Smoke and Sacrifice literally opens with a scene involving child sacrifice. Shocking opening to a review right? Well, that’s exactly how I felt starting the game, sacrificing your poor baby Lio to the Sun Tree from the off. I had questions, I still have questions, but it was one of the more interesting opening sequences to a game I’ve played in a while! Okay, I did play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey recently so that sets the bar pretty low, but Smoke and Sacrifice is actually you know… good.
The game starts off on a very strong note and it maintains it from there. It’s weird and quirky with some serious notes to it but also some very jokey overtones which come together into a really neat little package. The comedy elements aren’t side-splitting but more of an exaggerated exhale through your nose, like a gentle tickle of the funny bone. Then you deal with slavery and oppressed people forced to work in toxic environments for their abusive overlords.
Smoke and Sacrifice is an interesting title for a number of reasons, it’s opening scene is but one of them. Set in a world where “night time” sees a mysterious noxious smoke appear that permeates everything around you, kept at bay by lanterns or mysterious ancient Widgets and light. This smoke eventually turns those unprotected into creatures called Smoke Ghosts, mindless and malevolent entities that attack the player on sight.
What exactly this smoke remains unclear to me but it’s potentially a nod towards the declining real-world environment. Runaway greenhouse gas emissions turning our air into a toxic miasma moment by moment thanks to our incessant industrial needs and greed… or it could just be an interesting gameplay mechanic to keep the player on their toes while they navigate the world.
While the threat of this smoke is ever present, it’s not actually all that threatening. You learn the recipe to build lanterns pretty sharpish and due to their simplicity you’re either always carrying one or holding the necessary items to craft one. Then there are an abundant amount of cage-flowers and lantern flies around, when a fly flies next to a cage flower it becomes trapped and acts as a natural lantern until the end of the smoke cycle. Hanging around these will protect you from the smoke but leaves you highly vulnerable to enemies roaming the area.
This brings us to one of the main issues with the game: Combat. It’s not that the combat is difficult or challenging, it’s actually rather simple and easy… it is however really quite clunky. The attack combos are simple and easy, but the controls can feel a little unresponsive and dodging is often not really worth it. You either dodge too far away and by the time you get back to your target it’s winding up another attack or you don’t dodge far enough and get smacked upside the head.
That and it seems like you can easily just walk away from most attacks and still avoid them with plenty of time and breathing space. Naturally, this is a more high-risk game to play when fighting bosses but it’s still pretty doable and sustainable.
Sachi is given a magic amulet early on in the game that can store and harness light, protecting you from smoke or being used to generate a hard-light shield, blocking attacks and reflecting projectiles. The issue is that this shield takes a while to come up and block an attack, so you can’t use it for split second saves.
Admittedly all of the enemies attacks are very telegraphed and easy to spot, it’s just not worth expending the light to block it in most cases. I rarely found cause to utilise the light bar for anything more than a brief moment of protection while switching lantern or equipping one at the start of a smoke-night.
Combat overall is rather disappointing but, the fighting mechanics not the centre piece of Smoke and Sacrifice.
Smoke and Sacrifice is built around a crafting/survival system that sees you crafting your own weapons, gear and restorative items for use. These weapons eventually break and that makes you need to build new ones. Upgrading them makes them last longer but requires fixative powders or other items to keep them in top form.
Now, this was an annoyance in Breath of the Wild because you always seemed to burn through your equipment and then have to spend ages running around grabbing new gear before continuing to explore a dungeon or whatever. In Smoke and Sanctuary, this is much less of a concern as you can just craft a new weapon then and there and the game pauses while you’re in a menu anyway so it really isn’t a problem.
The problem is that it just feels odd. I don’t like having to worry about the durability of my weapons and whether or not I need to repair it before I finish a fight. Fixative powders and Resin Glues are quite easy to craft so it’s not a huge concern but it’s still a niggling thing in the back of your head. In a combat system that already feels clunky, the last thing you need is to break the flow by making me open a menu to repair my club mid-fight.
Smoke and Sacrifice as a whole is a lot of fun. I found most of my enjoyment came from running around the different environments and exploring. The challenges of survival were enough to be just that, challenging, but not overly taxing. I spent hours just running around mashing up monsters and collecting resources.
Smoke and Sacrifice is by no means a lengthy play, but if you’re a bit of a completionist like myself, then you’ll easily get lost roaming areas to uncover all the map and gather all the resources you can to make all the new recipes and equipment you find. I often found myself thinking “Just a couple more minutes” and being sat there an hour later.
Visually Smoke and Sacrifice strikes as a little odd at first, but once you leave the overworld and are exposed to the noxious smoke-filled underworld it grows on you. The effects are nice and the art style is interesting. Occasionally there will be moments when enemies get stuck inside buildings or structures or they don’t fade out quite right as you walk behind them. This is, however, a minor issue compared to how well done the rest of the effects and environment designs are done.
Smoke and Sacrifice is by no means perfect. It has flaws and while they might be glaring hang-ups for some, they’re mildly inconvenient for others. All in all, though, it’s a very charming little title with an intriguing and well-written storyline, coupled with addictive gameplay and nicely detailed environments and design. While it may not be winning any awards it’s certainly a title worth exploring on a quiet weekend.