It was Sunday, May 15th, 6:20 PM. I was sitting on my couch, with a Diet Coke by my side and a fan blasting at me as I dripped with sweat from the humidity. It was at that moment when I first screamed “OH GO FUCK YOURSELF!” to the first major boss of Salt and Sacrifice.
Yes, it’s one of those games.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this in my first ever written review, but it’s really all about those Dark Souls influences. This game is punishing right off the bat. I decided to play the Highblade class which is a dexterity focused Samurai build. I intended to play a Samurai in Elden Ring and didn’t wind up doing that, so I decided it’d be fitting to give it a whirl in Salt and Sacrifice. What a decision I made. I picked one of the most up close and personal classes in the game. Immediately, I added a layer of challenge to my first playthrough. You see, learning the rhythm and tempo in games of this style is always a challenge, especially after recently finishing my third play-through of Elden Ring. I already had dodge timing and attack windows ingrained into my muscle memory. But this time? I had nothing. I haven’t played Salt and Sanctuary, so I had to start from scratch. Starting from scratch feels like trying to breakdance after you’ve mastered swing dancing. You’ve got some foundation, but the moment it comes to hitting the dancefloor you look like a fucking crazy person and get kicked out of the club.
Fortunately, I have many great things to say about this game. Unfortunately, for every positive feeling I have towards this game, I have a negative that takes away from the positive. Salt and Sacrifice is Metroidvania meets Souls-like. It has a sprawling labyrinth with very punishing stamina based combat. So my question is, why doesn’t this game have a map or fast travel?
I played a lot of Metroid Dread this year and found it wildly satisfying to play. Mainly because all of my exploration was rewarded with further places to trek. It was always very fun to see two areas close together with an obvious connection point, and then having to go and find it. Opening the map and saying to yourself “okay I have been there, I have to head all the way over there. I could fast travel to that spot and get there even sooner” was very convenient. It allowed you to maybe skip over spots you’ve been to several times where you knew they were fully explored. Salt and Sacrifice doesn’t give you that luxury. Even getting to see where you are in relation to a checkpoint is impossible. Many times I would instinctively click the start button to pull up a map, but I was always let down. It’s second nature in a game like this to refer to a map. The playable character also doesn’t move particularly fast. Moving through the environment doesn’t feel super satisfying. It made me feel a little iffy about going out of my way to further explore which totally defeats the purpose of a Metroidvania. It’s a big miss in terms of the design, and I’d love to see a map/fast travel in a future installment.
In this world everyone hates mages. They are just the worst. You play a Marked Inquisitor who is tasked with cleansing the world of a myriad of roaming Mages. The Mages all embody different elements and concepts. There’s a typical Pyromancer and Aquamancer. But things also get pretty different and unique; for example, the Fungalmancer. There are named Mages who have hearts that need to be devoured. Yeah, you read that right. This game features FUCKING HEART EATING. Instead of getting arrested for eating hearts in this world, you get access to closed doors! Behind the doors are often items you need to move forward, or brand new areas looking to be explored. Before you can eat the Mage hearts, you must track down the Mages. It doesn’t end there though. You have to find a quest giver to send you on a hunt. The hunt will tell you the name of the Mage you have to quell. You will then be guided toward the Mage and will have to fight them when you see them. You attack them until they disintegrate. But that isn’t the end of the boss. Nope. You have to chase the Mage all across the realm. You will have to stop to attack the boss five or six times before actually getting into the real fight. The problem with this approach is that the fights don’t feel entirely satisfying. Having to fight a boss in some place you’ve already been several times isn’t as exciting as having an interesting/dramatic boss arena. I appreciate the idea of a roaming boss but much like catching the Legendary dogs in Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal, having them run from you and popping up in random spots is infuriating. Notice how many times I’ve said the word “Mage”? That’s another major issue. In order to farm certain gear/weapons you have to fight the same boss over and over and over again. Most of the bosses are extremely similar with an identical setup. Find, attack, boss vanishes, repeat. Seldom did I feel a true sense of “wow what a great fight” past the first two fights. Once I noticed the pattern was the same, I got tired of it pretty quickie.
Where Salt and Sacrifice really shines though is the presentation. The aesthetic and overall design and feel of the game is just terrific. Think Maple Story meets Bloodborne. The game is made in Unity, and that is super impressive to me. The animations are super fluid and smooth. When I knocked a Pyromancer to the ground and tore his beating heart out of his chest I let out an excited gasp. Not only are the animations beautiful, but the weapons and ranged options all feel super unique and fun to use. I often played with a katana and swapped with a cool scythe I got. I didn’t even touch weapons like the rapier, whip, zweihander, twin daggers, halberds, staves, the list goes on. There is a lot of replayability here. That’s one of the game’s major strengths. I didn’t even touch magic during my first playthrough. The amount of playstyles available is really enticing and I will certainly return to try another one in the future.
I have a very complicated relationship with my feelings toward Salt and Sacrifice. I like this game, but I don’t really ENJOY this game, if that makes sense. I have been excitedly telling people about this game. I’ll talk and talk about it until I realize that I’ve just been ranting about how the game doesn’t have a map, and the combat feels a little clunky and molasses-y and how you have to fight the same bosses on repeat and how most of the enemies have moves that are next to impossible to avoid with how limited your movement is.
On paper, Salt and Sacrifice has everything I love about video games. But in practice, it feels a little half baked. There are glaring omissions from this game that I just don’t understand. The game is good, but I feel the missing parts keep it from being truly great. I am happy I finally got to dip my toes into this franchise, because I’ve always wanted to play the first game. I am just a little disappointed that this didn’t click with me. I feel like this could be the right game for a lot of people, but I struggle to recommend it. If you enjoyed the first game and are able to forgive a few missing staple features in these genres of games, then you should give this a go. However, if you are like me and really value fun factor… maybe avoid this one. Now excuse me while I go and start another playthrough with a wildly different build.