Smoke and Sacrifice is the latest in adventure/crafting/RPG games that tries to balance a descent story with linear progressive gameplay and a metric ton of inventory items, most of which fuel the game’s elaborate crafting system. You’ll be playing Sachi, a mother caught up in a mystical worth where she is forced to sacrifice her firstborn child to the Sun Tree to secure protection and prosperity for her village. But not all is as it seems, and when Sachi learns her child may still be alive, lost in the underworld below the temple, she sets off to discover the truth.
The underworld is a dangerous place and Sachi will need to make the most of her survival skills, collecting a vast assortment of items and ingredients that can be crafted into useful tools and weapons. Smoke and Sacrifice often succumbs to its own aspirations of greatness, drowning in excess, with more items than can be easily stored and sorted in your inventory, or a complex crafting system that doesn’t allow you to choose desired crafting items to prioritize their components. The promise of an open-world is minimalized by linear mission objectives, and your only real chance to truly explore is to undertake side quests. Plus, there seems to be an abundance of backtracking, either to complete objectives or just continually harvest the items required to keep you alive. Weapons break, lights go out, food spoils. There is always this continual pressure to micromanage all these systems and try to play the game.
The interface and controls are extremely clumsy. There are no hotkey items, so you must add items to your favorites then cycle with your d-pad. As you get deeper into the game your inventory grows to unruly proportions, and you literally have to take long breaks from the game to manage it. Game controls are a bit stiff with the grid-like movement system of the isometric world that can be exploited by both you and the game’s AI.
There is a great cast of NPC’s in Smoke and Sacrifice that all contribute to either the gameplay or the carefully crafted backstory, but the enemies in the game are where this ecosystem comes to life. Sure, you can go around beating everything to death, or you can use the environmental systems to get creatures to fight each other or lure them into traps. You have the freedom to choose how to play most of the time and this really helps break up the monotony.
The visuals are striking; both the environments in which you play and the unique character art. I really enjoyed the attention to detail for Sachi, whose character art will update as you craft new gear and outfits. The enemy assortment is sizable and cleverly diverse with some great designs that can range from hilarious to downright scary. The use of colors and real-time lighting really help give this game a dark storybook atmosphere, and coupled with some great sound effects and a magical score, the audio truly help immerse you in this world.
Smoke and Sacrifice is not a short game, and with its fixed save points scattered sparsely throughout the world, an untimely death could mean replaying previous content. Do not skip a single save opportunity. There is also ample opportunity to exhaust your resources and not have enough items or materials to proceed. I had some boss fights that really wiped me out, and I had to replay them and simply do better.
If I had to sum up Smoke and Sacrifice I’d say it’s a unique blend of Don’t Starve and Dark Souls. The game is truly difficult with fast item degradation forcing you to repair or rebuild frequently used items, and no checkpoints between saves forcing you to replay large parts of the game, often after an accidental death you had no control over. It takes a special type of gamer to really enjoy a game like this, and while I appreciated the unique art and fantastic audio, this is a tough game to see through until the end. If you are a hardcore survival-RPG fan or just want a fresh coat of paint on your Don’t Starve clone then give Smoke and Sacrifice a chance, but casual fans of the survival genre may want to move along or wait for a sale.