Every epic fantasy adventure always seems to start in a small village, with a reluctant hero/bored villager about to embark on an amazing adventure. The village, before even the opening credits have finished rolling, has normally been burnt to the ground, destroyed by a huge creature or hit by some disaster bigger than you could ever imagine. It’s a trope that has been around since the early days of gaming and is a great way of launching the story and protagonist on their journey of thrilling discovery.
Smoke and Sacrifice starts its story in a village – just like the rest of the games in this genre – but it takes a very unique turn that narratively places it in a different league from any normal RPG adventure.
Smoke and Sacrifice is a survival RPG that mixes fantasy, narrative and a hell of a lot of crafting in its gameplay. You play as a young mother called Sachi who is working in the fields for a small community. All quite straightforward, yes? Well no, as the village is kept alive by huge sun lamps that need to be kept powered to stop huge monsters invading the world and killing everyone. So in order to do that every village member has to sacrifice their first born child to the temple of the sun, where the said child is zapped by a huge laser machine and spirited away into oblivion. It is now Sachi’s turn, with her baby boy, and that’s your first task in the game. It is also one of the darkest moments I’ve ever experienced.
Time passes, the sun lamps surrounding the village stop working and then monsters reign down on the settlement. Sachi then discovers the real reason behind the temple, finds another hidden world and the true fate of what happened to her lost child…
The narrative, world building, and dialogue found in Smoke and Sacrifice is nothing but world class. Having a single mum as your main protagonist ensures it all comes over as an original piece of storytelling, with new characters and a great new world created by a team of developers who have built with fascinating mythology.
Gameplay wise and if you love a bit of crafting then this is going to be like gaming heaven. I always have a bit of a problem with creating stuff, and if I can possibly leave it I will if it doesn’t affect the story. Thankfully, here the crafting system is very easy and intuitive to use. For example, you need to be able to travel through some deadly smoke (hence the title) early on in the adventure. You need to craft a lantern to get you through, but first, you’ll have to capture a sort of Firefly, which in order to nab sees you needing to make a sticky net. Simple huh? Well, funnily enough it is, and at times this whole aspect can be very enjoyable, allowing you to go searching for little ingredients and trying to match them up to the recipes on offer. Later on, you get more recipes given to you through the story, with hidden ones ready to be discovered. It is these which bring bigger and better items.
Exploration is another major part of the journey and the lack of hand-holding in the beginning stages comes across as a refreshing change. After a while though I found the aimless walking around the map to be a bit much, especially when everything around was trying to kill me. It’s not overly helped by the fixed camera that is tricky to get used to, but in the same vein, it is nothing that ever destroyed my experience with the game.
It must be said though that, at times, Smoke and Sacrifice can be a bit unforgiving, although after a while – like all good games, I guess – things get better and new equipment comes along. The combat can seem basic to begin with as well, but as you gain new skills, new tricks and new weapons it makes the battles (especially the boss battles) quite interesting and fun. Coaxing your foes into other creatures and watching them take each other out quickly became my tactic of choice.
I’ll admit though, due to dying a fair old bit, you do have to get used to a lot of backtracking, regaining items that you might have lost. Saving at terminals is ever so important – something that I sadly learnt to my cost. Thankfully, both the main quests and the side variety are pretty good, with the latter being an entertaining diversion from the main story.
It all looks great too with a very unique design whereby all the characters, creatures and NPC heads are slightly larger than average. It makes the world richer, the characters more appealing and the creatures stranger and scarier. The underworld levels do get a bit samey at times, but the colour palette employed is lush with a nice mixture of tones and clear graphics.
I have really enjoyed my time with Smoke and Sacrifice on Xbox One. For someone who would normally rather drink washing up liquid than partake in some crafting, I have been pleasantly surprised by the ease of the mechanic, and the addictive nature it brings. The story and narrative is strong, dark and very well told, while the world is fascinating. Making your way through it can be a bit unwieldy at times, but for those who are looking for a well crafted RPG that tries something different then look no further than Smoke and Sacrifice.