Shiny has always been a strange lot. Earthworm Jim was their first
hit, followed later by the equally brilliant MDK. Their previous
release, Messiah, while solid in its own right, wasn't quite the
product gamers had come to expect from Shiny. Sacrifice would
be the next title in their development schedule and, after having
read numerous previews about the game, I became interested in it
despite having no idea what the game was really about. It's an
odd game, that's for certain, which makes it a Shiny title, through
I'm not exactly sure where to begin, but let's start by attempting to
explain the mechanics of the game. The best way I can explain
Sacrifice is as a blend of strategy, role-playing and action genres.
Before you begin play, you choose your God. There are five of
them, each with an obvious affiliation to some sort of element,
whether it be Earth, Fire, Air, Death, or Life. While it is partially the
case where the different creatures available to each of the Gods
are simply different models that do the same thing, the Gods still
have very distinct advantages, particular with respect to spells.
Each mission begins with you and your Altar. You must
immediately establish mana fountains and cast manahoars, which
relay mana to your wizard. Then once you have a relatively
acceptable mana income, you can start casting away. The casting
of creatures requires souls and mana. Mana can be replenished,
but souls cannot. To collect more souls, you can either find some
lying about the map, you can kill some peasants for them (those
poor folks really do have a torrid time of it in this game), or you
can kill some of your opponents' creatures to gain souls. Once
having built up a nice army of creatures, you can assault your
opponent along with using your vast array of big, evil spells.
That's basically it, really, in a nutshell. The thing that makes
Sacrifice so brilliant is all the little twists in the game. For
instance, you can't just kill the enemy wizard. When a wizard is
killed, he simply becomes ethereal. This means the wizard
becomes invisible, though an aura floats about him so enemies
still know where he is. Once the wizard is destroyed, you can opt
for a tactical retreat, often a good idea considering in this mode,
the wizard is unable to cast spells or summon any more creatures.
To kill an enemy wizard, you have to desecrate his altar while the
enemy wizard is in this ethereal form. To desecrate an altar, you
have to cast the spell on a creature and a witchdoctor will come
out and perform the ritual. During desecration, the enemy wizard
will lose experience and health. Desecrating an altar can also be
done when the wizard is not in ethereal form, albeit without as
profound an effect. Witchdoctors, while immune to hand-to-hand
damage, are not a powerful presence since a single Level 1
damage spell can destroy them. While this may sound a bit
complicated, it works out extremely well by allowing players the
chance to win even if they just lost a huge battle.
Speaking of massive battles, the game is full of them. Once you
lose a battle against your opponent, if you're quick enough, you
can run back in and grab all your souls back, retreat again, and
cast all your creatures once more. This is because the enemy
cannot simply grab your creatures' souls once they're dead, they
have to cast a lengthy 'convert' spell, where a witchdoctor comes,
revives the creatures, brings them to his alter and sacrifices them.
This often results in long, arduous wars as two opponents battle it
out to try and gain the upper hand in terms of the number of souls
they possess. The whole process may sound rather tedious, as
battles can last up to an hour or more if neither player has the
upper hand, however the battles are always an amazing amount
Once you start reaching higher levels, the insanely powerful Level
9 spells come into play and are definitely a force to be reckoned
with. One of these spells, when cast successfully, can pretty well
turn the tide of battle. Jame's "Bore" spell, for example, creates an
outwards spiral from the point of casting, creating huge craters
that annihilate armies as their souls are lost forever in the pits of
darkness. It's very cool in that you can see the spiral going
outwards and the enemy wizard frantically looking around and
ordering his creatures to move far, far away. Another fun spell is
Charnel's "Death". A large grim reaper is cast, which proceeds to
kill any unit with a single hit. The trouble is it doesn't much
distinguish the 'good guys' (the army who cast him) from the 'bad
guys', instead often destroying both players' army in a massive
rampage. Each God has an insanely powerful Level 9 spell like
this and of course there are many other spells that vary in terms of
power. The trade-off is of course the mana requirement for these
spells. Also, time becomes a factor since the larger spells require a
good amount of time to be cast multiple times.
There is more to the mechanics of the game, little things like the
fact you can 'gib' an enemy creature, which means the soul is free
for both players to catch without having to cast a conversion spell.
Casting 'guardian' means a creature will guard a structure and
help to increase its stats. There are dozens upon dozens of spells,
too many to recount for you in this review. Besides, we have to
touch on graphics and sound, don't we?
Graphically, well, as you can see from the screenshots on the
right, they're brilliant. The vast rolling scenery is fantastic, often
filled with strange and gigantic plants and structures. While it may
look a bit on the bland side at times, the dull terrains are often
where the massive melees take place. The spell effects are all
great and most creatures have a magical attack as well, creating
battlefields overflowing with bright colors and lighting. In terms of
sound, the music is a bit of a disappointment but the sound effects
are great, particularly the casting sounds made by the wizards.
The single player is quite fun but really, if you're not going to be
able to play on a LAN or via the Internet, you're really missing out.
The AI is good enough to hold it's own, but there's nothing like
facing a real human opponent and Sacrifice delivers in spades
when it comes to multiplayer options.
I think I over-used the word brilliant in this review, but that's
because Sacrifice is simply a brilliant game. Sacrifice seems to be
a relatively flawless experience, perhaps because there's nothing
like it out there, but also because this game exhumes quality.
Shiny, as usual, has tried something radical with Sacrifice and
once again, it's paid off big time.