Review: Salt and Sanctuary
In my first hour with Salt and Sanctuary I must have said “yeah, that’s just like Dark Souls” a few dozen times. There’s really no getting around it either, Salt and Sanctuary is heavily inspired by the Souls series. So much so that I think the similarities could potentially be off-putting to people. Salt and Sanctuary adds a few unique flourishes in an attempt to stand out, but it’s not nearly enough to allow the game to stand on its own. In the end it’s an incredibly solid 2D translation of Souls inspired mechanics, but it can also feel a bit too close to its source material.
Things start at the character creator. Here you can choose gender, hair styles, nationality, a starting class, a starting item, and even enable some Challenge Run options. I haven’t tried the Challenge Options just yet, but it’s really cool to see a Hardcore mode in there for people crazy enough to try it. Much like Axiom Verge’s built-in speed-run mode last year, I’m always appreciative of developers including an option for challenge runs. The character creator itself has a decent amount of options and classes that, much like in Souls, don’t necessarily lock you into a specific character build throughout the game. It’s easy to start as a mage and then build towards something totally different as you progress.
After a brief intro sequence, complete with an optional boss that’ll likely one-shot you, your character washes up on the shore of a mysterious island. From this point on it’s up to you to explore, talk to NPCs, and read item descriptions to piece together the lore of the land. Salt and Sanctuary’s world is split up into numerous areas that are all woven together with numerous pathways and shortcuts to unlock. There’s often multiple areas to explore and, as you’ll find later in the game, many reasons to return to early parts of the game. The world feels huge and there’s a decent amount of variety in environments throughout. I just wish the game didn’t rely mostly on overly dark areas. It would be nice to have a bit more diverse lighting in that respect. I also think something is lost in the transition from 3D to 2D. There’s something about standing at the top of a tower, looking out into the distance, and seeing a castle that you’ve been to before that just feels really great. Seeing recognizable locations in the distance adds a certain amount of depth and believability to the world. I don’t want to spend this entire review comparing, but that feeling is lost in Salt and Sanctuary and the lack of a map can make it pretty easy to get lost. Ultimately the world in Salt and Sanctuary just isn’t very cohesive. There’s a lot there and some parts look really great, but I just didn’t find it very memorable after multiple playthroughs.
From the beginning there’s a pretty vague mission to follow that essentially leads to you tracking down around twenty different bosses and taking them on. On the way you’ll fight enemies that drop Salt which can be used at Sanctuaries to level your character. You’ll of course have to be careful as dying will result in the temporary loss of your Salt. In order to recover your lost Salt you’ll need to take on the enemy that killed you, or a ghost-like bat creature if your death was environmental. You’ll also join a Creed, of which there are many, and use this to claim Sanctuaries that you find in the world. In these Sanctuaries you’ll level up and invite fellow followers of your creed. These followers can be blacksmiths, mages, travelers, or shop keepers. As long as you share the same Creed their services will be open to you. While in some cases an opposing Creed could lock you out of some options at specific Sanctuaries. That said, no matter the Creed, you’ll never be locked out of leveling your character. This is done through the “Tree of Skill” which offers a specific starting point for each class and a large skill tree that’s literally shaped like a tree. The “Tree of Skill” can be a little daunting at first, but with time it starts to become pretty easy to understand. Simply build in the direction that makes sense for your character.
Combat in Salt and Sanctuary feels pretty great and once again is a pretty good representation of the game it draws so much inspiration from. The class and weapon variety lends itself really well to multiple playthroughs, parrying feels super great, taking advantage of roll invincibility frames is imperative, and taking the time to learn enemy attack patterns absolutely pays off. Salt and Sanctuary can be challenging, though my experience with the Souls series likely helped in making this game a little easier overall. At this point I’m comfortable with this kind of game and due to that I found myself taking down the majority of bosses without much trouble. That didn’t stop me from feeling amped every time I took down another boss though. Salt and Sanctuary absolutely nails that triumphant feeling that you get from overcoming a difficult challenge.
It’s pretty obvious where most of the inspiration for Salt and Sanctuary comes from, but there is another system at work here that was actually a really pleasant surprise for me. Specifically there are Brands that you’ll acquire throughout the game that will give you the ability to access areas that were previously unavailable. It’s a little pinch of Castlevania mixed in that helps add another layer to Salt and Sanctuary. I only wish these abilities were used a bit more often as they’d be great for changing up the level design in the later areas.
There are times where Salt and Sanctuary tries to mix things up and adds some slight changes to some familiar mechanics. At the same time I don’t think it does enough to give itself a unique identity. As a huge From Software fan I’m happy to see the Souls-genre expand with entries from smaller developers. In this case Ska Studios clearly loves the Souls games and they’ve done a fantastic job of making that kind of game. Unfortunately I think the sheer amount of similarities might turn people off. Even late into the game the number of references kept piling up and caused me to roll my eyes a couple times.
I’m really enjoying my time playing Salt and Sanctuary and that should be evident with the fact that I’ve created four characters, finished the game with one, and I’m at the very end with a second. I just think this game could be so much more had it made more of an effort to stand out. That won’t stop me from coming back to this one though. At the end of the day Salt and Sanctuary is a successful take on From Software’s Souls series, something I can’t get enough of, and it’s nice to see a different developer’s take on this style of game.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Combat feels great
- Tree of Skill
- Good build variety that lends itself to multiple playthroughs
- Built in challenge run options
- Challenging and rewarding
What I Dislike:
- It might borrow a bit TOO much from Dark Souls
- I wish most of the areas weren't so dark