Slash enemies and serve creeds in "Salt and Sanctuary"

The halls are bloodied, screams cry out in the distance and there’s a chill in the air. As you walk further into the castle, enemies spring up from the ground, waving daggers in a frail attempt to take you down.

With a crack of the whip or a well-placed fireball, these enemies are turned to salt. You return to the sanctuary, weary, but with enough combat experience to take on the next challenge.

“Salt and Sanctuary” is a 2D action platforming game by Ska Studios, the developers of the Xbox Live Indie game, “The Dishwasher.” “Salt and Sanctuary” draws a vast majority of its systems straight from the popular “Souls” series.

Much like the “Souls” series, items and systems are cryptic. Upon starting a new character, you meet a character on the beach that asks which creed you stand with. Players are given a selection of three creeds to side with, each with differing bonuses.

Devara’s Light is the “holy” creed, giving bonuses for magic and prayer, but selling the least useful equipment in the game. The Three is essentially the game’s neutral creed, giving bonuses in elemental damage while also offering decent armor in shops. The Iron Ones is a creed that hates magic, opting to use steel weapons, making the creed great for Knights or other weapon-based classes.

Additional creeds appear within the game, each with their own sanctuaries. To use the sanctuary to level up or buy items, you must either become an apostate by denouncing your current creed and joining a new one; convert the sanctuary into one that follows your current creed; or desecrate the sanctuary, which turns nearby friendly characters hostile.

Where the game differs from the “Souls” series is its play style. While systems like equipment load and enemies telegraphing an attack remain, the combat and exploration is more akin to a game like “Castlevania.” Players will jump across falling platforms, explore underground caverns and string combos together to defeat a boss.

One of the game’s main difficulty factors comes from the way it handles health and stamina. As you play through the game, you’ll take more than a few hits, requiring you to pull out an item to heal. This is where the game punishes you.

As you use healing items and magic spells, your overall health and stamina goes down, and can only be restored by resting at a sanctuary. Use a spell too many times, and you won’t have enough stamina to cast it or swing your weapon without getting tired. It’s a balancing act, and one the player must learn quickly if they want to survive.

Part of “Salt and Sanctuary’s” charm comes from its style, blending the scenarios of the “Souls” series into a 2D environment, but often, stylistic choices in the game’s design felt more like a detriment. The art style uses a broad spectrum of colors, but often these colors are over or under-saturated in such a way that makes seeing enemies and traps a hassle. Often I’d clear out a batch of enemies only to find another foe hiding behind a bush nearby.

Throughout my time in “Salt and Sanctuary,” I’d walk into a room only to have a wolf grab me and bite me in half, flashing, “OBLITERATED” on the screen. If you decide to play, expect to see this word a lot.

“Salt and Sanctuary” is an enjoyable, yet challenging action game that holds its own within the Souls-like genre. It is available on Playstation 4, with a PC release planned in the summer.

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