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Picked up Sacred the other day. Holy crap.

There are things wrong with it, of course, things that bug me. But overall, this game is awesome. It has seized my free time and general productivity, and shaken them to death like a dog shakes a rat in it's mouth. I mean, this game has dark elves with light sabers. How much more friggin awesome can it get?

What bugs me:

I don't like the hotkeying. So far, I haven't found a way to customize hotkeys for selection of spells. By default, the numbers 1-5 select weapon sets, and 6-0 select spells. However, ALT highlights objects on the ground and selectable enemies, A collects all treasure, and other keys like W, Q and R use potions that can come in handy. It all adds up to too much movement of my left hand around the keyboard, especially in tense action situations when I want to ensure that I keep current on using potions of the mentor (which increase XP gained while in effect) while fighting boss enemy groups. Having to move the hand so much in the first place can get distracting, and has killed me a couple times. I have gotten in the habit now of keeping my 4 left fingers on 6,7,8 and 9 (with a combo move keyed to 0, to cast a bunch of shield/firewall spells at once), with my thumb on the right ALT button, where I can quickly hit M for map (you do a lot of map following in this game) or SPC for heal potion. It works fairly well, but is slightly uncomfortable due to the ergonomic split of my keyboard. I like games where I can changed which keys are assigned to hotkeys, so that I can set them to keys I can more easily reach.

The way they do the spell/weapon hotkey slots is weird, but makes sense in a way. You start with the ability to hotkey only one weapon and one spell, and as you gain levels you gain additional slots. It makes sense, but it also forces you to change the way you think and use your hotkeys, which can disrupt your patterns. This, too, has cost me one death, as I fumbled for hotkeys that had changed because I swapped skills around to accomodate a new slot. But I've gotten all my slots now, so that troublesome time is past.

What I like:
It's a grind, a treadmill, whatever. Pure hack-n-slash with only sparse RPG elements. The bodies heap up in great, stinking mounds in this game, and as you grow in power you become more effective at doing the butchering. The way they handle character power advancement gives me a great deal of satisfaction. Power accumulates in smaller increments than it does in, say, Diablo 2, where spell level points are few and far between. In Sacred, spells are powered up by collecting spell gems/units/whatever, which are dropped by enemies. Right click a spell unit, advance 1 level in that spell. There are fellows in the world who will trade spell units for other character classes, 4 units to allow you to select 1 of your own class. Heading out into the desert to slaughter roving bands of orcs and goblins can net a whole harvest of skill units that can be traded in to upgrade your skills. Skill units can also be forged into slotted equipment, for further upgrading as well as some additional bonuses you don't get by right-clicking the skill unit. Experience percent bonuses, etc...

The action and combat is fast paced and pretty damned intense. I've fought 4 dragons so far, and I gotta say that first dragon fight was AWESOME. Hacked and slashed my way through a dungeon basement full of fairly powerful enemies (lots o' loot and XP), and slid through a portal only to find myself stuck on a rather small island with another horde of enemies and a big effing dragon. Oh, shit. He was big, he was mean, he breathed fire that could roast me within two seconds, and there followed a battle that lasted probably close to 10 minutes, with me frantically running around the island dropping Rings of Fire for him to roast in, and hammering away with Fireballs and lighting bolts until finally he dropped. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and let me tell you that the last game that had me on the edge like that was Diablo 2.

The spell casting system took a little getting used to at first. There is no traditional 'mana' power required to cast spells. Instead, spells have a recharge rate that decreases as the spell goes up in level. Certain character attributes can increase the recharge rate again, so it is important to drop points into these attributes as you level up your spells, or you'll end up waiting literally minutes for you fireball spell to recharge. Sucks to be you the, especially with dragons and their minions breathing down your neck. I had to scrap my first char, because I broke him a little bit. Spready my points out too much, and didn't focus on recharge rates, so I was dying alot due to slow spells. My second character is a blazing, pyromaniacal fiend with blindingly fast recharge rates. Makes a huge difference.

Graphically, the game is beautiful. 3D characters on tile-based 2D-ish backgrounds. I say 2D-ish, because there are 3D elements to the levels; you can go up and down stairs in buildings, climb terrain elevation tiers via ramps, etc... One gets the feeling that elevation is really just a bit of a hack, though.

All in all, I gotta say it's the best game I've picked up since Diablo 2. Now, if only it were randomly generated...
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