortcut way. The boss fight is included, too.
Now, if you’re good at platforming, maybe this isn’t a problem for you, although it’s more about memorization than anything else. I don’t want to tell you how long it took me to do this section, and it’s not even the worst part. My biggest gripe is…let me back up. There are creeds in the game that are similar to covenants from Souls games. There are three starting creeds, and there are several more you have to find in the game. I don’t mind that, and I think the way they implemented creeds overall is positive. However, the creed for elemental mages (which is what I was) is in Pitchwoods, which if you’re trying to get to in the regular way, isn’t until very late game. If you access it via the shortcut, it’s still more than halfway into the game. This is a problem because you have to turn in items to your creed leader in order to increase your devotion. Switching creeds means you’re an apostate to the creed you left and you lose all the benefits you’d accrued in that creed. Therefore, switching creeds that late into the game would mean losing up to seven healing potions (of various sorts). That’s a shit-ton of heals.
Even so, if it was simply make that decision more than halfway through the game, I’d be irritated, but accepting. However. After doing the aforementioned bullshit platforming just to access the area, you have to do another succession of platforming sections (three) that make the previous platforming look like a cakewalk. After many times trying and dying, I finally managed to make it through the first section, only to fall off a ledge into nothingness because it’s fucking dark, and I didn’t realize there was a second platforming section. Oh, by the way, I had to look up how to find this creed because it’s hidden. I’m used to secrets in Souls games, but this is a bullshit one. By the way, I was using the wikis liberally by this time. All the fun I had exploring in the first half of the game was gone, and I just wanted to get through each section. I felt that way while playing the original Souls, too, as if the end game was merely a slog, and each new revelation came with a heavy sigh, not with a, “Oh, how fucking cool!” I’m mentioning the comparison because maybe it’s just a problem with these kinds of games–they get tedious at the end. Take a fucking look at how you get to this creed.
I gave up after probably forty-five minutes. Watching this video, I foolishly think maybe I can do it now. Because I’m a sucker for self-inflicted pain, I’ll probably try it again. I just don’t understand why a creed would be walled off like this. The only reason I can think of is that magic is really OP in this game, especially for bosses, and this is their way of nerfing it. Other than that, I don’t understand why you would do that. It’s not the only thing I don’t understand about this game, but it bugged me for the rest of the game. I mean, my magic was so fucking powerful, I didn’t really need the perks–by the way. Speaking of powerful magic, one of my spells was called Flame Barrage. Here’s what it’s supposed to look like.
When I tried to use it, however, I just got one little ball shooting out. That’s not quite the barrage, is it? I used it as a one-shot for nearly half the game–until right before the last boss. I couldn’t get over the fact that it’s supposed to be a barrage and it wasn’t. I even looked it up to see if there was some kind of patch that nerfed it. I know I’m an idiot, but I really couldn’t figure it out. I started playing with the attack, and I got it to look like a mini-barrage and was confused. What had I done? Could I replicate it? It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that you have to press down RB in order to get the spray. To be fair to me, it’s the only spell (I think) that you have to press down the attack button to get the desired result. Once I figured it out, though, oh man. OH. MY. GOD. I went and tested it on some scrubs in an early area before taking it into the second-to-last area, and it’s fucking OP. It made me laugh that I had handicapped myself earlier by not knowing how to properly use it and still trying to use it, but my god it felt so powerful to just spray the enemy with my Flame Barrage while having a Flame Guardian and Static Geist (lightning bat creature that stunlocks enemies) doing their shit, too. Even without the magic creed, it was so badass.
Here’s an interesting observation about melee versus magic. I used to play solely as a caster, and I felt as if I couldn’t properly comment on Souls games because I hadn’t played as a tank. That has never stopped melee-only people from commenting ignorantly on magic users, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, I’m maybe a third into the game as a melee character, and goddamn, having a great big warhammer to just smash everything in my sight is so much fun. My other weapon is a greatsword, which is equally fun, and I like switching between the two of them. The funny thing is, though, the bosses in general are WAY harder in melee than with magic. You can’t roll by the boss until they actually do something (same with all enemies), which has been a stopping wall for me. The roll in this game doesn’t have the same i-frames it does in Souls, which makes for harder combat. You really lose a lot with one less D, and I feel it the most in the boss fights. Funnily enough, I killed the last boss I fought in one try, as I did with my mage. It’s the only boss that hasn’t given me trouble with either character.
Now, let’s talk about bosses again. I mentioned in my first post that I’ve found them to be disappointingly easy in general. I’ve counted how many tries it’s taken me to beat each boss unless it took more than five, and then I was too mad to count. Seriously. On the last boss, he beat me three times, and I was pissed that I had to fight him again. It’s partly because the boss run is stupid long, but it’s mostly because I’d beaten most of the bosses on my first or second try. Of the twenty-one bosses (there are twenty-two, technically, but the first is meant to kill you), I beat seven of the bosses on my first try, and five on them on the second. That’s more than half the bosses. The boss who gave me the most trouble, an optional boss, took me seven to nine tries. I didn’t hit double digits in attempts with any of the bosses. That’s unheard of. I died to Ornstein and Smough between sixty and seventy times alone! So, when I died quickly to the final boss in three tries, it felt like the hardest boss ever.
I also have to note that I’m not using a shield in either playthrough, and it’s been weird for me because I’m a diehard sword and board gal when I play Souls. Even if I’m using a big fuck-you weapon, I have a shield on my back, even if I don’t use it. To roll with no shield in this game has been strange, but oddly liberating. Anyway, when I come up against a particularly tough boss, I can’t rely on my shield. Also, armor is pretty useless overall. I mean, my paladin (tank) started with armor that made her something like 90% encumbered. That’s unacceptable, and I quickly stripped off most of it until I found lighter armor. I didn’t level up armor stats very much with my mage, but I’m trying to beef up my endurance stats enough so I can wear my paladin armor as a tank.
I’m running long again, so I’m going to have to wrap it up here and save more of my thoughts for another post. One last note before I go, though. I wrote in my last post that I thought the Masterless Knight was a female, but since then, I’ve noticed that the Masterless Knight has a mustache and possibly a beard. This doesn’t necessarily mean the character isn’t a female, but probably not. Still reminds me of the Onion Knight, though.