Open worlds and RPGs seem to be going hand-in-hand lately. A lot of game developers listened to their fan base and went the extra mile to offer complete freedom of choice within their games. Which stands to reason and is the case with Smoke and Sacrifice. But whereas most RPGs offering an open world aren’t that great in the story department, Smoke and Sacrifice really goes the extra mile!
You are playing as Sachi. The first time you meet her, she is ploughing the last piece of fertile ground within an icy wasteland. She is not the most cheerful heroine you’ve met, as the local law dictates that she must sacrifice her son to the sun tree, some sort of machine that keeps the darkness and monsters at bay as long as it is fed innocent children! With reluctance and regret, she sacrifices her child, only to discover a dark secret. Her child is still alive! Sachi plunges into the underworld her son was sent to. A life threatening world full of fantastic beasts and a deadly gas enveloping the surroundings. With the ever-looming smoke waiting to steal life and memory, will Sachi ever find her son?
Smoke and Sacrifice is quite simple to grasp and play: you can go wherever you want to, as long as you have got the gear to take you there. Very comparable to survival games like Don’t Starve. You will soon learn how to process the items you find on the ground or within the remains of beaten enemies to make weapons, health items and protective gear. Be sure to take anything which is not bolted to the ground. You will be needing all of it! A lantern to dispell the darkness, an outfit to get through the icy wasteland, weapons to defeat exceedingly stronger enemies. So, where is the twist? How does Smoke and Sacrifice keep things fresh? Well, that’s the thing. It has nothing to do with fresh seeing that your whole inventory is in a continuous state of decay!
Everything and anything you find or make, will wear down slowly. The unseasoned adventurer will soon find him- or herself within the shocking grasp of the deadly smoke or beneath the hooves of the agitated porcupine on which his or hers last bludgeoning weapon was broken. Luckily, all the items you have found can be enhanced. Provided that you have discovered the recipes to do so. And as long as there is enough material to make things, you can create them to your heart’s content. And to the extent of your inventory, of course.
Item management is a big part of the gameplay. Sometimes you need to make item A and item B before item C can ever be conceived. But what if item C breaks and there is nothing near to fabricate the other two items? Well, that is where the warp points are for. They also transport you from an enemy infested area to a much safer one. Although ‘safe’ is not even near a correct description. The underworld Sachi went to, is not for the faint of heart. And every once in a while, the lifeconsuming smoke envelops the world.
Smoke and Sacrifice will keep busy for quite a while. This RPG with its open world, its narrative-driven quest and its system of creating and managing items is beyond innovative. The game constantly throws new and surprising challenges at you keeping you on your toes. Including puzzles and side quests. These quests are often limited to ‘slay that monster’, ‘make this item’ and ‘search these items’. Discovery is half the fun as you will often need to find out on your own which plants or enemies bring forth the items you need. If they are not speaking in riddles, the NPCs often offer the hints you need. After a while these fetch quest can bet a tad boring, though.
The game constantly forces you to keep on moving. Often you do not have time to discover the world as your whole inventory is constantly on the verge of dissapearing due to decay. No stress! Just collect anything which crosses your path and be sure to enchance or strengthen your woman-made items and you will be fine. Be sure to save often, lest you lose your progress!
Smoke and Sacrifice is a beautifully hand-painted adventure where every character has their tale to tell. So, what is the catch? Well, some quests can get boring after a while and combat is not that great. You will often find yourself hitting the air instead of that angry mob. Made a few mistakes with that item management thing? Backtrack until you have got all the gear you need… again. Also, not quite game breaking but still a tad tedious: your health keeps on faltering if you are unlucky enough to get into a conversation while you are standing in a danger zone without any protection. This is a sure way to restart from the previous checkpoint. Hopefully this will get patched soon.
All in all you will get more than your money’s worth out of this game. Moreover, controls and HUD are quite good and intuitively developed. Compared to other games within the survival genre, you are better off with this game. Smoke and Sacrifice earns your attention. If not for its stunning visuals and intriguing story arc, then for the clever gameplay which – little by little – opens up a fantastic world you will want to explore.