Two RPG subgenres that I definitely enjoy are Metroivanias and Souls-like titles. Thankfully, Salt and Sacrifice, the sequel to 2016’s Salt and Sanctuary, happens to combine both. Mind you, Salt and Sacrifice does offer some new concepts that attempt to keep your playthrough refreshing. Unfortunately, this idea is marred by a key concept from the original game which I absolutely disliked.
When you begin a new game in Salt and Sacrifice, you’re asked to choose a class. This will determine your starting stats and equipment. From there, you’re taken to a mysterious frontier, whereupon you’ll likely die to the first boss that you encounter (a common trope in Souls games).
The journey of the Spellmarked Inquisitor
You’ll wake up in Pardoner’s Vale, which acts as the main hub. This has several NPCs who provide upgrades or vendor wares. It also has a teleporter that leads to new zones once you find runestone combinations. This is perhaps the first notable departure in the sequel, that of five major zones (and another that you can visit later in the campaign) as opposed to a single, interconnected realm.
A challenge is presented to you from the get-go: your character is afflicted by the Spellmarked status. This is akin to an HP debuff, cleansed only by consuming Guiltless Shards dropped by spawned mobs.
Into lands unknown
As you continue to progress in Salt and Sacrifice, you’ll boost your character by spending Salt (the game’s main currency). Leveling up is fairly straightforward, as all it does is increase your HP. As for stats, your leveling up grants you Black Starstones and Gray Starstones. The former is used to unlock weapon/armor ranks and stat increases, while the latter is a means of respecing a selected node.
Your adventure will take you to the aforementioned zones, rendered in pleasing visually appealing 2D art. For instance, Ashbourne Village is a ruined town filled with your usual dark fantasy goblins and armored knights. Then, there’s the second zone, Bol Gerahn, a desert wasteland that’s teeming with bandits and spiderlings.
You can also expect that each zone is split up into smaller sections (i.e., caves, castles, dungeons, and more). Along the way, you’ll find new gadgets and tools at your disposal, such as a grappling hook, a means of using ziplines, a parachute that lets you ride air currents, and a crystal that reveals hidden paths.
Mage Hunts and weapon skills
Salt and Sacrifice‘s biggest feature is its Mage Hunts. True, there are still bosses that are required to advance further (similar to most Metroidvania and Souls-like games). However, Mage Hunts tend to keep things refreshing — at least on paper.
While exploring, you’ll come across objects that cause a wisp of smoke to appear, and following it leads to the Mage boss in question. After a short while or once it takes enough damage, it’ll teleport away. Finally, once you reach an area, it’ll turn into an enclosed arena where you get to battle the boss.
To be fair, Mage Hunts are exciting to try out early on, as bosses are marvelously designed in terms of art and visuals. Mechanically, though, there’s little variation (i.e., a melee swing, a ranged attack, and an AoE). At the very least, these opponents do regularly cause more mobs to spawn. Killing them, as well as the boss, yields crafting materials. By forging new equipment, you’ll be able to unleash weapon-specific skills such as multi-slashes from rapiers, lightning pillars from staves, and long-range projectile shots.
As a funny aside, it’s possible for Mage Hunt bosses to encounter each other, causing them and their minions to duke it out. It leads to hilarious situations where a boss’ health has already dropped to low thresholds before you even fight them due to damage from other sources. Another mechanic is called Fated Hunts, where you track a specific target as opposed to random spawns.
No map again?
One problem I’ve had when I played Salt and Sanctuary was the lack of a map, and this sequel continues the trend. Granted, other Metroidvanias had their own presentation. For example, Vigil: The Longest Night and Grime had rather confusing layouts, whereas Ender Lilies felt more manageable.
In Salt and Sacrifice, the lack of a map is compounded by bosses and locked doors. Firstly, Mage bosses don’t leave behind a trail of smoke if a Mage Hunt isn’t active (i.e., they only spawned randomly). As such, it can be a daunting task to chase them around, especially when you end up in the wrong section or corridor. This is exacerbated by plenty of opponents roaming around and those that are spawned, causing you to get mauled or air-juggled mercilessly if you’re not careful.
Secondly, there are barred doorways that can only be opened once you’ve “devoured” a certain number of Mage souls in a given zone. Without a map, it’s hard to remember where these are. I often found myself just focusing on the main objectives as opposed to looking around for secrets or rerunning areas. Moreover, your character will only spawn in the central area when using the hub’s portal (you can’t teleport to another obelisk within the same zone). You truly need to make a mental note of your location to remember where you’re supposed to go.
The last point of contention I have when discussing Salt and Sacrifice is that it didn’t feel engaging. Gone are the days when boss fights truly delivered. Instead, they’re merely thrown at you as you’re roaming around. It leads to a bland and somewhat tedious affair, which I normally don’t experience when playing Souls-like Metroidvanias.
Once I finished the campaign, I genuinely didn’t feel like finding all the remaining secrets. Don’t get me wrong, I will eventually write a guide about these. But, in terms of plain exploration and enjoyment, the sense of discovery seemed lacking. You can give it a go if you’re a big fan of the original. Then again, the lack of a map and repetitive nature of combat might be off-putting if you’re still on the fence.