When a game series throws out fistfuls of features that were part of the very reason that fans of the series became fans of the series, people aren’t usually all that happy about it. There’s a desire for improvement and growth of course, but there’s also that desire for more of the same. Fans of the first two Sacred titles are unlikely to be happy with Sacred 3, since it throws out an awful lot of the positive Diablo-esque features of those earlier games, and has evolved into a linear hack-and-slasher that isn’t a million miles away from the likes of Midway’s later Gauntlet titles.

All of the standard ingredients are here. An isometric-ish viewpoint, button-mashing combat, and tons of blade fodder set the scene. Four character classes (Warrior, Archer, Paladin, Lancer) are available with which to tackle the slim pickings of the campaign, which can be completed by a single player in a single-digit number of hours. That’s even if they’re to take on the entirely optional and unrewarding side missions, none of which last more than about six minutes. The character classes don’t mix things up enough for the differences between them to be even noticeable. Every enemy – including the end of level bosses - can be taken down by any character with the same approach. When they attack, you dodge. If they have an attack that affects the entire playing area, find the one place where you won’t get hit and hide there until the attack is over. Repeat as needed until they’re dead. When they’re done attacking, attack them. When you’ve enough power, hit them with either of your special attacks. Repeat until they’re dead. Collect health and power orbs as necessary.

The entire game could be summed up with an extension of that word, too. Repetitive just doesn’t even begin to explain it. Every level has a section where projectiles fall from the sky and you have to dodge them. Every other level has some sort of wheel that you have to turn six times to unlock something, with each turn releasing another wave of enemies. Either that, or there’s an “energy lock” that you need to charge by standing on it and holding a button, whilst enemies try to stop you. There are frequent occurrences of larger bosses needing to be defeated so that you can steal a key from their corpse and unlock a door, and multiple sections where you need to defend something or other from onrushing attackers. It feels as if the developers had a very limited set of set-pieces laid out, and just picked and chose from them over and over again until a level was long enough to be called a level.

Fortunately, Sacred 3 can be played in online co-op mode, which increases enjoyment. The only problem with this is that there are some pretty nasty crashes that occur when connecting up. If you leave your game as “open” whilst pottering through in single-player mode, other folks can drop in to your game, as you’d expect. More often than should be the case though, this causes an announcement to be called about the new player joining and about how enemies will now be tougher…right before the entire console locks up. It doesn’t happen every time, but when it occurs when you’re two thirds of the way through a main quest level, meaning that you’ll have to start it from scratch, it’ll leave you in two minds as to whether or not you’ll just lock your game sessions down to single-player only. As we say, when it works, it works well and truly enhances the game.

But a crashing co-op mode isn’t the only bug, sadly. At times, the entire game chops along at an inconsistent framerate, which is a shame given that most of Sacred 3’s environments – especially the lighting effects – actually look pretty nice. The level of choppiness depends on which level you’re playing as some are as smooth as butter, whilst others are clearly struggling. It doesn’t stop there, either. On at least two occasions on our first play through, we suffered through having to replay large sections of levels as killing a mid-level boss didn’t unlock the gateway to the next section as was supposed to happen, leaving us with no option but to quit out and try again. That isn’t ideal in anyone’s language.

But even with all these things cropping up, Sacred 3 is still quite addictive and playable for the greater part. The game will feel shorter than it truly is to most people, simply because the lack of challenge will spur you on to just take on one more mission before you stop for the night, and that quickly leads to another and another, until the game is complete. The one thing that will stop a lot of folks from blazing through however, is the utterly off-putting voiceover work. It isn’t that the actors themselves are necessarily bad at their jobs, rather it’s that the scriptwriters are so unbelievably desperate to prove how funny they are that they’ve forgotten to include any actual comedy. For example, every single thing that your psychic guide Aria says to you – and she never shuts up for more than 30 seconds – is an attempt at a joke, and every single one falls flat. Her “I’m not very good at knowing anything despite being a psychic” shtick becomes old by the time the first level is over. At one point, you kill off some dark orbs which in turn causes her headache to go away and she depressingly begins with “I feel amazeballs…” almost as if she’s determinedly trying to prove that she can still hang with the kids, before rolling on to claim that the feeling is the same as having ice cream and really good sex. Whoops, no! She didn’t mean sex! She meant celery, everyone! Really good celery!

Oh, how our sides are aching. You don’t get rib-ticklers like that every day. Thankfully.

Along similar lines, the first “weapon spirit” that you unlock is the Battlemage and given that he’s the only one with anything like useful stats, you’ll be tempted to keep him. That is until you realise that he’s something of a wannabe Lothario who constantly chimes in with comments like “SEXYPANTS!” and “THREEWAY!” when you dispatch of enemies, whilst otherwise spouting enough innuendo to make Kenneth Williams blush. Yes, Battlemage, we’re sure that your “weapon” is the biggest and you are the envy of every man in the world. Do shut up, you absolute imbecile.

It isn’t often that voiceover work will make you consider putting the controller down but somehow, Sacred 3 has managed it. The bare-bones RPG stylings and bugs make the game a tough sell despite occasional bright spots, but subjecting someone to a barrage of failed comedy for eight or nine hours is just cruel.

Conclusion

Sacred 3 has been in development for four years, we’re told, but it really doesn’t show. In order to fix issues with the previous titles, the development team have simplified the game by removing pretty much everything that isn’t absolutely essential, before throwing in a puerile script that does nothing but annoy. There’s potential here that just isn’t ever realised, even if the game can be fun in small doses.