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At first glance this game comes of as Dark Souls, but in a 2D skin. (And for the most part it is) However, in my opinion the 2D perspective works to the game's advantage. While it is true that what you can see is limited by the edges of the screen, the game is designed in such a way that getting hit, or falling for an environment hazard off screen is rare. In fact the few times I died because of something I couldn't see, was because I didn't follow the age old saying "Look before you leap." Or, wasn't blocking when an enemy flew off screen, and I knew they had ranged attacks.
The combat, which is the meat of the game, is tight, responsive, and above all else fun. Like Dark Souls, the focus of combat is watching, waiting, and learning enemies patters and attack paths. Then blocking or dodging around each strike when you've gotten better at the game, and counter hitting before the enemy has a chance to hit back. Or, if you have a better grasp on the game, parrying the enemies and killing them is one to two hits.
What comes next is exploration and platforming, the latter of which Souls games aren't so great at. However Salt and Sanctuary has something the Souls series does not have, a dedicated jump button. This is where the 2D perspective really helps, and is probably the reason most Souls jumping puzzles aren't that hard. That said, the platforming is what killed me the most in the game (Looking at you Fire and Sky Tower)
But, something Souls does have is a sprint button. This isn't too much of a problem, as the standard running speed in the game is pretty fast, and is slightly remedied later but an air born dash upgrade called a "Brand" (More on that next) but, if you don't have any Sanctuary returning items, the walk back can be a bit annoying.
Throughout the game you'll run into several NPC's that will give you "Brands" These brands allow you to traverse areas, which previously were unreachable by several means. They not only allow you to progress to new areas, but open up other secrets in older areas, such as secret areas/bosses, and new loot.
Exploration is encouraged, as unlocking shortcuts is essential, unless you like walking the long way through a dungeon to get back to where you were. In some cases, it can lead to places you'll visit later in the game, and monsters you may not be ready to fight. But, can beat anyway if you're patient/skilled enough.
In typical video game fashion, killing monster will earn you Exp. In this games case it's Salt, which you use at Sanctuaries to level up (hence the name, Salt and Sanctuary) But, instead of a static screen of stats, you level up with a skill tree. Unlike Souls, weapons aren't locked behind a well of number (sort of) Instead each weapon is part of a Class ranging from levels One to Five. And Stat Scaling bonuses from E to S. So say if you get the Level 3 sword Class, those point aren't wasted. Along with the weapon class, you'll obtain 3 points in the Strength stat (Which is typically what swords scale with the best)
Scattered around the game are items that will remove one level, and give you back one skill point. This is great, say you want to get to a particular skill, and are a single point off, rather than making another run through the past area for salt, you can simply take a point from somewhere else in the skill tree, and relocate it where you want. Getting the skill you want, and not running around the game world grinding for salt. (If you're smart enough to not waste your items that is)
However despite how great the game is, a perfect game it is not. Making a game with a limited team isn't an easy task, but when that team is (for the most part) two people the task is only made harder, and finding every bug and glitch isn't exactly easy. One of the more prominent bugs, (of which can be triggered on demand) Involves hitting a black ghostly enemy (I believe it's called a Clay Mask Phantom) out if it's death animation, where it'll float around a while before vanishing. This wouldn't be too much of a problem, if it wasn't able to hurl magical spinning death blades at you in its now invincible state. Other glitches include finicky hit boxes, getting stuck in the floor, and dying from a survivable fall (Although none of these are deal breakers and are rare at best)
If you're a Lore kind of person, there's a lot to look into, and a story you can piece together. But, like Souls it's buried in item descriptions, and in the Skill Tree. Each skill has a random piece of lore attached to it. Finding/Talking with NPC's will get you the over arching quest, but if you want the details you're going to have to dig. (Speaking of Quest, the main quest that's talked about in the very beginning of the game is forgotten about pretty quickly and only mentioned a few times) That said, the story is interesting, and worth a look over if you've got the time. Plus the reason why all the levels in the game are sort of mashed together is given a reason in game, which gets it a few points in my book (Points are important)
Another bit of a nit-pick is the art style of the game, personally I like it and think ti fits the game's theme. However, I'm not everyone, and I can see how the faces of most of the characters in game may not appeal to the rest of the world. But you'll be sticking a helmet, or a mask over your head within five minutes anyway (Unless your like me, and you prefer aesthetics over function)
A personal problem for me is how slow the game is to get going, (Once you get past the standard near impossible to beat first boss) The damage you do is pretty crap, and your stamina is laughably pathetic, but once you get a few levels in, and get used to the controls it picks up, just really slowly...
A few other things to mention is that rather than finding NPC's in the world, and taking them back to a main Sanctuary, you make Offerings, in the form of stone figures to each individual Sanctuary. And a corresponding NPC will show up based on the figure you offered. Parallel to Souls, instead of Covenants there are Creeds. But, there isn't too much difference between them. They change what form your main healing items are (Most of them are the same thing just in a different skin, with the exception of one that gets you drunk, and another that gives you a hidden "Corruption" stat. Which can be healed away by a lady in the forest for a cheap amount of Salt), and offer a few other bonuses.
Another thing you can do, is if there's a sanctuary you like, but it's not in your Creed, you can convert it one of two ways. Either by using a crystal item, that does it no questions asked (But where's the fun in that?) Or using another item of a somewhat evil Arcane magic and desecrate said Sanctuary, making all the NPC's hostile, and spawning in a couple mages and knights to defend it. Killing them all will make the Sanctuary free to use for your own. This is also the main way of leveling up your "Devotion" rank, to a certain evil Creed you may/may not find later in the game. Leveling up your Devotion rank in any creed with net you either a healing item for your health or stamina, or in most cases a buff item in the theme of each creed.
Weapons selection is about as open as any Souls game. You've got your standard Swords, Daggers, Axes, Maces, Spears, and the Larger versions of a few. Some of the more flashy weapons are Scythes and Whips. Ranged combat includes, Bow's, Staves, and Magic Wands. Offhand's are Shields, Crossbows, and Flintlock "Pistols" (Don't be fooled, it's not a ranged gun. The Pistol class of weapons act more like a Shotgun/Blunderbuss)
There are also Hybrid weapons, I.E Magic infused weapons with special effects, and more interestingly hybrids of swords, such as a couple Swordwhips, a Gunsblade, and what's called a "Scissorsword" While not as powerful as you might think, the Hybrid weapons are fun to play around with, and give purpose to the crazy amount of Salt you'll get on NG+, once you reach the soft cap for your leveled up stats, and don't really want to spend 100,000+ plus salt for a 0.4 increase in attack power. (Although that because idiots like me level up at every chance we get, and end up over Level 150 when we reach the final boss)
The setting of the game has it's dark and overbearing doom moments, but at times also has a certain beauty to it. I also, after learning the intention.motivation of the final boss, I did feel a level of empathy towards his goals. Ya know, before killing him and later ripping of his head to get one of the game's endings. Also, the music in game is really great, and doesn't get repetitive despite hearing the same tracks a few times over and over.
All in all, Salt and Sanctuary is fun, challenging, interesting, and maybe a little addicting considering at the time I'm typing this out I've played 68 hours of the game across multiple characters. (And will probably double that number in the weeks to come), If you liked Dark Souls 1, 2, 3, and Bloodborne, then you'll transition into this game pretty easily.
As an End Note, I'd like to thank both James (Lead Dishwasher) and Michelle (The Art Unicorn) for creating/developing another great game, this makes the Fourth game from their Studio I've bought and enjoyed from beginning to end, Thanks Guys [:D]