Salt and Sanctuary has been on the radar for yonks. Forever collecting dust on my Switch wishlist, I ended up buying it during the Black Friday sale with many other titles I haven’t even looked at. Why? Because I’ve been playing this.
Ska Studio’s game has always appealed to this Dark Souls fan, but we all know that Souls-like branding isn’t entirely accurate. Well, this is a Souls-like, but the most notable difference is its 2D presentation and bosses that are on speed.
It’s an ambiguous story. It’s not as strong as, say… Blasphemous, but it’s not required. In short, you have to cover a wealth of areas, defeat each boss and then open up a shortcut to a previously visited area or something entirely different.
There’s no reinventing the wheel in this Salt and Sanctuary review. You begin by picking a character, adjusting their appearance, creed and an idol/item to start to carry. Unless referencing a walkthrough, you’re in the dark. The first hour or so was exploration and getting accustomed to the fluidity. It’s nothing silly, but enemies often attack with ferocity, and regardless of your level and equipment, it’s easy to get killed or obliterated.
The first boss encounter, The Sodden Knight, was mildly stressful. Not only did they hit hard, but you’d be within reach faster than a pubescent boy trying the old ‘arm over the shoulder cinema trick’. After approximately 10-20 attempts, the victory was mine. There was only one other boss that came close.
When you commit to a creed, you’ll be awarded a totem to install at vacant sanctuaries. A sanctuary can be customised with up to four NPCs, pending you have the required stones, so that you can purchase goods and receive buffs within close proximity – i.e. more gold, better shields. Guides can also be appointed, allowing fast travel between sanctuaries, pending there’s a guide on the other side.
Do note that you can only pledge allegiance to one creed at a time, and each has its benefits – whether that be melee damage or poison specialities. However, it’s possible to desecrate and convert sanctuaries to your current creed, making NPCs a bit more accommodating. Regardless, these are your bonfires, and upon death, you’ll lose your salt (currency for levelling up and upgrades) and will have to pay a percentage of your purse to a cleric for hauling your carcass back.
Salt and Sanctuary has an extensive skill tree that allows for custom builds and unlocks new weapons such as polearms, whips, or unlock armour and the respective upgrades. I wasted some of my stats on heavy armour for my strength build but seldom wore it. Why? The dodge mechanic in Salt and Sanctuary works so well when you aren’t playing as a Havel imposter.
Dodging was my preferred style of play in Salt and Sanctuary. Shields are effective, as are their parry attacks, but rolling and jumping to safety is a lifesaver. Other than a focused build, temporary buffs can be added such as holy damage and poison, as well as transmutations with the boss ‘souls’, giving Cloud Strife a run for his money as the Silly Swords Assembly. If you have a thirst for experimenting, Salt and Sanctuary will deliver.
There aren’t any difficulty levels, just a natural progression based on location, but I found that the bosses in this game were relatively easy. That first encounter with The Sodden Knight wound me up the most. Even fighting the Tree of Men – which took me tons of attempts – never bothered me as each failure was mine rather than an overpowered, unforgiving opponent.
That said, knockbacks in this game are disappointing. The number of times I’d have full health and launch off a ledge that’s a screen and a half away or even being repeatedly hit by a mob while on the floor and unable to get up was frustrating. Though that, and that wasteful squandering of stats and transmuting weapons with boss ‘souls’ was the only downside for me. Of course, once you know, you end up squirrelling away items for the endgame/NG+.
With excellent visuals, responsive controls and that catnip lure of multiple builds in the generous savegame slots (plus NG+), Salt and Sanctuary is one of the best Souls-like games I’ve played. Ignoring Bloodborne, it’s probably my favourite. Though take that with a pinch of salt as I’ve been obsessively playing and still under its spell.
If you haven’t played this yet and are a fan of Souls-likes that have longevity way after completion, go check this out – I highly recommend it.