Ed Note: This is part three (and hopefully last) of my Salt and Sanctuary review. As you can tell, I have a lot to say about it. You can read part two here.
I uninstalled Salt and Sanctuary last night. I didn’t want to play it any longer, but I found myself thinking, “I’ll just play a few minutes” only to look up and the sun is rising. I’m two-thirds of the way through my melee playthrough, so I feel I can comment on the differences between playing as a mage and playing as a tank. By the way, when I say tank, I mean still being able to fast/medium roll. I watched playthroughs of people clunking their way through the game, barely being able to roll or not rolling at all, and no thank you–especially as I still am not using a shield. I tried, but I still find it awkward. Also, it was useless against the boss I was having a shit-ton of trouble with–more on her in a bit–because she can drain your stamina in a blink. If you’re going to block, you can’t roll and dodge at the same time, and I couldn’t remember that in the heat of the battle.
My tank is leveled higher at this point than my caster was by the end of the game, and I still can’t wear my paladin armor without fat-rolling. I’m not happy about that, and it’s part of my dissatisfaction with the stats-leveling in general. As I mentioned before, you have to level everything up separately, and I’m sure that’s a common thing for a certain genre of games, but it’s horseshit. Light armor and heavy armor are separate tree branches, for example, which meant I couldn’t wear most of the light armor, even though I could wear some heavy armor. Currently, my tank character is rocking the Iron Butterfly VI and the Seawolf Cutlass VI. One is a Class 3 Greataxe, and the other is a Class 3 Greatsword. Now, in Dark Souls, all I’d have to do is level up strength to probably thirty or forty, and I’d be able to wield both of these weapons*. In S&S, I have to level up each category separately up to the Class 3 in order to use them. And, it’s not just….
OK. Quick primer on the leveling up system. You have to use Black Pearls to level up your stats. You get a Black Pearl every time you level up in general, and you can find a few in the wild. If I want to level up swords, for example. I have to get to the Class 1 Swordfighter node from the nodes I had at the start of the game as a Paladin (spending Black Pearls on varying stats along the way), and then spend one Black Pearl on Class 1 Swordfighter. Then, you have to traverse up the branch again, buying other stats, until you reach Class 2 Swordfighter. You have to spend 2 Black Pearls for a Class 2 node, and so on up to 5 for Class 5. I had to do this with two different branches as I wanted to wield both greathammers/greataxes and greatswords. There are Gray Pearls that allow you to remove a skill, but not many. It’s hard to explain, and it’s confusing to use at the start. I figured it out pretty quickly, but I still didn’t like it. Souls games are known for their obtuse and unintuitive leveling systems, but I much prefer them to the Tree of Skill.
Anyway, I was talking about bosses at the end of the last post, and I was observing how bosses were harder as a tank than as a caster. I still think it’s true overall, but with my Seawolf Cutlass (which I mostly used until I transmuted my Headtaker into the Iron Butterfly), I was cutting through most bosses like butter. Warning, I’m going to actually name bosses in this mini-rant, so spoilers, I guess, for a game that is over a year old. The first boss to really give me trouble was The Disemboweled Husk. He’s a pirate boss with a giant gun and a huge cutlass. The Seawolf Cutlass, as a matter of fact. Why yes, I used The Disemboweled Husk Doll to transmute my Greatsword into the Seawolf Cutlass because I drink the blood of my enemies. Why do you ask? As a caster, I did him in one, and I don’t remember him being particularly difficult. As a tank, though, he gave me fits. he will spam shooting his pistol which does tons of damage unless you’re right up in his face. That’s where I tried to stay, but he also has an attack where he shoots his pistol straight up in the air, and an array of fire falls down upon you. Plus, it’s probably the worst boss run in the whole game as far as number of enemies you have to fight along the way.** Even worse, they can follow you all the way to the platform before the fight, which is annoying as fuck. I’ve actually had enemies follow me into the boss fight, which I think is not cricket at all. Anyway, The Disemboweled Husk killed me seven or eight times, and it’s obviously before I had my beloved Seawolf Cutlass. I finally beat him by staying in his face most of the time and just taking the hits.
Side note: One thing I’ve noticed with boss fights in Souls games is that winning often involves some luck. The boss inexplicably lets you heal when you’re one pixel from death. They don’t spam the one move you HATE more than others. They miss you with a sure-death combo. The boss that has given me the most problems by far in my melee playthrough is The Witch of the Lake. Oh my god. I get angry all over again just thinking about her. On a video I watched of the bosses ranked easiest to hardest, she was rated the toughest boss in the whole game. I beat her on my second try as a caster, and I thought, “Well, I’ll just put on all my best arcane-resist gear, and it should be fine.”
It was not fine. It wasn’t anywhere close to fine. She has a bunch of arcane attacks, and any one of them can stunlock you into near-death or death. I’m very high-leveled, so I could withstand one hit, but I’m pretty certain that many people would not be able to do so. I think it’s bullshit that a boss can one-shot you from full health to dead. With this boss as a melee character, you really need some RNG luck that she won’t endlessly spam her ranged attacks. You can use your special skills to evade one attack, but you probably won’t have the stamina to dodge three or four in a row. When I finally beat her, and it took between twelve and fifteen attempts, I came within one pixel of dying TWICE, and she actually allowed me to heal both times. I also managed to avoid a sure-death volley, and when I was done, I just felt pissed off. I didn’t feel triumphant, and that’s part of the problem with this game.
In Souls games,*** beating a boss was a high like no other. It felt like a hard-earned victory, and I have never felt as high while beating a video game as I did when I FINALLY killed Super-Smough. When I saw him burst into white dust, I let out a stream of curses that would make a sailor blush, and I pumped my fist in the air. I also broke my first XBone controller while fighting a boss in DS III, I think, by throwing it against the wall. Probably the Nameless King. That fucker. He can kiss all of my flat yellow ass. The thing is, most bosses in the Souls games are difficult, but fair. When I beat them, I felt it was because I learned their patterns and finally got the fuck good. In S&S, the bosses are either disappointingly easy or unfairly hard. It may be the limitations of 2D that the boss fights aren’t as memorable as they are in Souls games, but I would say the bosses are the weakest part of S&S. In watching the video of the ranking of the bosses, I didn’t remember a few of them, and I had just finished the game!
By the way, I looked at the comments (I know, I know) of the video, and there is a definitely a cross between the Souls community and the S&S community. The person who made the video was commenting on the boss alongside footage of him battling the boss. He would say he didn’t see how such and such boss could be hard (which in and of itself is very Souls community thinking), and someone in the comments section said something like, “Well, you’re using a greatsword, which is easy mode. You should try using–” Here my eyes started glazing over because it’s one of my pet peeves about the Souls community–the firm belief that anything other than their proscribed way of playing is babby mode.
One thing I have to mention is the currency system. There are two currencies–gold and souls, er, salt. Salt is what you use to level up and what you use to upgrade your weapons. Gold is used to buy things, but it’s pretty much useless. On my melee character, I had acquired 100,000 gold in a short amount of time. What was I going to do with all that gold? Use it to be revived, unfortunately. This is one of my biggest gripes about the game. Not only do you lose your souls, salt, damn it when you die–and they’re absorbed by the enemy that kills you, including the boss. Don’t get me started on that mechanic–you lose 10% of your gold to have a ‘mysterious cleric’ drag your lifeless body back to the sanctuary and revive you. That hundred thousand gold I mentioned? It was down to something like 8,000 by the time I beat The Witch of the Lake. Money really isn’t needed by that point of the game, but that doesn’t mean I liked losing it. They should have just done away with the gold and stuck with the salt.
In the end, I have mixed feelings about this game. Obviously, I played the shit out of it and in a fairly short amount of time. It’s gorgeous to look at, and I love the cartoony characters. The environments are stunning, but after a while, they just blended together. I found myself feeling more and more unsatisfied as I progressed through the last third of the game, even though I was doing mostly the same thing. As I mentioned in a previous post, yes, the addition of fucking ridiculous platforming put a huge damper on my enthusiasm, but that wasn’t all of it. I couldn’t wait for the game to be over and for me to put it in the finished folder, but I also felt the same way when I finished Dark Souls (the original). In that case, it was because I had spent so much time grinding through the game, I was hating myself by the end of it. This time, it was just that I wanted the game to be over.
When I had a bump of trouble with the last boss, I seriously considered quitting before beating him. I didn’t want to put the time in to beat him that I’ve put in before to beat particularly difficult Souls bosses. I probably died to the Nameless King close to a hundred times over two characters before finally beating him solo with my caster in NG+. I died three times to the last boss in S&S, and I thought about quitting the game. I just didn’t want to have to learn his patterns and whatnot in order to beat him, and I was pissy he killed me three times. Three. Fucking. Times. That’s nothing in a Souls game, and, yet, it seemed too much to ask in S&S.
Ian pointed out the video I posted above about whether or not we need a Soulslike genre, and Mark Brown put his finger on many of the intangible problems I’ve had with Salt and Sanctuary (which he mentions in the video, but he doesn’t dwell on it). He posits that the best way to pay homage to a game is to take the essence of it and then create a game based on that essence, but not necessarily worrying about hewing closely to the source game. His example is Spelunky and how Derek Yu (the creator) revitalized the roguelike genre, which was becoming stale because it insisted on adhering to too many static elements of the original game.
S&S is too much like Souls for the most part, which makes the ways it’s not like it but should be more glaring. The refreshing changes in S&S, such as Brands (they give you knew skills such as air dashing) are overshadowed by how overwhelmingly like Souls S&S is. Also, I feel like S&S relied too much on the Brands once you acquired them all (including the hell that is Pitchwoods) as if to say, “Look. We came up with this cool idea, so YOU MUST USE THEM ALL THE TIME.” My response to that, of course, is, “YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.” Except, they can because it’s their game, and thus, my grumpiness by the end.
I don’t know how to wrap this up because it’s still too soon after playing the game to parse what I really think about it. I didn’t touch Dark Souls (the original) again for at least six months after I played it the first time because I hated it by the time I was done with my first playthrough. The one thing about it, though, even then, is that it left an indelible impression on me. I’d never played a game like it before, one that demanded so much of me, and no Souls clone (or Souls sequel) can replicate that feeling.
I will say that I think S&S is a solid game, and anyone who is a Souls fan should at least give it a try. As for me, I’m putting in the done folder and eagerly awaiting FromSoft’s next game.
*I’d have to level up whatever stat is needed to swing it comfortably, but I have to do that here, too.
**There’s a shortcut, but I found it fiddly to use and gave up after a few tries.
***Again, barring DS II. Too many damn bosses.