Salt and Sacrifice Review

Four things I like about this game, and one I don't

Salt and Sacrifice

By Paul Hunter

It's hard to believe, but Salt and Sacrifice, the sequel to 2016's critically acclaimed 2D soulslike game Salt and Sanctuary, was made by just two developers. James Silva and Shane Lynch have created an astonishing fusion of Dark Souls combat mixed with Castlevania style map exploration, and even threw in Monster Hunter boss chases for good measure. I've already plunked over 35 hours into this polished 2D soulslike—I'm well into my New Game+ run—and every minute of it has been a total blast.

Curious to know why Salt and Sacrifice is so much fun? Let's venture into Altarstone Kingdom to become a Marked Inquisitor, here are four things I liked about the game...and one I didn't.

Liked: The Incredibly Deep Character Customization

I absolutely loved the range of weapons available in Salt and Sacrifice, which includes a variety of blades, spears, hammers, whips, axes, daggers, sickles, rods and more. Each weapon type has its own speed, range, damage power, combos, runic arts (a.k.a. magic) and stamina cost creating a mind-boggling number of playstyles. You can become whatever type of hero you choose, whether that's a powerful magic-wielding mage, a fast short-bladed ninja, a sword and shield iron-clad paladin or an all-out club smashing brute. And that's just a handful of the many options available to you right from the get go.

To help further tailor your character to your preferred playstyle, Salt and Sacrifice begins by asking you to choose one of eight starting classes. These include staples of the genre like the versatile ranger, the hard-hitting duelist, the healing cleric and the agile close-combat assassin. Each class comes with their own specialized weapon and armour loadouts so it's important to consider your options and choose carefully. Taking a page out of the Dark Souls playbook you can also get a starting item by selecting your character's crime, amusingly from a list that includes arson, drunkenness, smuggling or sumptuousness.

So far I've had a chance to build out two types of characters—a high defense, high offence paladin with light magic and a powerful elemental mage—and it's amazing how different their playstyles are. My paladin is a massive tank with high vitality and a shield with 100% blocking ability, while my mage is a stave master that can unleash ice darts, venom missiles and wicked lightning bolts. With so many different weapons, spells and class builds, this is a game that practically begs you to replay it several times over to experience all it has to offer.

Liked: The Huge Skill Tree

The first time I saw the skill tree in Salt and Sacrifice I felt totally overwhelmed. There are over 120 class skills to learn, plus another couple hundred stat nodes to unlock. All of these skills and stat nodes are connected together in this massive spiderweb-like skill tree and it's absolutely crucial to spend time thinking about what kind of character you want. That's because you unlock skills sequentially, so once you commit to heading in a specific skill tree direction you'll want to see it through.

Fortunately, once you get a hang of how skills unlock the tree becomes far easier to understand. Essentially you'll want to choose a handful of weapon types to max out, plus choose stat nodes that support your class. So for example, if you want a high DPS character you might choose to unlock all the greathammer skills along with the strength and endurance stats to bolster your attack. Every time your character gains a level you'll get one skill tree point and I ended up clearing the game at level 55—so I only unlocked maybe 15% of the entire tree. What's cool is the game features NG+ and you retain all your unlocked skills. Unlocking even more of this massive tree was a major reason why I started a NG+ run.

Not only is the skill tree incredibly fun to navigate, but I also have to give props to the developers for how it's laid out visually. While initially it might look like a random mess of skill nodes, if you zoom out you'll notice that nodes are shaped like each weapon, such as a sickle, bow and arrow, hammer or bludgeon. I thought it was a neat touch that made the tree even more interesting to look at.

Liked: The Stellar Level Design

Like Demon's Souls, this game has multiple different worlds all accessible through the main hub town. Each one has a wonderful visual style, such as the sandy desert of Bol Gerahn or the icy cliffs of Dreadstone Peak. Not only was I impressed by how great all these hand-crafted worlds looked, but the level designs were exceptional.

In true Metroidvania fashion, you'll work your way through labyrinth areas looking for new Inquisitor tools (like a grappling hook or sailing cloth) to access new areas and discover new secrets or valuable collectables. And like Dark Souls you'll also discover shortcuts, including ladders you can kick down and doors that only open from one direction, to make navigation easier and faster. Finding shortcuts is instantly gratifying and I was impressed by just how much of each level you could eventually skip. In an extreme example, the fifth world took me 90 minutes to battle through two huge towers before facing the final boss, but right before that you can kick down a ladder above the world's main entrance. There's lots of secrets hidden in this game, and so lots of reasons to revisit worlds, so I appreciated how fast they are to explore on subsequent runs.

Beyond the excellent shortcut system, I was simply impressed by how varied each world is. They all have several different areas with tons of visual variety and surprising moments. Take the second world, Bol Gerahn, where you begin by climbing up a huge set of platforms to face a boss, but later find out there's a massive cavern system below the desert. After that, you'll stumble upon a huge ancient tower with tons of verticality and filled with devious new enemies. The other worlds are similar, featuring three or four big sections that are radically different from one another in both the enemies they offer and the visual aesthetics. With such amazing level variety it was exciting not knowing what area I'd stumble onto next—very similar to the sense of unknown I got playing Elden Ring.

Liked: The Mages

New in Salt and Sacrifice is the addition of 21 mage bosses all of which you need to chase down through levels exactly like you do in Monster Hunter. The mages were a major highlight of the game mainly because they just looked so damn good in action. They're huge, colourful, well-animated and extremely powerful. It's also cool how each mage controls specific elements, like the flame-wielding Pyromancer or the poisonous Venomancer. Later in the game you'll encounter hybrid mages that fuse two elements, including the cold/poison Fungalmancer or the physical/cold Corpumancer.

Not only are the mages difficult to beat on their own but all of them can spawn strong support enemies. Amusingly, the spawned minions are 'loyal' only to their mage and will actually attack other enemies in the stage and you can use this to your advantage. There were several spots where a huge knight or strong mage would be blocking my path, but then I'd sit back and watch the mage's pawns destroy them (and you even can claim the XP!).

While some mages are optional, you'll actually need to defeat a good portion of them and that's because defeating them will unlock doors previously sealed by their power. In most cases the locked doors simply reward you with rare collectibles or helpful NPCs, but there are some worlds where defeating a few mages is required for progression. It's not a bad thing though because fighting the mages is just so damn fun! I ended up beating all 21, not because I had to but because I was driven to see and battle them all.

Didn't Like: The Difficulty Spikes

One downside to Salt and Sacrifice are the occasional sharp difficulty spikes you'll encounter. There was one ahem fire temple where enemies were significantly harder than those I faced before, plus a few rather high up tricky platforming spots with strategically placed enemies where even one hit sends you flying off to your death. I also thought the majority of the mages were fairly straightforward to beat, but there are a few with cheap attacks than can take several retries. While it's expected that games get harder as you progress, in this case some of the difficulty spikes happened suddenly and interrupted the pace.

To offset the hard areas you can initiate co-op by consuming a Guiltless Shard to make yourself human, very similar to Dark Souls. Surprisingly though I didn't find having a co-op buddy made battles easier since all common enemies, mages and bosses have increased health and stronger attacks. There was the rare case where I got paired with an extremely skilled player, but in general I actually found the game easier playing solo. While the difficulty spikes were a shock to the system, overall it's a fairly forgiving soulslike game that most veterans of the genre should be able to beat. It's certainly a heck of a lot easier than Eldest Souls, another indie soulslike I recently played.

The Verdict

If Dark Souls was a 2D action role-playing game, I imagine it'd look and play similar to Salt and Sacrifice. And I mean that comparison to a tee because this game really does have it all: a fantastic story, interesting lore, creepy memorable worlds, visually arresting bosses and incredible gameplay variety and depth. Aside from a handful of frustrating difficulty spike moments this game was a total joy to play through and I'm already on a NG+ run and started my second character. If you've recently played through Elden Ring and are looking for your next meaty soulslike experience, you've come to the right place.

Final Score: 8.5/10 - Great

Salt and Sacrifice details

Platform: PS5, PS4, PC
Developer: Ska Studios
Publisher: Ska Studios
Genre: Action role-playing
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

A key was provided by the publisher.