In this Salt and Sacrifice Review we’ll be talking about the new 2D Soulslike game developed and published by Ska Studios, makers of one of our favorite 2D games of all time, Salt and Sanctuary. Salt and Sacrifice features a great combination of Metroidvanina exploration, Souls Combat and some elements of the Monster Hunter franchise, and though not a direct sequel to Salt and Sanctuary, carries over many of the same elements. If you want to know how Salt and Sacrifice stacks up to its predecessor, read on to find out.
Salt and Sacrifice Review
- Genere: 2d Soulslike
- Developed by: Ska Studios
- Published by: Ska Studios
- Release Date: May 10, 2022
- Platforms: PC, PS5
- Price: $19.99
Salt and Sacrifice: Story and Setting
Salt and Sacrifice is set in the Altarstone Kingdom, where peace has been threatened by the arrival of “Mages”. Mages are magical entities that were once humans, but became obsessed and consumed by their power thus turning into creatures of pure elemental malice that roam the world, leaving devastation ln their wake.
In response to this threat, the realm formed the “Marked Inquisition”, an organization assembled of condemned prisoners tasked with rooting out and destroying all Magic to bring peace back to the kingdom.
After committing a crime of your choosing, you become a Marked Inquisitor yourself and embark on a journey to absolve your past by defeating Mages and purging their magic. As you travel through different Locations and meet with different NPCs, you’ll learn more about the world and uncover the truth behind Mages, the Realm, and the Marked Inquisition itself.
I personally didn’t feel too drawn into the story and I don’t think that most players will either, but this is to be expected from a metroidvania that is more focused on gameplay. There are little to no options with regards to what the player can do or say, and the story and NPC questlines take very little part in the grand scheme of things, even though there may be some interesting lore to be read from item and equipment descriptions.
Salt and Sacrifice Gameplay
The focus of Salt and Sanctuary is indeed on the gameplay, allowing you to take your character through grueling hunts and exploration in order to become stronger and uncover the secrets of the land. Much like the original game, this is a very fun process, and the main draw for anyone considering a buy.
Salt and Sacrifice is an RPG in gameplay mechanics if not on story decisions. You will be able to create and customize the looks of your character, level up, craft, upgrade and specialize in weapon types and approaches with multiple distinct playstyles. And all of this can be done in co-op and pvp as well, providing a deeper experience.
The combat mechanics of Salt and Sacrifice are what you would expect from a Soulslike game, featuring punishing encounters, checkpoints that act as bonfires, rewarding combat experiences and difficult but enjoyable boss fights.
Each enemy feels very unique with its own set of attack patterns, strengths and weaknesses allowing the game to feel fresh at all times which is a really difficult thing to accomplish. This is also combined with well thought-out enemy placement such as leaping enemies ambushing in upper areas while the larger and bulkier enemies wait for you below.
Boss fights are punishing and require that you learn their attack patterns so you can avoid them and strike back. Each boss is based around a certain type of element and you can often make an armor set that is good against that type. So if you are struggling with a boss you can always farm previous bosses and craft an armor set that is good against the elements that you are fighting.
I really enjoyed combat and the good amount of build variety, and while I somewhat criticize how character progression works, that doesn’t mean it has a negative impact on combat whatsoever.
There’s a good variety of melee and ranged classes, each with different playstyles and weights behind them: An Assassin is actually nimble and quick to roll, while a Paladin will use its shield to block heavy damage, but have to endure “fat rolls” that are often not ideal, but such is the life for one who dons heavy armor.
Similar to other Souls-like games, starting classes only determine your starting Equipment and Skills serving as sort of pre-made builds, but as the Skill Tree is shared between all Classes you will be able to move to any build in the long run.
As mentioned in the story section, you can also select the crime you committed against the kingdom. Each crime provides a different starting gift and is mentioned a couple of times through the story, but is not a make-or-break decision for your playthrough.
Last but not least, you are also able to modify how your character looks by selecting gender, an “Ancestry” which only affects your overall appearance, and also some other customization options such as Eye Color, Hair, etc.
Character progression in Salt and Sacrifice is a bit of a mixed bag. Exploring locations, hunting mages and gathering materials feels incredible rewarding and each time I found a new type of mage I was really eager to head back to the main hub and see what new types of Weapons and Armor I unlocked, but in practice, and true to the downside of other souls games, you may end up skipping most of them because of equipment or upgrade restrictions as builds become rather specialized in a particular playstyle.
Level up, Attributes & Skills
Just like the previous game, you’ll gather “Salt” each time you defeat an enemy or complete a mission. Salt can be spent in town to level up your character, slightly increasing your Max Hp and providing 1 Black Starstone for each level and 1 Grey Starstone every five levels.
Black Starstones can be used to unlock nodes on your Skill Tree. Most nodes require 1 Black Startstone but some of them can also require 2 or 3 stones. Grey Starstones on the other hand can be used to unlearn a node and recover a Black Starstone.
While the Skill Tree can be overwhelming at first glance, it’s actually very simple and you will probably end up following it in a linear way. There’s essentially two types of nodes:
- Stat Nodes: These are the smaller ones and provide +1 to a certain stat. For example “Fortified Strength” increases your strength by 1. Once unlocked, you can keep boosting the same stat up to five times on the same node by spending additional Black Starstones.
- Class Slots: These nodes are bigger and can only be unlocked one time. They provide both stats and the ability to use a certain type of Weapon, Armor or Runic Art. For example, the “Class 3 Vanguard” requires 2 Blackstones. Once unlocked, it will provide +2 to Strength and allow you to equip Class 3 Vanguard Weapons without penalties.
If you level up focusing on just one path, you will quickly reach the “end of the line” and likely feel confused about what to do next, as investing in another tree seems disjointed. In this regard, I feel like progression would have been more interesting if the tree was less linear, and had a couple of different mechanics such as consumables, skills or attacks interconnected between the branches making them worth investing in.
That said, Builds are predictable and you’ll probably find that you can actually multitask the skill tree into interesting combinations, even if these seem like starting anew with a different weapon type.
Equipment and Crafting
Equipment is a key aspect of every Souls game and that’s no different for Salt and Sacrifice. All the equipment in the game has fixed stats and effects, with the exception of Artifacts.
Weapons play a huge role in combat and I was delighted to see the variety and difference in gameplay between them. Each type is divided in categories that range from Class 0 to Class 5.
I really like how each weapon feels unique in its speed, reach and the types of Runic Arts available to it. You’ll probably only use one or two weapon types during your playthrough, just because of the way Salt and Sacrifice is designed, which provides a lot of re-play value.
There are 13 types of melee weapons including:
Every melee weapon type features its own unique moveset, with a variety of combos available. For example with a Vanguard equipped you can perform a Launcher attack by pressing “□△” or a shield bash by pressing “□□△”
Weapons can have have up to three Runic Arts, which act as spells or skills. These can either require Focus, which is refilled by consumables, or Rage, which fills by dealing damage to enemies. It’s important to note that you’ll first need to unlock the corresponding “Glyph Node” on the skill tree to be able to use each type of runic arts.
There are no other ways to use or conjure skills other than using Runic Arts and these are tied to your weapon. Once again I have mixed feelings about this, as I think most players will stick to a weapon based on a Runic Art and might not be able to upgrade or change it because the “newer” weapon doesn’t have a Runic Art that they like. Much like souls, this limits progression and can leave you disappointed as you keep using the same weapon over a long period of time, never really being able to upgrade as much as you’d like. Of course, experimentation can also yield very good changes so it will ultimately come down to your own proclivities.
The game also features 6 type of ranged weapons:
Ranged Weapons are a “complementary” part of your arsenal and don’t have movesets on their own, but instead vary in speed, damage and scaling. All ranged weapons share the same type of ammunition, which can be upgraded to increase its carrying capacity.
Armor & Fashion
You will be able to Fashion Salt with a good amount of armor, each with their unique design and look. But armor also plays a central role to your combat, providing you with defensive stats which includes Physical and Elemental Resistances as well as Poise or Stagger resistance. The armor also determines your weight, which affects your rolls and movement speed.
Accessories & Artifacts
Accessories act as ring or talismans in souls games, giving you the option to slot passive abilities to optimize your build. Most accessories provide you with passive abilities that modify your build, like increasing stamina regeneration, increasing your health, increasing rage gain and more. There is a good variety of these as well so when combined with the weapon categories and weight choices it all adds up to a rather satisfying build experience.
In addition to the accessories, you can equip Artifacts that are obtained by hunting mages. Artifacts are unique in that they come equipped with random passives and bonuses. These have both rarity and level. Rarity indicates the amount of bonuses they provide ranging from 1 bonus on common to 5 on legendary, and level determines how powerful these effects are.
Crafting & Upgrades
The crafting system is very similar to the Monster Hunter franchise. Each type of mage you fight has a “Set” related to it which includes an armor set, a couple of different weapon types and a bunch of accessories. That mage and all its minions will drop the related crafting materials that you need to craft its related set pieces and weapons. As soon as you pick up the first crafting material of a set you’ll be able to see all pieces on the crafting table so you can see if it’s worth farming or not.
It’s very exciting to encounter a new Mage and come back to the main hub to check the new set that you just uncovered, but since you’ll be most likely limited to either a Heavy or a Light set, half of the time it just doesn’t suit you and you are left disappointed.
You can upgrade your equipment by spending stones called “Ashpyr”. There are different elemental types and you’ll often require a mix of them to upgrade each type of weapon or armor, which really limits the amount of gear that you can max out.
I feel that the developers intended players to try out different armor pieces for the different type of mage encounters, but due to the limited amount of upgrade stones available I ended up just maxing out a single set and almost never changing it because I couldn’t afford to max out a different one. If you want to max out your equipment, expect to do a lot of farming just like you would in a Monster Hunter endgame.
Salt and Sanctuary Review: Gameplay Exploration, Locations, Progress
Level and enemy design is where Salt and Sacrifice really shines. The degree of handcrafting that was put into the game is astonishing and more so considering the amount of enemies that you face and how big each location is.
The difficulty of the game scales up really well with player progression, providing you with many checkpoints and less complex enemies in the beginning and quickly spacing them out and adding more complex mechanics as you advance further and further.
There are five hub regions in the game, each made up of a variety of interconnected dungeons. These dungeons are often locked behind gates that only open after you kill a certain amount of Mages, or can also be guarded by Bosses that you must defeat in order to continue ahead.
During exploration you’ll need to traverse through the environment while defeating enemies and solving puzzles, which often revolve around correctly timing your jumps and avoiding the triggering of traps that will throw you off of a cliff to certain death.
Checkpoints are strategically placed across the map, and you’ll often unlock doors or lifts that take you back to previous checkpoint areas allowing you to quickly traverse to all parts of the map without having to go through all the content again. Being able to finally clear an area and reach the next checkpoint feels really rewarding as it does with all Souls game.
Maps are really big, featuring many different levels but without any type of loading screens or loading times providing a very smooth experience.
Similar to other Metroidvanias, progression is also locked behind tools that you need to acquire to interact with the environment, in this case called “Inquisitor Tools”. The first tool that you’ll acquire is the “Grappling Hook” which allows you to hook to specific anchor points and swing to other platforms.
All locations feature different Inquisitor Tool paths, even the ones that you unlock further in the game. This motivates you to revisit early areas and uncover all their secrets. And there surely are many secrets to be uncovered, including treasure chests, special missions and hidden NPCs.
The main goal of the game is to defeat the different mages that are found in each hub. While exploring the map you’ll find objects in the map that glow with magic. Interacting with these objects will initiate a mage hunt.
Mage hunts are also very similar to Monster Hunter World hunts. Once the mission is active you’ll be able to see an indicator that you can follow to find the mage. Once the mage is found, he will summon a set of minions and attack you. You can opt for either doing enough damage to the mage or to defeat his minions. Once you do either, he will teleport to a different location of the map. You’ll need to follow the trail again and repeat a couple of times until the actual fight begins where you can see the mage’s health bar and defeat it. Once subdued, you’ll devour the mage’s heart and gain a ton of Salt and a small lore dialogue.
While I really like this mechanic, much like Monster Hunter, it sometimes get a little tedious to follow mages on big maps, as you spend more time traveling than fighting. There are, however, some really funny interactions that can happen while you pursue a mage. Mages are hostile to all creatures and also to other mages. Other mages sometime spawn at the same location as the mage you are pursuing, so they’ll start fighting each other and you can just stay away and enjoy while they reduce each other’s HP. Experiencing missions in Multiplayer is certainly a fantastic way to get into really funny situations, which we enjoyed while playing local couch coop during the demo.
Salt and Sacrifice Review: Audio, Visuals & Design
This is a completely hand-drawn indie metroidvania, and all assets have been re-drawn for this release. The visuals of the game are splendid and I personally love the artistic approach. Environments, enemies and bosses are all exceptionally well made and a lot of detail was put into each of them. I also love the dark theme which makes it feel very soulslike, with a degree of personality and developer involvement that is only found in passion projects.
Performance-wise, I didn’t experience any type of bugs, crushes or stutters during my playtime and I would say that the overall general experience is very smooth. We played the game on Playstation 5 for a demo, and a couple of different mid and high end PCs.
The audio quality for sound effects is also very good and helps you during combat where you can track your hits or enemy attacks by the different sounds. Being an indie game, it doesn’t feature any kind of voice acting and the Music was not a strong point with no specific song really catching my interest, but I didn’t feel like it was bad either. I do wish Ska Studios has the opportunity to explore improving this aspects as the studio grows.
Multiplayer, Replayability and Pricepoint
We were originally told by the developer that we could expect to finish the game in about 15 hours. That was nowhere near our actual run time for a first playthrough, that creeped over 20 hours even when trying to push for the finish line. Part of this was the daily missions: Once you complete a mage’s original mission you’ll be able to casually encounter mages in random spots of a hub but you won’t be able to complete their missions again so they are difficult to track. There is, however, a special book hidden in each hub. Once you get the item, you can take it back to the main hub and unlock daily missions that allow you to track mages and farm them adding a lot of replay value.
There’s also Multiplayer, with both asynchronous online features, local couch co-op, online cooperative play and player-vs-player encounters. Engaging in PvP rewards players with special tokens that can be exchanged for special equipment by talking to certain NPCs.
The Co-Op feature allows both players to face against powerful mages as a team. There are some restrictions as having to be in the same world and have the same Inquisitor Tools available (such as the grappling hook), though so if you plan to play with a friend you should be careful that advancing without them may lock you out of helping them catch up later.
Pricepoint-wise, Salt and Sacrifice is a very good deal. Asking for 19.99 USD in the US (and a lot less depending on where you are, down to even 5USD in some regions). It took me around 20 hours to complete a single “quick” no multiplayer run covering all locations and there’s plenty of replay value if you want to experience more Weapons or if you want a harder challenge with New Game Plus. The Online features also add plenty of additional hours both for PVP and PVE, and the online coop makes it a must-play for me as it’s one of our favorite things to do to relax.
Salt and Sacrifice is a worthy sequel to the original game. A very enjoyable experience featuring addictive gameplay that wonderfully combines the great aspects of metroidvania exploration with souls-like combat, and spices them up with some Monster Hunter equipment runs.
The game isn’t perfect, and the constraints of the studio size are felt on the “almost there” polish of character progression and skill trees, but in the end these are things I can overlook if I’m having fun and feel incentivized to keep playing. If you are like me and “metroidvania” “souls” and “monster hunter” are always in your radar, this title should be on your wishlist. If you are looking for a great couch-coop experience, then you should probably buy it now as there’s nothing in the market like it and it’s incredibly, frustratingly, rewardingly fun.