#REVIEW: Salt and Sanctuary (PS4)

Part of me feels like reviewing this game is pointless, because it came out way the hell back in 2016, but I never pay attention to the year books came out before I write about them, so to hell with it: I first downloaded Salt and Sanctuary for my PS4 a couple of months ago, played it for a couple of hours, and for whatever reason it felt unreasonably hard and didn’t click. I jumped back into it for no good reason a week and a half or so ago, and it immediately proceeded to eat about 20 hours of my life between then and beating it on Sunday. So I’ve been playing quite a bit of it later, and watching videos about it when I wasn’t playing it. I don’t know why it didn’t hit at first, but maybe running a mage build made all the difference.

Anyway: S&S is a 2D Soulslike combined with a Metroidvania, which is an utterly impenetrable sentence if you don’t speak fluent Gamer Nerd, so let me unpack it for you: difficult combat, tons of different ways to build your character that will lead to you fighting with anything from magic and giant hammers to whips and guns and scissor-swords, difficult boss encounters, penalties at death, collecting materials (in this case, salt) from defeating enemies that you can use to level up and are lost if you die unless you defeat the beast that killed you, and an absolutely enormous map (that’s only maybe 2/3 of it, if that; I don’t think there’s a complete map on the internet anywhere yet, which is unreal) with tons of shortcuts and secrets and replayability and lots of backtracking. Combine all that with a seriously cool, unique art style and we have something I’m going to be very into:

It’s an interesting combination of cartoony with gory; killing enemies results in a surprisingly satisfying explosion of blood and body bits, and the overall aesthetic is just Lovecraftian enough that it never got old, although in general I found it a bit too dark a lot of the time– you will be lighting a lot of torches in this game, and there’s a particular enemy that lives in completely dark areas and keeps a light on its forehead like some sort of bipedal angler fish, and the way my build worked out I often had to choose between being able to see and being able to attack it, because you can’t hold a torch and a two-handed weapon at once, and all of my weapons were two-handed. Which got complicated.

Another thing the game does well is the addition of what it calls Creeds, which are basically your character’s religion; there are about seven of them, three or four of which are available at the start of the game. When you find a safe area in the game (a “sanctuary”, where you can level up and there aren’t any enemies) sometimes they are already dedicated to a creed and sometimes you can choose what creed to dedicate them to; you collect items throughout the game that can let you add things like blacksmiths and vendors and fast-travel points to sanctuaries, but you can only add them to sanctuaries that belong to your creed. Sanctuaries can be converted between creeds, too (and you can change yours,) but that can lead to violence if done too many times to the same creed. Connecting vendors to a collectible item leads to a bit of strategic thinking about where to place them, but if you find all of the guides you can put a guide at nearly every sanctuary, so it’s not as big of a deal: more important is that the vendors and such also add bonuses to areas, so you get a salt bonus if you add a Stone Leader at a sanctuary, for example.

I just finished my first run, and it’s distinctly possible that I’m about to dive right in with a second, although I’ve got my eyes on a couple of other games too. But any game I play through twice before heading off to something else is pretty special. If you’ve found that your tastes in games line up with mine in the past, check this out.