Sacred 2: Baby You Can Mow My Lawn

In Sacred 2, you play a two-legged hedge-trimmer with mad skillz. Your hedge trimmer comes in one of six hep customizable styles, from basic blunt-force hacking to variable flavors of magic-lubricated hewing. Your hedge trimmer worships one of six gods, who lend it special abilities that vaguely reflect its alignment (are you a naughty hedge-trimmer or nice?). Occasionally your hedge trimmer gets quests to go chop up a gaggle of two-speed semaphores (one for "wander ambivalently," another for "charge!") or collect three of X and six of Y to make Z happy. But mostly your pair of giant-sized scissors just sort of wanders around a bosky fantasy-scape, pruning the indigenous fauna, vacuuming up incompatible miscellany for barter, and spouting the World's Dumbest One-Liners.

That said, there's oodles to do for orthodox number crunchers who pump these games like free weights. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ports — out today — feel more or less the same as the Windows version with a slightly less "immediate" interface, since you're clicking two or three times on a gamepad to access things the Windows version has discrete keyboard shortcuts for. The bugs that rendered the Windows version occasionally unplayable also appear to be history — no surprise, since they've been more or less patched out of the Windows version, too.

The world of Ancaria looks like most traditional high fantasy settings, e.g. glades and flowery dells and picturesque villages with cows and barns and pleasant little one-room houses. It's crisp, laid out clearly, easy to navigate, and while you wouldn't mistake it for something unique like Planescape or Arcanum, it's no more difficult to stare at for hours on end than games like Dungeon Siege 2 and Titan Quest. I mention the graphics at all only as an antidote to all these lazy "graphics aren't impressive" comments from pundits who still think it's necessary to comment superficially like Joachim Phoenix in Gladiator, arbitrarily raising or lowering a thumb. It's one thing to look at a Pollock and say "Thanks but no thanks." It's another to build a ratings-based case for a game's merit off nonchalant snipes about "textures," or "polish." If reading that sort of excuse-making (to justify a number) makes your head hurt as much as mine, congratulations on leveling up and advancing your gamer class to "mature connoisseur."

As noted, you've got six entry points into the world class-wise, two campaigns, and six deities — one that's variable depending on whether you opt for the "light" or "dark" campaign. I started with a Temple Guardian and I've been probing and pummeling the sun-dappled Elven Realms of Tyr Lysia — a teensy subset of the massive Ancaria world map — all morning.

Did I mention Ancaria's big? It's huge. Gargantuan. Monumental. Big enough that each of the character classes gets its own start point. Pulling back and panning around the map in the game halfway reminds me of the original Might and Magic map foldout with its exaggerated hyper-colorized regions like the "Desert of Desolation" and the "Ice Tundra." Remember that?

Stroll up to buildings and you can open doors, which basically pops the top off so you can forage around in chests and barrels and other types of containers for potions, money, and that Elven Cloak of +2 Cold Resistance you always wanted. What's a Mage Staff doing in the barn at the Happy Cow Farm? Who cares. The sooner you've dispensed with worrying about the nonsense logic of games like this, the sooner you can get on with enjoying the breezy ride.

The only thing I've jotted down that's genuinely bugged me so far? Message windows don't smooth scroll. You hit up or down on the thumbstick and it's just a page-advance toggle, meaning you'll lose your reading position every time. Hey developers, that's a patchable fix, right?

Otherwise, it looks like I'm all-in for the Total Experience. Hey, the story's no dumber than the tripe you click through in games like World of Warcraft, and you don't see anyone knocking that game for it's shallow, dashed off storytelling, right?

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