It's nearly impossible to play through Salt and Sanctuary without comparing it to FromSoftware's Souls series. The influences are apparent at every corner, and to the blind eye the game can be written off as another mediocre clone, but Salt and Sanctuary quickly dispels that notion and proves to be far from mediocre, and arguably the most competent Souls-esque game to date.
You begin your journey on board a ship just moments before it's shipwrecked. After regaining consciousness you awaken on a deserted island with little to no explanation on past events. The story and lore are presented in similar fashion to the Souls games. There isn't much guidance throughout the game. Your only true objective is to survive.
Exploring the massive world is not only incredibly rewarding, but it's also your main source of story-related material. Various NPCs appear throughout the world that will give you hints on where to travel next as well as lore-related information. The gorgeous 2D hand drawn environments look fantastic, and a variety of different hidden items scattered throughout offer more insight on events that transpired in the past.
One of my favorite aspects of the world is how these intricate environments are all interconnected. There are a lot of secrets hidden in the game and finding some of them will lead you to shortcuts to different areas or completely new places you haven't yet ventured in.
Salt and Sanctuary does a superb job in rewarding its players for exploration, but doesn't pull any punches in punishing them as well. If you've played any Souls game or Bloodborne you will be in very familiar territory here. You have to choose a class to start the game, which really only determines your starting gear. There are multiple classes ranging from warriors all the way up to archers and mages. Combat is very satisfying and rewards patience.
Enemies have complex movesets that must be learned before engaging. Carefully timing a parry and finishing off your opponent in gory fashion will often lead to better results than swinging your weapon with no discipline. There are also different combos you can chain together that correspond to your weapon types. The depth of the combat system results in some pretty engaging encounters.
Your stamina bar is also tied to your attacks and dodging. Spamming too much of any move will drain your stamina, leaving you vulnerable to a quick death. Deaths are a common thing in the game - I haven't found a way to find out my total death count but I'm sure it's hovering above 50 by now. It's a game that doesn't forgive mistakes; one wrong jump or a mistimed attack will usually kill you or leave you close to death. Learning from mistakes are key to survival. Each time I was impaled by a pressure trap, or ambushed by a group of enemies and bludgeoned to death, I learned. Trial and error will eventually prevail as long as you adapt to what the game throws at you.
Without question the most arduous challenges come in the form of the daunting bosses. Unlike most games, bosses aren't introduced with an epic cutscene, the game doesn't "prepare" you for it with generous amounts of health and checkpoints. Bosses in Salt and Sanctuary will appear seemingly from nowhere. There are subtle hints that will foreshadow of the dangers ahead, but these can be easily missed, as I've found out the hard way.
Boss fights require you to put all of your skills to use. The window of opportunity to deal damage to bosses and get away unscathed is incredibly small. Each boss changes their move-sets as they began to take more damage. They become more aggressive making the closing moments of each fight that more nerve-wrecking. The game doesn't hesitate to kill you in some frustrating and gruesome ways, but does an excellent job of rewarding you for your troubles.
These rewards come in the form of "Salt". Similar to "Souls" in From's games, salt is gained by killing enemies and is used to upgrade your character level. Each time you gain a level you can spend a point on the skill grid. You can allocate these points in strength, endurance, dexterity, etc.
Salt is the single most important resource in the game and also the easiest resource to lose. Every death you suffer in the game will drain you of all your salt you've collected. Once you respawn you have once chance to recover it. Salts also materializes into the monster that killed you making it even stronger. If you die on your way back to pick up your salts they will be lost forever so visiting one of the many scattered "Sanctuaries" every so often is recommended.
Sanctuaries serves as "bonfires" in the game. These areas are safe zones that you can purchase items, upgrades, and restore health. NPC's such as blacksmiths and merchants will upgrade armor and weapons and sell you much needed items throughout your journey. You can also hire a sell-sword which acts as a couch co-op player. I honestly visited most of the sanctuaries to take a much needed breather. You can't pause the game so sanctuaries are essential the only way to take a break without actually exiting the game.
Salt and Sanctuary clearly gets it's inspiration and ideas from previous Souls games so there is a lack of innovation here, but developer Ska Studios does a masterful job of adapting the already proven formula of Souls into a exceptional 2D adventure.
Writer for Darkstation since 2014. I've been playing games my whole life and starting writing about them in 2010. Outside of gaming I enjoy anime and watching my Philadelphia Eagles let me down every Sunday. Follow me on Twitter @jsparis09