Sound Concept, but...
Sacred Citadel came as a bit of a surprise this month. Even as a fan of the core Sacred franchise, I had never heard of Citadel and had no idea that the two were connected. Instead, it was the media that sold it to me. Screenshots showing side-scrolling, beat 'em up action and videos of explosive specials called out to my inner Double Dragon fan. Promises of a vast world filled with monsters, loot, and cooperative play sang to a different part of me. Unfortunately, while the game makes attempts to meet those promises, it falls short on delivery. Sacred Citadel isn't a bad game, it's just not very remarkable in any of the ways that count.
Same Old Story...
Sacred Citadel opens with a flourish of tired fantasy tropes. Using still-frame animation, Southend Interactive sets the scene. The evil Ashen Empire has risen and wants to take over the world. Before they can do that, they must kill the existing dignitaries hidden in the sacred citadel behind a great wall. Using evil magic, they create a great commander called the Gatebreaker, but even he is unable to proceed without first finding two magical relics. Sounding familiar yet? Finding such tasks beneath him, the Gatebreaker enlists the help of the Grimmocs, one of many enemy types throughout the game's levels. Meanwhile, your character (and his party in multiplayer) can be found putting his feet up at the local tavern. From there, you proceed to kill everything that gets in your way. Teach them to spill your beer.
All of this makes for a very traditional fantasy game, but starts the trend of forgettable quality after forgettable quality. I appreciated the art style and full voicing of the cut-scene, and can even smile and nod at the unique elements Southend is trying to incorporate, but there is an undeniable feeling that the story is being forced into a mold. The end result is a detached narrative that is little more than an excuse to get into battles.
That might even be okay in another game, but not in Sacred Citadel. Combat is simply functional and never really feels like something worth returning to. Like other games of the genre, your character will progress left to right across a stage, beating waves upon waves of enemies using primary, secondary, combo, and special attacks. Each of the game's four classes has their own flair but they amount to the same: long and short range attacks, a knock-back, a juggle, and a power move.
Much of what's good in the combat system is undermined by its odd halting quality. The ranger, for example, excels in quick sword slashes and rapid arrow shots, but every handful of attacks is stopped mid-sequence. This robs you of any sense of speed and leaves you open to attack. Every class has a feature like this which sadly shoehorns battles into tired repetitions of knockbacks. One gets the sense that the developers intended battles to blend button mashing with combo chains, but the system never feels fluid enough to make it appealing.
Furthermore, combat in Sacred Citadel can be quite difficult if played any other way. The game loves to throw masses of enemies at you which can easily become overwhelming. You can dodge-roll out of harm's way, but the most effective strategy is to combine dodges with knock-backs to keep them at a distance. Enemies can also drop potions and gear which are easily identified with enemies spaced out.
It would be disingenuous to say that the combat is all bad. Southend wisely included a number of different encounters with clever enemy groupings. While most battles will still amount to the same attack pattern, you will find yourself dodging about and switching between ranged and melee frequently. Occasionally, you will even use the environment to dispatch enemies in clever ways, such as knocking them under a falling stone or into a log trap.
Nice art style, Enemy grouping requires strategy
Repetitive and halting combat, Weak character progression