PAX East 13: Sacred Citadel Makes Beating Things Up Look Good

The Sacred series is not the most renowned franchise in the gaming industry, but it’s no less one that has two solid entries under its belt and a dedicated group of followers who adore its universe. While in the past the “Sacred” namesake has been one that’s associated with open-world design and dungeon-crawl mechanics, the upcoming spin-off title, Sacred Citadel, is looking to shake things up a bit. At PAX East, we had a chance to sit down with Alex Toplansky, creative producer with Deep Silver, to play the game and learn all about the changes coming to the world of Sacred.

Citadel introduces players the world of Sacred that loyalists will immediately recognize. The game, though different from the mainline entries in the franchise and certainly not a direct sequel, draws upon the very same lore and history as those before it. Despite the story being a major player in the previous games, though, Citadel takes a somewhat unconventional stance — at least for this series — by offering a narrative that never quite takes itself too seriously. “Quite a bit of time has passed historically since those events [of the previous games], so it’s been about a thousand years since Sacred 1 and a lot has changed in the world. We’re looking to give people a new, fresh look at what’s going on in the Sacred universe [with Citadel],” Toplansky said. “You know, the story is definitely a little tongue-in-cheek; it’s told from the perspective of treasure hunters, and these guys are just ordinary people running around for fun, trying to make some money, and end up getting caught in this crazy ancient legend. So that side of it is there, and we’re looking forward to returning Sacred players seeing some of those connections, but I like to think of it as this sort of comic-inspired experience.” This aspect may scare off some Sacred veterans, but Citadel isn’t just pandering to longtime fans — no, it’s looking to capture a wholly new audience, as well.

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It’s obvious from Citadel’s design that Deep Silver are looking to grow its player base by reworking the Sacred experience. Instead of being an RPG-heavy adventure like the previous titles, Citadel is a 2D side-scroller in the vein of Double Dragon, Streets of Rage or even Castle Crashers to be more time-relevant, and is filled with bombastic attacks, wild chain-combos and just general, over-the-top, nonsensical beat’em uppery. But the game isn’t all about punchy good times; there are clear influences of its lineage in the design concept. For starters, there’s the obligatory level system which encourages players to beat up as many bad guys as possible in order to earn experience, rank up and then assign points to several attribute areas to tailor a character to the player’s liking. Of course, there’s also all that beautiful loot to, well, loot from the bodies of slain enemies. New armor and weapons are the primary items to drop from a trounced baddie, and can be equipped on the fly without so much as slowing down in one’s quest to devour the souls of his dastardly foes. In the midst of combat, there’s all the basics we’ve come to expect from these types of experiences: combos, charged attacks, dodge abilities and of course giant, special attacks.

But wait, this is all starting to sound awfully familiar… After all, most beat’em ups these days include a few if not all of the components just rattled off. Where Citadel tries to carve out its own identity however, is in its borrowing of classic Sacred staples. Meaning to say, Citadel makes use of a class system — one that actually means something in this genre of games. So for instance, each class is only able to equip specific armor and weapon types, and certain attacks are dependent on and sometimes exclusively available to one particular class of the available four. In doing this, Deep Silver has crafted a system that isn’t mind-blowingly unique or, pardon the pun, deep, but they have added an extra layer to the cake of that oh-so-rich beat’em up goodness. And choosing the right class may prove vital in this multiplayer-emphasized extravaganza. But the game isn’t just about its cooperative play, after all it can be experienced without the company of others. When asked about this, and if the title would be an enjoyable singleplayer experience, Toplansky promptly said, “Yeah, yeah, it’s fun! Although the game really shines in multiplayer.”

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From the looks of it, Sacred Citadel is attempting to do something different with the series of which it is apart. At the same time, it’s walking the cusp of offering something fresh for new audiences and old for franchise veterans. As a result, and somewhat by design, it may not be as expansive as the former games or boast a slew of RPG and customization options, but it seems to maintain that distinct hack and slash nature of its predecessors as well as those characteristics that made the former games what they are. At the same time, it also appears to be striving for an experience that possess a certain panache that remembers the glory days of gaming, where every storyline wasn’t rot with world-ending seriousness and every gameplay mechanic didn’t require a lecture and/or YouTube consultative training video to teach a player how to simply enjoy the game in front of them. If pulled off, Sacred Citadel could be the next Castle Crashers. If executed poorly, it could easily end up in the sea of forgotten beat’em ups, lost forever to been-there-done-there concepts and a lackluster appeal. Only time will tell. Citadel is slated for an April release on PlayStation Network, Steam and Xbox Live Arcade.