REVIEW: ‘Salt and Sanctuary’ is a Challenging and Interesting Souls-like (Switch)

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Salt and sanctuary

Salt and Sanctuary is an atmospheric 2D Souls-like game with plenty of challenge from Ska Studios. Having been available on other platforms, I got to play the newest port to the Xbox One. After 15 hours of play I found a lot to like about the game. It has an interesting aesthetic, think gothic horror with a touch of Tim Burton, and a control scheme that is tight and responsive. Multiple different weapons change the feel of combat, along with the option of using magic to further vary the gameplay.

The levels are laid out in an interesting fashion, with lots of secondary areas, and shortcuts that become unlocked at points, making trips back to save points less of a burden. The areas also flow well from one to the next, always feeling like there is a natural environmental progression. There are no jarring transitions from one extreme environment to the next, a hard flow to nail. You will also need to get used to lots of varying shades of grey on your screen – that is by far and away the overriding color you’ll be seeing.

The progression is multifaceted and leaves you with plenty of options to pursue, which must be balanced against not having enough resources to do everything you would like to. Leveling both your character and your equipment consumes an in-game element called salt.  Salt is dropped by enemies throughout the game and sometimes found as pickups throughout the world. You can bring salt back to a sanctuary to level up your character, or your gear, provided you have access to a blacksmith.

As is standard practice with this style of game, when you die you lose any salt you had on you. In this case though, simply getting back to the spot you died at isn’t enough to retrieve your lost salt. You must also slay whatever creature killed you, forcing you to play at least a bit better. If you die again, all salt that was lost in the first death is gone forever.  When leveling your character an ever-increasing amount of salt is needed. That being said, Other consumables are also required to level weapons, this keeps the player from farming salt outside a sanctuary and just leveling their gear.

Each time you level, you gain an orb which can be used on a skill tree to improve your character. This was the only aspect of leveling that was a little disappointing to me. All the orbs break down to three types. They are, bonuses to a stat, the ability to wield a new weapon, or the ability to carry an additional healing potion. This skill tree is massive when you first see it, but when I realized there were no new combat tricks or exploration options among the plethora of options, I was pretty let down.

Combat is unforgiving, demanding you pay attention whenever enemies are around. Learning the move patterns of enemies is essential to surviving. While it kept me on my toes, I was thankful to see not every run of the mill zombie or skeleton was one swing away from ruining a run. There are plenty of enemies between bosses that can certainly end you in a hurry, and their variety is very impressive as each new area provides its own unique challenges.

Combat is also made more challenging due to the restrictive stamina bar. Everything from attacking, blocking, and doing rolls consumes stamina. In the case of blocking, the consumption is dependent on how hard the hit was. This leaves the player having to formulate strategies with the reserves of their stamina limits. Stamina is one of the stats that can be leveled and would highly recommend it.

The final hallmark of this genre is, of course, the bosses. These are well spaced, and each one certainly has its own tricks and rhythms to learn. It was always a dread feeling if I stumbled upon a new boss while carry a monster haul of salt, as their was no doubt I would soon be parted from it. While the design and layout of each boss helps keep the game fresh, and in some ways it is one of the game’s strongest aspects, it also has its biggest flaw.

Often times I found myself being killed due to circumstances I felt were unavoidable. Example: a boss performs an attack I must jump to avoid, but before I can hit the ground he is attacking again with a blow that completely drains my stamina on impact and opening me for further blows, which end my game. These situations lead to a feeling like I wasn’t losing because I made a mistake, but just because there was no way to get out of it. Now, I don’t have the most experience at this style of game so I’m willing to admit it might just have been my inexperience, but it didn’t feel like that was the case.

All in all, Salt and Sanctuary was a challenging and interesting experience through an atmospheric world, full of dreadful monsters, and labyrinthine levels. If that sort of challenge is what you are looking for in a 2D platformer than Salt and Sanctuary might be the game for you.

After releasing on PS4, PSVita, Steam, and Switch over the past few years, the game is now coming to Xbox One later this week on February 6th.

Salt and Sanctuary
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL; DR

All in all, Salt and Sanctuary was a challenging and interesting experience through an atmospheric world, full of dreadful monsters, and labyrinthine levels. If that sort of challenge is what you are looking for in a 2D platformer than Salt and Sanctuary might be the game for you.