Do any of you remember a little 2D soulslike by the name of Salt and Sanctuary? No, a majority of you probably don’t because none of you are hardcore Souls players like myself. Basking in the glory of each defeated foe and sitting upon a throne made of ego. Jokes and insulting introductions aside, Salt and Sanctuary while a forgettable and oddly named title was pretty important to the soulslike genre. Being one of the earliest soulslike to come out and being one of the few that was actually good for one main reason. By not just blatantly ripping off Dark Souls and carving its own identity by applying the well renowned Souls formula onto a different realm. Rather than having a detailed 3D interconnected world to explore you instead traverse across a 2D interconnected world, metroidvania styled. While the 2D plane created some limitations for the developers they were able to work around it. Carving a dense atmosphere, a surprisingly wide amount of build diversity, and an adventure that rewarded players for pushing onward.
Salt and Sanctuary found a way to combine the challenge and build variety of a Souls title with the progression and exploration of a metroidvania, and for the time it was genius. It set the foundation for future 2D soulslikes, and with it came a subgenre within a subgenre. I love the Soulsborne games to death, but personally my favorite among them are the 2D soulslikes because as I stated they combine two things I love. Metroidvanias and Souls games. We got Blasphemous, Death’s Gambit, Ender Lilies, Vigil, and Hollow Knight which many of you know is one of my favorite games ever made. Without Salt and Sanctuary half of these titles probably wouldn’t exist or struggle because there wasn’t a good example of how to transition the Souls formula to a different realm. Salt and Sanctuary is important because it inspired other indie developers to expand and improve, and even though all the other titles I listed succeeded the game in some way it’s still amazing to revisit. Last year I played Salt and Sanctuary around this time and despite having a few problems I’d say my overall enjoyment was stupendous. Shortly after beating the game, I learned that Ska Studios, the developers behind Salt and Sanctuary, were working on a sequel. It was more ambitious, bigger in size, and seeing how it’s been almost seven years since the last game I was thinking they would improve upon the flaws the original had. What made an excellent experience into a painfully average one for others.
The sequel was named Salt and Sacrifice and when gameplay footage was revealed during the Summer Game Fest of 2021 hype began surrounding it. The cult following of the original were pumped to see whether or not Ska Studios would succeed the original. What new ideas would they put onto the table and if they learned from their past mistakes. During development it was not only revealed that Salt and Sacrifice would have a bigger emphasis on exploration, but that they took some inspiration from the Monster Hunter series. Not only were we getting a soulslike metroidvania, but we were also getting a Monster Hunter inspired game. Expectations were set even higher with this statement, and when Salt and Sacrifice finally released in 2022 after a few delays players got to witness how all these ideas unfolded. Salt and Sacrifice turned out to be… disappointing. There was a lot of passion put into the game, but when it came to the execution of all its major ideas only half of them stuck the landing. Review scores for Salt and Sacrifice range from 7/10s to the occasional 8/10. Which is a fine score range especially for an indie game, but in the case of Salt and Sacrifice that is much lower than the score range of the first entry.
It’s painful for me to say this to a team of indie devs, but I do not recommend Salt and Sacrifice. Over the twenty-ish hours I spent with the game not much of it was actually fun. I grew annoyed with the game the more I played it, and by the end of my journey I was ready to abandon it and never come back. I’m not saying Salt and Sacrifice is a terrible game. If you were to ask me if it was a well-made product and if I would recommend it to the most hardcore soulslike players, my answer would most likely be a thorough “yes!” It’s certainly better than a lot of the soulslikes being sold on the Steam market and I’m glad Ska Studios was able to release a sequel to their highly underrated gem. However, Salt and Sacrifice does not do a good job at being a sequel. It doesn’t attempt to fix any of the problems Salt and Sanctuary had, introduces new problems on its own, and is somehow a far worse game than Salt and Sanctuary. I personally believe what led to Salt and Sacrifice being a worse game was that it tried to be multiple games at once. Not doing outstanding in any of the areas and tanking in other sections. Today I’ll be talking about why this is such a disappointing sequel. What areas it did right in, wrong in, and horribly in. Let’s go!
Soulslikes aren’t very story driven. What is considered a plot is usually just a basic goal for you to work towards, and any background to what you are doing and why is usually vague. What soulslikes are known for is compelling world building through item descriptions, dialogue, and presentation. You, the player, must piece together what happened in the world and why things are the way they are now. Salt and Sacrifice is a difficult story and world to piece together as there hasn’t been that many lore dives released yet, but using a couple of online forums including a reddit post by MimickingApple I was able to put it together to the best of my ability.
Our player character is a Sylvan, this elf-like race who built their kingdom in a land ruled by powerful gods. These gods govern and look over the people, and in return they expect offerings and eternal worship. These offerings can come in the form of gifts and sacrifices, but if not enough is offered the gods become angry. Luckily the worshiping of the almighty gods lasts for a long time, and during this long time period the gods decide to give the Sylvans a substance known as Haze. This substance allowed the Sylvans to practice magic, create spells, and master the power of the gods. However, those who wielded Haze began to grow into all-power Mages and they learned to summon monsters who began to ravage the land. The Sylvans grew fearful of the Mages and their ever-growing power, so they banned Haze and declared war on the Mages. This was a bad idea as not only did the Mages fire back and began to murder civilians by the hundreds, but the gods grew angry as the people who cherished them now hated the gift they bestowed upon them. Haze soon became these mutagens which began transforming people into monsters or slowly decaying their bodies into a gray husk of their former selves.
War continued to spread across the land and the armies who fought against the Mages began to die down in numbers. They needed better warriors to combat against the Mages, so through hiring prison volunteers they created the Inquisitors. Skilled hunters imbued with serum made by Mage blood, and can absorb the magical power from the Hearts of Mages to use it against them. I think that’s what the lore and history were. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Prisoners who sign up to become Inquisitors are promised to be let out of jail and possibly executed through servitude, and if they can hunt down enough Mages they will be given freedom. Yet, the most skilled Inquisitors are tasked with finding the source of Haze and shutting down the source so that no more Mages and monstrous mutations will spread across the land like a disease.
You are one of these special Inquisitors assigned with locating the source of Haze. You were being transported by horseback to the camp you were supposed to be staged at, but fire begins to rage down from the skies and the soldier that was tasked to escort you is killed. You arm yourself with whatever weaponry the fallen soldier has and begin to fend off against approaching monsters. That is until a colossal foe blocks your way and pummels you into the dirt. Falling in battle, the player character is then resurrected as the serum Inquisitors take makes it so that they can’t truly die unless it’s through sacrificial means. They are taken to the camp they were supposed to be at earlier and soon get acquainted with the other inhabitants stationed there. They meet a commander who tells them about areas infested with Mages and using a gateway at the bottom of the camp they can warp to these areas and begin hunting Mages. Collect supplies to forge better weapons, accumulate Salt and Mage hearts to grow in strength, and slowly rid the land of infestation. It is your job to hunt mages, cut them down, and stop the spread of Haze.
“You can all run if you want to! You can all hide if you need. I’m gonna hunt you down!”
At the end of this review, I’ll delve into why I didn’t like playing this game, but let's explain how Salt and Sacrifice works and what you’ll be doing most of the time. It’s a 2D soulslike, so expect a little bit of metroidvania and a little bit of Soulsborne in the formula. Also expect a little bit of Monster Hunter spice added in as the developers took inspiration from it as well. You traverse across each area fighting enemies, collecting items and resources, and occasionally unlocking new powers that allow you to interact with certain objects and reach areas you weren’t able to access before. You have a health and stamina meter, and they dictate what you can do and how long you’ll be able to survive. Health is explanatory enough as it determines how many hits you can take before you die. It can be replenished by using healing flasks which are limited or resting at a checkpoint. Checkpoint can also refill your flasks and resources, but the downside is that enemies respawn. Stamina determines how many actions you can perform in one go and when it’s low you have to wait for it to refill. Sometimes it’s best to not expend all your stamina at once as you'll have some of it to avoid a heavy hitting attack. Stamina is used whenever you attack, dodge, and run. The metroidvania aspect of Salt and Sacrifice includes platforming your way around obstacles and navigating an interconnected world. Yes, Dark Souls also had a vast interconnected world but it was noted that Dark Souls took a bit of inspiration from Castlevania.
Every time you slay an enemy or powerful boss you obtain Salt. I don’t know why Salt is still used here as the player character isn’t Saltborn like the previous game and it’s clearly shown how important Haze is in the lore as it grants Mages and beings their power, but Salt is still here. Much like Souls or Blood Echoes, Salt is used to level up your character and stats. When you die you lose all of your Salt, but are given the chance to get it back by backtracking to the place your corpse rotted away at. Die again and all that glorious Salt is gone forever. The stats you level up will increase one of many traits with your character. Endurance increases your Equip Load which allows you to wear heavier armor and dodge faster. Vitality is your maximum health bar, and Will is your maximum stamina. It's as simple as it gets if you have played any RPG before.
Then you have stats like Strength, Dexterity, Conviction, and a bunch of others. These stats determine the efficiency of your weaponry and the higher they are the more the damage output of these weapons scale up. My build used a giant glaive that looked like a kitchen knife, and it scaled in Strength, so I leveled up Strength and the damage output increased. My starting sword and shield scaled in Strength and Dexterity, so leveling up one of the two will increase the damage output. You can increase the damage output of your weapons by upgrading them at a smithing iron placed within your camp, but this requires resources found throughout the world. These resources are hard to come by and sometimes you’ll need elemental smithing resources to upgrade elemental weapons and gear. One extra thing I’d like to add is that some of the upgrade nodes on the skill tree allow you to use higher classed weapons. This not only gives you points in the stat these types of weapons scale in, but also allows you to weld stronger gear.
There are a total of five areas in this game and they are quite huge. You won’t be able to reach every single spot at once and have to find gear that allows you to access new terrain. Rather than reuse powers and upgrades from the first game you instead have a new arsenal of tools. One of the most major tools being the Grappling Hook which allows you to zip across gaps and reach higher ground as long as there is a grapple point. Other items include this magical substance to power up automated ziplines, a crystal to activate magical surfaces to stand on, and a glider to ride up wind drafts. All the five areas are separated from each other and later we’ll touch more upon why this is a problem, but the level design is still interconnected. You open up pathways and shortcuts to make backtracking through these levels less tedious, and you quickly familiarize yourself with the level design. True Soulsborne fashion, but we’ll touch more upon this as well.
While there are still bosses to be found while exploring areas, what is new this time around are the Mage Hunts. These missions can be started by interacting with points initiating Mage energy. Starting this mission will spawn a cloudy trail that leads you to the location of the Mage, and when you find the mage, you’ll have to attack it for a short period of time. The Mage will try to attack you and spawn minions to cut you and enemies in the environment down. Do enough damage and the Mage will run away. You’ll have to continue the process of pursuing the Mage until you isolate and aggravate it enough to initiate an actual boss fight. You’ll know when this happens when the boss fight music kicks in and the name of the Mage is revealed. The Mage will stop fighting enemies and pummel the player with whatever spells and attacks they have.
Much like any ordinary boss fight you just have to hit the Mage enough times. Pressure the Mage enough and you may stun them for a short period of time. Opening up a grapple point where you can zip up and deal critical damage to their head. When the Mage is weakened enough you can then walk up to it, rip out its heart, and end the fight. The Mage will then drop resources which you can use to craft weapons and equipment. This is where the Monster Hunter element comes into play. Having certain elemental gear will grant better resistances or deal more damage against certain bosses. Not saying you have to constantly grind the same Mage to get gear for upcoming fights, but knowing certain players they would like to be prepared for future challenges. Besides that there isn’t much else I can say about Salt and Sacrifice. The ending section is approaching and this is usually the time where I explain why or why not the game worked for me. Alright….
On paper, Salt and Sacrifice sounds like a bunch of great ideas taken from other popular formulas that should have worked splendidly together. Seeing how it took roughly around seven years to make you think the developers would carefully execute one and notice each quirk, but sadly they didn’t. Not saying all the ideas fall apart, but some interfere with others. Here’s a little thing you probably never knew. I have put sixty hours into Monster Hunter World, but I haven't finished it ever since 2018. Every time I try to step back in I’m turned down again and I never fully understood why I didn’t get into Monster Hunter, but became deeply addicted to Dark Souls. Two games with one set difficulty and steep learning curve, but only adapted to one of the two. Well, Salt and Sacrifice has not only shown me why I got invested into Dark Souls but not into Monster Hunter, but why these two challenging games shouldn’t go together.
The five areas are separated from each other and through the main hubworld you have to load into each one. This is a common staple to any Monster Hunter player, but from a Souls player’s perspective this is actually really bad. What made traversing through each area in Dark Souls and any of FromSoftware’s work great was seeing how they all connected to each other. How you end up in one area and get transferred to the next one. Despite the environments and points of interest changing you still felt like they existed in one cohesive world. In Salt and Sacrifice this feeling is lost. You could say they are different regions and they are miles away from each other, but the game does a terrible job showing the transition from one area to the next. Plus, it provides inconvenience when you have to go back to the main hub, select your destination, explore, realize you have to go somewhere else, warp back to the hub area, and select a destination again.
Speaking of inconvenience, Salt and Sacrifice has a ton of this. To level up you need to visit a shrine back at camp and this is kind of a Souls staple. You either level up your stats by resting at a checkpoint or visiting an NPC who can transform your accumulating experience points into power. Salt and Sacrifice went for the latter, but it didn’t incorporate it in a good way. It created a whole new problem entirely as if you were deep into an area, carrying a bunch of Salt, and didn’t want to lose it then you would have to warp back to camp and later backtrack to where you were before. You can fast travel or warp to checkpoints throughout the area. No, you have to get there on foot and this becomes really annoying especially when the first game allows you to unlock the ability to fast travel between sanctuaries. What makes this problem worse is that if you are in the middle of a Mage Hunt and want to warp back to camp you have to restart the hunt. Warping out of the mission resets it meaning any progress you made is lost. This is inconvenient at its finest, because you are dragging out the hunting process longer and half of the problems could have been prevented if you allowed the player to level up while resting at a checkpoint.
Salt and Sacrifice ditches the healing system from the first game for one similar to Bloodborne. Rather than have a flask with an infinite amount but can run low during fights unless you rest at a checkpoint you instead have a flask with finite uses but can replenish by picking up resources. A lot of people complain that the healing system of Bloodborne sucked, because sometimes you would have to grind for Blood Vials to be able to continue fighting a boss with even chances. I would actually say this is wrong. Bloodborne gave you enough vials to get through an entire area or encounter. Not so many that you were basically unkillable, but not so little that you were at a disadvantage. Plus being able to loot Blood Vials off of corpses allowed the player to keep going without having to backtrack to a checkpoint, and the Blood Echoes dropped by enemies allowed the player to buy more from a shop.
Salt and Sacrifice kind of does this by allowing you to replenish whenever you rest at a checkpoint similar to Dark Souls, and you can loot enough berries to a point where you will never run low. However, the healing system sucks because of two reasons. One is that rather than see your health regenerate all at once you instead have to watch it slowly refill. This becomes unviable quickly especially since you have a long healing animation. You can be killed quickly because you didn’t get back the health you needed instantly, and it took too long for your character to chug down the flask. Second reason is that what made the healing system of Bloodborne work was rallying. Being able to recover health if you retaliate back quick enough. This means you didn’t always have to waste supplies as you had a second way to recover health. Salt and Sacrifice took the healing method Bloodborne, but forgot to implement rallying. Which sucks because it means you have to waste supplies. This is made worse with how relentless bosses are.
Boss fights in Salt and Sacrifice suck. I know the game was going for a theme of hunting Mages similar to how you hunt monsters in Monster Hunter. However, this theme starts to become annoying after a while because what made Dark Souls unique was how different its encounters were. Sure, you would have to fight the occasional demons or sorcerers, but each encounter was made special due to traits and abilities. While the Mages do have different powers they still approach a similar theme and follow similar patterns. Summon minions, spam spells, and warp around. Chasing a Mage throughout an area becomes tedious really quickly as you have to face enemies and hazards along the way. The Mage confrontations do feel unfair and poorly designed.
What I hate about Monster Hunter that no one seems to bring up is that you have to grind the same monster over and over to get a weapon or armor set that is viable for only a few fights. Any fight outside of the ones they are viable is when they become useless. I never crafted any of the Mage armor sets or weapons in this game, because not only was my starting equipment a more viable option but the grind process would drag out the runtime longer than it should be. The Mages have elemental attacks and ailments designed to cut the player down within seconds. Dark Souls has this, but at least it could be avoided or cured. It really feels like they were encouraging players to grind and forge armor sets for these specific encounters. Not all the bosses in this game are bad. The ones I found while exploring were fun and unique, because they were carefully crafted. They were thought out, well designed, and went outside the theme of just being Mages. I enjoyed these fights the most because I found them by just stumbling into them. Not having to initiate a quest and go running around for them.
(Deep breathing) Is all of Salt and Sacrifice terrible? No, because there are some improvements to be found from the original. I like the art direction more and its color and shading make it a brighter looking game than the original. The environments are more varied, and you can tell the developers were trying to stray away from the dark tone the original had. I like the hub area the player has to go back to and how it quickly becomes a place of comfort. You no longer have to spawn workers in sanctuaries as you now have a camp to find them in. All of the weapons are still fun to use and it’s nice they now added weapon arts like in Dark Souls 3. The grappling hook is a welcome addition as it adds verticality and new ways to traverse the environment. Weapons no longer add to your equipment load, and not only is there couch co-op but also online multiplayer. This provides convenience to those who want to play together. Some flaws of the original still haven’t been fixed. Like being able to see what lies ahead outside a cave or room, or having a map as it’s a metroidvania standard and in a 2D plane some areas begin to look the same and there aren’t as many points of interest to look out for. The improvements are there and what I see is a sequel that could have lived up.
At the end of the day what is my final score for Salt and Sacrifice? As much as I’m disappointed with the game I wouldn’t say it deserves a terrible score. Overcoming difficult fights and challenges still feels rewarding and playing with friends is fun. Some of my terrible moments with this game were due to playing alone, and I can see quite a few people having fun playing this with a buddy. Salt and Sacrifice may not be well designed, but it is certainly a functional product. It plays well and runs smoothly and that’s all I could wish for. Salt and Sacrifice is a good game that I can’t recommend. Its over ambition is what led to its eventual downfall. In the end I give this a 7/10 for just being okay. Passable enough. If Ska Studios plans to make a third entry or successor outside of the Salt series then I hope they learn from their mistakes and deliver a proper 2D soulslike rather than another Monster Hunter mishap like this one.
This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!