Thursday, 27 December 2018

Salt & Sanctuary ★★★★☆

“Like Dark Souls, but…” is not how I’d like to start any review. However, Salt & Sanctuary wears its inspirations on its sleeve with such love that it can’t be avoided. Salt & Sanctuary is like Dark Souls, but 2D.

Which brings to light another problem. In recent months, that particular type of Souls-like has become so ubiquitous that the Switch release of Salt & Sanctuary is going to have a harder time standing out from the crowd. Hyper Light Drifter, Death’s Gambit, FURY, and most recently, Dead Cells are but a few notable mentions, and that doesn’t count the multitude of others that have slipped under the radar. So what does Salt & Sanctuary do, if anything, that makes it favourable over its competitors?

It would be almost redundant to describe the core gameplay mechanics because Salt & Sanctuary is one of the most faithful recreations of the Dark Souls formula I have played.  So understand that using “like Dark Souls, but 2D” as shorthand in this instance isn’t hyperbole; there is no other description more apt. Whereas the aforementioned games are more distinct when it comes to the gameplay formula, there is one key difference with Salt & Sanctuary: mood.

Mood (or atmosphere, if you’re feeling a touch more pretentious) is an abstract thing to describe, and hard to properly articulate. It’s an accumulation of the visuals, environments, sound, music, and writing, which all comes together to create a particular feeling that envelops the player. In the case of Salt & Sanctuary (and indeed Dark Souls) the world is dying. Slowly. The true antagonist of this world is the Nameless God which has caused this land to endure an endless cycle of war; memories, structures, monuments, people, all slowly and surely fading away.

The environments in Salt & Sanctuary are decaying, lifelessly absorbed by a persistent fog. The music - though sparse - is slow, comprised of plucked strings. The characters speak with a grimly humorous flair. In truth, I’ve made it sound far grimmer than it actually is. Salt and Sanctuary doesn’t feel hopeless or grim, per se. Instead: ennui. Like the rot of time, there is the heavy feeling of apathy.

And that apathy is what sets Salt & Sanctuary apart from the rest. The core gameplay mechanics are solid, as they should be. They have been proven by Dark Souls and adapted to 2D here. Yet, to have successfully achieved such as essence of apathy across this world is what impressed me the most, and was reason enough for Salt & Sanctuary to truly keep me invested.

Lewis Hill

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