The Sun Tree provides for us. Without its light there is no life. It feels wrong when they tell me it’s right, but I know what I must do in order for humanity’s seeds to grow and guide us to hope. Our hope, the future for all of us, all but one of me; My only child. Dreadful hours of menial tasks and I finally get to run home just for reasons battling one of my own. I weep as neighboring villagers cloak my pierced aura as we walk to the hungry altar turning this sacrifice into theatre. Is this what we stand for? If you could see my face at this very moment as your direct opposite then you know I do not see who you are. My eyes drift downward.
This is not sacrifice. This is sacrilege.
Smoke and Sacrifice is a survival-rpg developed by indie studio Solar Sail Games. It bears all the marks of a well-crafted game and stands out from the crowd leaving an impression that any future titles fitting the bill should lean more towards the direction of Smoke and Sacrifice. This game is the definition of the term “2.5D” not only for its perspective being top-down at an angle, but having gorgeous 2D artwork providing a realistic depth to its entire presentation. Smoke and Sacrifice sounds beautiful, looks stunning, has touching themes, is packed with gameplay and has the proper difficulty balancing of enemies making it truly feel like an RPG to tackle your own way. Players can expect up to 40 hours of playtime. Best described as Fallout meets Don’t Starve, it still is so much its own identity.
The overworld in Smoke and Sacrifice is actually an underworld – after the first 10 minutes. You play as Sachi, a young mother who’s been chosen to give up her son Lio to the Sun Tree to please the gods. The story beats should be left up to the player to experience for themselves, but what’s immediately alright to understand is that 7 years has passed from the event and there will be many beneficial obstacles along the way during the search for Lio, as there still might be hope after all. Mysteriously given to Sachi is a pendant which provides light and after transported to a dreary and dangerous realm almost like a purgatory of sorts, her tough journey lies ahead.
The world is large and crawling with various types of enemies and items to collect. Around every corner are living parts of the world that Sachi can find use for and aren’t wasteful. It’s can be a harsh environment for Sachi to endure. The world is quite open, but without the proper preparation she doesn’t have a chance and simply just no choice in the matter. Whether it’s the poisonous waters, freezing snow, grounds that are hot to the touch or electrical floors, Sachi won’t last long. What’s mostly guaranteed to be a hazard no matter where Sachi finds herself is the prevalent darkening smog which takes over half of the day. There is no actual leveling system for Sachi herself, but Smoke and Sacrifice does a marvelous job at making the player feel their growth and progress the more time is spent exploring and completing tasks for NPC’s.
Sachi will always remain as herself and stay at her base human strength, but it’s the knowledge she gains along the way which allows her to surpass that by learning to craft, cook, create new weapons, set up traps for enemies, disguising herself, sneakily gaining the trust of larger creatures to be a companion, craft armor and more. Armor pieces may come in 3 sections in full: feet, body & head. Players will begin crafting the absolute basic, yet functional, gear to equip themselves with. For instance, simply knocking branches off trees and using them as part of one recipe to create a sharp melee weapon will be better suited for Sachi rather than just using plain ol’ fists.
Sticks still break, however. At different rates, almost everything deteriorates. Both in your inventory and on Sachi while playing, items will flash red indicating that it soon will disappear from your inventory. Players may also check the condition of any item depicted by a green bar on its icon. Fur boots needed to cross the snowy landscapes slowly degrade in the process and players must also factor in damage taken from enemies as well which means you’ll need to make sure you have enough of the proper materials to craft a new one on the spot should they break away, or for less item requirements repair the one you currently have. Food has a shelf life and will spoil after a given time. Use it in a dish or potion or it’s gone. This is a survival of the fittest.
All pickups and materials have purpose. Drops from basic enemies can be used for just about anything from creating weapons to armor and food among other things. Handy tools such as a catching net or hammer which aid Sachi in her quest are also important. I just love how the enemy variety lets you zip passed them or risk a tougher battle for pickups. Both weaker and stronger enemies can be found in the same area and without level scaling, any threat seems warranted. Enemies look like mutated versions of existing animals and sometimes cross two different types. One example is a hog/porcupine mix which also shoots its spikes from a distance. Sachi may punch away at this rolling beasts no problem. Obtaining their drops include pork good for cooking and their needles used for weapons such as the crossbow should you manage to craft one. There’s always new recipes to learn and much of it is given to you by NPC’s you’ve helped or are willing to help. In turn, completing their objectives allows more of the world to be accessible. NPC’s are typically Drears – underground slaves who are just trying to get by like everyone else – and can provide useful coin known as Drear Tokens.
There are also specific objects in the world which each contain a recipe, but need particular materials applied to reveal their secret for parts of the world they can be found in. Unless you’re doing a particular challenge run, collecting vasts amount of items is undeniably a reoccurring procedure. You may find yourself carrying all that you can with some items needing to be used or discarded. Some items can be stacked.
Should you wish to store your special items and not want to worry about it disappearing, well good news; There are different leveled chests to be found within the game, some unlocked while others needing specific keys. Basic chests need any of the wooden keys you’ve collected, be it from a jar you broke or often a difficult enemy. Chests like the ones built with iron need an iron key. Ideally, they also have more storage. They are scattered around the world, although it may be hard to remember which chest contains specific items you’re looking for if you’ve used more than a few of them. Furthermore, one of the handful of stations such as cooking pots are also around to help.
By the same design, being able to save your progress and fast travel are dotted on the map as well. Players will find terminals which will allow them to save their progress and nearby will be travel tubes. These travel tubes may also be by themselves at points. They aren’t free and cost 3 Drear Tokens. However, after the first payment they permanently remain open. You may also only travel to any other travel tubes that have been unlocked. This progressive system doesn’t feel unbalanced in any way. Generally enough Drear Tokens can be collected and designations are conveniently placed.
What’s not conveniently placed are items in your inventory. It’s easy to find everything being great in Smoke and Sacrifice, but harder to find the items themselves. Players will be accessing the inventory (pressing right on the d-pad) quite a lot and anything picked up will be placed over in the first empty spot. There is no item sorting in this large inventory screen which is a huge bummer and when you want something specific it can turn into a game of “spot the item”. Why is this maggot cheese next to my helmet and does my face smell now? Speaking of my helmet, why is it not together with the other two pieces in the set? Tabbed menus or sorting options would have been a welcomed addition and could have easily made an overall marvelous, polished, well-thought and beautiful game not make the one & only feature feel half-baked the moment I take a look at my items. There is dragging and dropping by holding R and moving an item, but it’s not helpful enough with the 56 slots that are available. Touchscreen is also a feature and definitely a welcomed addition for the Nintendo Switch, but since the slots are so tiny and your finger covers it all why bother? If Solar Sail Games is willing to patch this for the better, it would complete me.
Pressing X will allow Sachi to jump, but not for platforming. It’s mainly used for jumping out of the way from attacks. Pressing Y uses whichever item she’s currently holding. Players may also hotkey up to 8 items and selectively scroll between them on the fly using L & R. The types of items used are interesting in their own ways for different situations. Hack & Slash, Smoke and Sacrifice is not. At times it may feel like you need to find the right position to make hit detection with enemies with the perspective given, but it’s very minor. When hits do connect it feels quite nice. You may find out some things before they are explained. Checking your inventory and selecting an item will bring context menus for what you may do with them. I realized I could upgrade the equipment I had to become stronger versions of themselves. What I didn’t realize was I could fully repair my equipment’s condition just by upgrading it. Naturally, I held off on upgrading my gear until it was almost to its breaking point. Items receive a “+” symbol each time they’ve been upgraded although there is a limit.
Bringing up the crafting menu by pressing left on the d-pad will allow Sachi to see all the available recipes she’s discovered so far and craft items on the spot by holding down A for about 1 second. Not all items can be crafted without proper stations such as a workbench, for example. The world is wonderfully connected together and realized in stunning HD artwork with an oriental/gothic/steampunk atmosphere where some lands are putrid and slummy while others have a set structure. Plants harvested will grow back after a while. They can also be planted. It’s easy to see the world as clever. Insects such as fireflies can’t stand the smoke so they hide in ferns, which get the name Glow Fern because of this trapped light. When the smoke clears, the fireflies leave and the glow ferns collapse. At this point both may be collected to create a lamp to drive away the smoke when it comes in full force. And the lamp looks like the very things you’ve just collected. Pressing Up on the d-pad shows the map. Here, portions which have not been traversed are veiled by smoke. Pressing Down on the d-pad shows your journal which highlights current side-quests in progress as well as your current main quest.
The ecosystem allows for beasts to be killed at the hand of other beasts. You may find a pile of resources given to you without you actually having to work for it. The enemies all behave differently which makes tackling them head on quite fun. Elements are a decent part of Smoke and Sacrifice. The various locales all have their inhabitants needing to be dealt with using different types of substance for better results. Nothing is stopping you from taking on a much tougher enemy or group of enemies. Their drops will be worth it if you do. Smoke and Sacrifice has a gripping atmosphere and the environments can be treacherous if you step in the wrong area. The overall tone is dark and emotional, but it does come with some light humor occasionally.
Richard Wilkinson compliments the game’s beauty with his own in the form of the game’s soundtrack. There’s some moody pieces at work here setting the emotional vibe for the road Sachi has to travel. It’s soothing techno-tribal at times with synth drops and warm vocals. Other times it’s the sound of what fits the harsh environment.