Look, if you take two things I like and mash them together, chances are you’re going to get something I like even more. This tends to apply a bit more to video games than foods, though. Mushrooms and PB&J? Nah, I’ll pass. Dark Souls and Monster Hunter, though? Yeah, that’s something we can work with. Salt and Sacrifice, the latest action-RPG from Ska Studios and Devoured Studios, understands the best parts of these two franchises and mixes them into a must-play Mage-slaying adventure. If you’ve somehow managed to tire of Elden Ring, make this your next obsession.
The Altarstone Kingdom was once a peaceful place like any other, but that was before Mages started to become more and more common. Unlike the Mages you might know, these aren’t noble spellcasters, but horrible arcane monstrosities born from humans that carry an eldritch Haze. They need to be stopped, and you’re the one who’s going to stop them. Having committed an unforgivable crime in your past life, you’ve been cursed to eternal life and sent to Altarstone as a Marked Inquisitor, an immortal hunter of Mages.
You’re an Inquisitor, so that means your job is to get out there and slay Mages to stop their magical taint from destroying the world. You can choose from a variety of weapons and two different classes of armor in order to do so, spending Salt in a similar style to the Souls game to level up and adjust your stats. As you might imagine, though, those Mages aren’t especially interested in losing their hearts. They’re violently uninterested, in fact, so you’re going to have to gear up, arm up and get to hunting. That means scoping out the surroundings, finding your prey, chasing them down and wearing away their stamina until you’re ready to deal the final blow.
In other words, Salt and Sacrifice plays out a little bit like a cross between the Souls games and Monster Hunter, and it turns out these are two great tastes that taste pretty great together. Yum!
Take Salt and Sacrifice’s level design, for example. On your first trip through a level, you’ll approach it like a Dark Souls game, carefully progressing forward while battling enemies and unlocking secrets and shortcuts. Once you’ve done all that, though, what you end up with amounts to a Monster Hunter-style hunting area, right down to the different named areas that you can use to track down your prey. When you come back after you’ve fully unlocked an area, you’re approaching it as someone with foreknowledge who’s running down their prey.
There’s something about effortlessly navigating through previously-brutal areas that feels incredibly satisfying. All the while, you’re going to want to harvest plants and ore to keep your supplies topped off just in case you run into a Mage – and you just might want to be ready anyway, since there’s non-Mage bosses running around ready to smack you down as well.
When you come across a Mage, you’ll need to beat the hell out of them. They won’t just sit there and take it, of course, responding with powerful magic and summoned minions. Deal enough damage and scare the spellcaster off, then chase them down and repeat. Eventually they’ll decide to take a final stand, retreat to an arena and fight you there. At that point all bets are off and it’s do or die. If you prevail, you can deal the killing blow to the Mage, removing their heart and Devouring it to gain experience and loot. You’ll take that loot back to your camp and use the art of Carnifice to turn it into a variety of gear that can help out in your next hunt.
There’s definitely an element of just-one-more-hunt that comes into play as you try to create the best items, and Salt and Sacrifice is happy to oblige, offering chances to fight random roaming mages, Nameless Mage hunts that allow you to go after specific targets, Fated Mages that allow for an endless array of randomized hunts and Named Mages that unlock new areas in each map when defeated.
So is it a perfect mix of Souls and hunting? Not quite, but it’s close. There’s definitely an odd take on resource conservation where you’re meant to go easy on Mages up until you’ve worn them down enough that they stop running away, for instance, and this can both take a while and can glitch out at times. It seems to be possible to defeat a Mage before it makes its final retreat, but this is either vanishingly rare or I just wasn’t doing it right. Some Mages both didn’t want to die and didn’t feel like stopping to fight, so…that was basically it. Just leave and hope it goes better next time.
Likewise, Souls is all about precision and deaths that feel like they’re your fault, but some Mages – I’m looking at you, Aeromancer – have spectacularly brutal air-juggle combos that can slaughter you with a single dropped roll or missed frame. I’m fine with dying in one or two hits, but at least let me try and air-dodge out or something!
Salt and Sacrifice’s presentation owes a lot to its predecessor, Salt and Sanctuary, and going back from there to classic titles like The Dishwasher. Characters have a pseudo-deformed, grungy look, while enemies, bosses and Mages go full Lovecraftian horror. The Mage designs owe a lot to the nightmare-fuel Queen of Smiles boss from Salt and Sacrifice, and they tend to look absolutely fantastic. There’s also a lot to be said for the various weapon and armor options you can choose; it’s certainly a great time to hunt particular Mages to create gear sets that properly express how you want to look. There’s something to be said for the presence of multiplayer options as well, though we haven’t had much of a chance to test those out as of yet.
The bottom line here is that any complaints are kind of minor in the face of what amounts to a pretty glorious mixture of two fantastic genres of game. Salt and Sacrifice may represent the next step in evolution for both, in fact. With the high-quality boss encounters of a Souls game and the addictive loot-grinding loop of Monster Hunter, Salt and Sacrifice taps into the reasons you’d want to play each of those games and produces something unique in the modern landscape. It’s absolutely worth a look. Don’t be surprised if we start to see clones going forward.