Sacred Citadel is a side-scrolling beat 'em up at its core, with some gooey RPG caramel slathered over the top to produce a delicious, bite-sized treat. Though you'll not want seconds.
Set in the world of Ancaria, Citadel's a spin off from the core Sacred series, but also serves as a prequel for Sacred 3. Use of a cel-shaded cartoonish filter of the 3D character and enemy models gives the game its own distinctive flair, whilst remaining somewhat reminiscent of the arcade titles it draws inspiration from.
The storyline, what little there is of it, tells of a powerful demon searching for two ancient mystic artifacts which it will use to augment its own power, granting it strength enough to breach the gates of an ancient stronghold of the Seraphim, the world's goodly though mysterious protectors.
As an itinerant adventurer your character of choice is thrown into the middle of this plot as it hatches and, naturally, you set out to foil the bad guy's evil scheme.
Playing as either a Mage, Warrior, Ranger or Shaman you smash your face into the keyboard or control pad for five to six hours until all your foes are defeated. Your character always dual-wields two melee weapons and can chain attacks together up to a three-hit combo, with an optional finisher from your secondary weapon. Some special moves are available, like launching enemies into the air with an uppercut style attack, versus the standard finisher's knockdown effect. You can also use your secondary weapon to attack by itself, such as the Mage's ability to shoot fireballs.
Finishers and secondary attacks in general can also be charged before being used, allowing for a more damaging attack or an attack with additional effects.
Dodging is achieved by pressing a direction while holding the block button. With no direction held, your character will simply block... and probably get his or her faced melted as most enemies in the game have one or more attacks that simply bypass your efforts. For the attacks you can prevent, a well timed block will stun your opponent, giving time for followup attacks. However you're almost always better off dodging out of the way and dodging back in range as there's no limit to how often you can use the tactic and only a handful of attacks in the entire game can bypass the damage immunity dodge offers.
There are three base types of melee weapon available: Swords, axes and maces. There are many visually distinct versions of each but they all function the same and all characters can equip any weapon and in any combination they wish. Each weapon can additionally have an elemental effect, adding a little extra fire, frost or lightning on top of the base damage, but it's primarily the same as any other RPG. Bigger numbers are better!
Armours are also visually diverse but again it's the statistics underneath that matter, primarily the defense rating. Armour found later in the game is almost always an improvement and there aren't any exotic bonuses or maluses to factor in to your decision. Weaponry drops more abundantly and the game will intelligently decide whether an item would be better in your right or left hand, but the rule of thumb still applies. If it does more damage you pick it up.
Characters advance through experience levels as they defeat monsters, much like any RPG, and may then spend 2 points on improving their statistics. Buff up your attack, defense, ranged or magic abilities so you can handle the ever tougher opponents.
And some of the monsters you face are tough.
This style of game was first popularised in the arcades of the 1980s and 90s where inserting a coin to continue after a death was all the incentive we needed to avoid dying. Obviously you needn't insert a coin to continue here, but they could have made avoiding death more meaningful. As it stands, in singleplayer you simply respawn before the current fight and get another chance. Your XP and wealth remains intact. So even if you die repeatedly, you will still accrue extra experience points and gold if you manage to kill some things before succumbing. It's not enough to render the harder battles entirely trivial but coupled with the ability to revisit earlier stages to farm for items and experience it's sometimes too easy to find yourself overpowered for the next stage of the game.
Sacred Citadel does have an online multiplayer option but on the PC I was rarely able to find anyone to play with. The situation may be different on consoles.
Multiplayer is simply a cooperative version of the same storyline, however. The only noteworthy change is that your coop buddies can revive you if you fall in battle, rather than the respawn-reset from singleplayer.
Sadly the game is not as well-polished as it should be. Gameplay tips appear at the bottom of the screen in a large caption box and will only disappear when a new tip needs to be displayed. Many monsters can hit things well outside the range of their on-screen model. Particularly annoying was the craggy hounds who could leap halfway across the screen but the range of the attack was more like three quarters of the screen, meaning simply moving out of range would not work consistently. This could be largely ignored with dodging, but it was very frustrating in fights with multiple glitchy enemies.
Replayability with the same character is virtually nil. There's no option to restart on a higher difficulty so earlier levels in earlier acts are a cake walk. A situation exacerbated the longer you continue.
You could play as one of the other characters (they have some different skills), however the game itself has no randomisation of levels or enemies. You won't see anything you haven't seen the first time you went through.
Overall Sacred Citadel is a solid beat 'em up that keeps much of the button mashing fun of the genre while mixing in some RPG elements players will appreciate. It's not a game I'm rushing to return to but there's a solid chunk of fun to be found for fans of this style of gaming.