Mighty warrior! oh blessed and stalwart defender! Pick up your mighty….er… dash and three brackets, and your uh…ampersand, because it’s time to defend the realm in the new ASCII text based RPG ‘Sanctuary’.
Creating retro games in the modern era is a tricky business. Most try to stick as closely to the genre of old as possible, and at first glance ‘Sanctuary’ by Black Shell Games appears to do just that. It hearkens back to an era when RPG’s like Rogue took you on an adventure of sword and sorcery using only ASCII art to depict your encounters. Offering you a smattering of different character classes to play such as Barbarian, Druid or Paladin, Sanctuary takes you through a rudimentary character creation process where you’ll select perks and stat bonuses before you’ll select the style of game you’re up for. You can go ‘softcore’ where death is but a setback, but because we’re well ‘ard folk at RD, we went for hard core ‘permadeath’ mode. One life, one chance, one destiny.
Because that’s how we roll.
After being treated to a randomly generated and wonderfully ludicrous ‘back-story’ (apparently our human Paladin enjoys cougers, and finds himself taking quests in an attempt to score) you’re thrown into the game proper. Immediately noticed is the great musical score which ebbs and flows according to the action. It’s lovingly crafted and puts you immediately in the vintage vibe. What follows is a series of random creature encounters, boss fights, secret dungeons and treasure finds all played out with text based screens and keyboard commands.
Now admittedly, text based RPGs can be as tough for some to stomach as they were back in the day, but Sanctuary manages to spruce up an old format by introducing familiar staples from more modern RPGs. There are items to collect to craft, NPCs to interact with and more important than all that, loot. Kill an enemy and you’ll be greeted by that all-too-familiar hook of randomised item drops. Down a boss (and there’s some strategy to that) and you could be in for legendary weapons, shield or armour. The satisfaction of acquiring an epic sword in Sanctuary manages to rival doing it in World of Warcraft or EverQuest 2. Sure, you’re only really collecting 14 backslashes, a handful of commas and a couple of equals signs, but if you’re an RPG nut you’re in it for the stats, spells and special bonuses anyway.
Our only complaint is that there doesn’t appear to be any dungeon crawling in the classic ‘maze’ sense. You accept quests and boss fights as singular encounters on-screen, there’s no real exploring in the top down overhead view sense. It’s a minor thing though, and pretty soon you forget all about it as you’re swept into a cracking RPG that squeezes a rewarding combat engine, oodles of things to do and a ‘one more turn’ fixation into its tiny little game window. There are also some great touches of humour throughout Sanctuary that serve to keep you from turning into a complete psychopath when you die for the fourteenth time to a Nymph that’s kicked you in the genitalia.
Sanctuary is available directly from the Black Shell Games website here, and the it’s available under the ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ model. You do have an option to download for free, but it’s fiercely apparent how much effort and care has gone into crafting the title, so throw a bit of coin the way of the developers, and grab yourself a few hours of old school RPG entertainment. Highly recommended.