Steam Cleaning #20: Salt and Sanctuary

What would happen if you translated Dark Souls into a 2d game? Salt and Sanctuary took it upon itself to find out, with… mixed results.

My time with this game was a series of ups and down, over and over, until one persistent downer caused me to quit. Rather than ramble on, I’ll just go through the ups and downs in sequence.

Down: The artstyle. From the moment I created my character, I found the cross-eyed dreary half-cartoonish mannequin look of the characters offputting. It didn’t help that the character moved like a puppet with some strings cut. Not appealing. (I did get used to the art later.)

Up: The abilities available to me as soon as I jumped into the game made me feel at home. Jumping and climbing, light and strong attacks with combo potential, block, dodge roll, healing draughts… everything I needed to decimate my foes.

Up: The environment of the game was fun to explore, every nook and cranny notable and filled with enemies and items to pick up. Climbing the first tower and unlocking shortcuts felt notable, and I was hyped by the time I reached the first boss.

Up: Leveling up. Once I had enough salt to upgrade my character, I found an upgrade tree that would fit in Path of Exile. So many options and branching paths, limitless options for character growth!

Down: The first boss. While I loved his moveset in concept, he moved faster and faster throughout the battle. By the end, I could no longer rely on wind-up animations (also known as ‘tells’) to figure out what the enemy would do. He chained one move into another into another, giving no time to counterattack. What began as a duel became an exercise in frustration as I sought to poke him once over and over again.

Up: Beating the boss anyway.

Down: The enemies after the first boss. One enemy attacked four times, with little-to-no windup, each attack stunlocking me into getting hit again. I met this enemy with full health. One hit locked me into death. A second enemy outlasted me, blocking what I tried to do with his shield and somehow outranging my spear with his sword. A third enemy I killed, and then it got back up. As I went to kill it again, it attacked me with only a split-second warning and insta-killed me. I’ll talk later about why I don’t like this.

Up: Finding other resting points was great, and it appears there is a system for worshipping different gods at different altars. That’s cool. The weapon variety in the game is also amazing, and I tried many different options which made gameplay feel incredibly varied.

Down: Frustration at my foes continues as I was never able to get my salt back, and remained stuck at a low level.

Git gud, right? Maybe. It might be the games I’ve played in the past ruining this game. I’m not sure. Souls-like titles are hit or miss for me. When it’s a hit, it’s top ten games of all time hit. When it’s a miss, it misses hard.

Here are a few examples. I love Dark Souls 3. I could not play Dark Souls 2. Love Elden Ring. Didn’t like Bloodborne. I love Hollow Knight to pieces, and I like Blasphemous a lot. And now with Salt and Sanctuary, despite the elements that intrigued me, I struggled to keep playing.

It comes down to how games handle difficulty, and what I think is fair. If games punish me too much for death, by taking maximum health or vital consumables away from me, I’ll lose interest fast. Lookin’ at you, DS2 and Bloodborne. If a game’s enemies don’t feel fair, if they don’t give me warning that I can follow, then I’ll get frustrated. Salt and Sanctuary breaks this latter rule for me.

It’s hard to say that this is bad design, though. Salt and Sanctuary gives me a lot of options, and it’s hard to keep track of them. I defaulted to dodge-rolls and jumping over enemies to attack them from behind, or to try and stun-lock them from the front. The former may not have been the best approach, and the latter did not work. Maybe SnS wants me to parry more? Maybe I should pick the shield back up and use that? Should I have used ranged attacks, and later magic? There were a lot of options at my disposal, and the ones that worked well may have been the ones I did not try.

I really can’t Say Salt and Sanctuary is a bad game. It has a lot going for it, and I wish I could have gotten into it. Maybe I’ll come back and try again, as I have with other games I gave up on, and find a diamond in the rough.

Verdict: One hour played.

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