I was recently given the opportunity to meet up with Mario Kroll, Director of PR with cdv USA, for a hands-on demo of the upcoming Sacred 2. I played Sacred when it came out, and was amused at its free-roaming action-role-playing-game formula. It was like Diablo, but bigger in scope and idea, with a much bigger world and a whole lot more to do. It also had horses to ride which was pretty neat back then. "I can kill things from horseback?" I asked myself, "That is totally boss! Or…rad! Or...bingo?" I'm not really sure how I spoke back then.

When Sacred 2 was announced, my ears perked up at the prospect of a sequel to what some called a Diablo-killer. Sure, the first one was kind of buggy, and felt a little unfinished in areas, but it had some serious promise; promise that seems to have carried over into its sequel. And if what I've seen so far is any indication, this promise will be fulfilled. Hopefully, in any case.

Sacred 2: Fallen Angel actually takes place two thousand years before the events in the first Sacred. The world of Ancaria is still somewhat young, and the High Elves still rule. The humans are treated like underlings behind a giant wall, and all sorts of evil runs around in the land. There's also a civil war brewing between two factions of High Elves: one faction wishes to use the energy to keep order and peace in the world, and the other wishes to kill everybody else, plain and simple.

This is the world you're thrust into. You get to choose between six unique characters to play through the storyline. In addition to your character, you pick whether or not you're on the light or dark side (good or evil), and what deity you worship. This deity will actually grant you certain powers depending on your choice, as well as subquests to follow if you so choose. The light/dark choice will affect the main campaign, and though the general plot will still be followed no matter what, your character's actions and motivations will change.

As for the characters, the one I played with the most (because it's the most complete) is the Shadow Warrior, a near-undead man brought back from the dead, but with a powerful-enough will to avoid becoming a mindless undead creature. His character focuses around melee combat, but he also has control of some undead. Summoning the corpses of your foes as your minions is excellent. The High Elf character is more magic-oriented, with three magical disciplines, but also has some melee at her disposal. The Dryad is the typical ranged character, using a lot of those types of weapons, but also has the ability to command nature. Probably the most unique character in the game, however, is the Temple Guardian. This Anubis-lookalike is part creature, part machine, running off of the energy of the land. He has a lot of skills at his disposal.

These four characters can be taken on either the dark or the light path. The two remaining characters, however, are locked in their alignment for obvious reasons: the Seraphim is an ancient warrior, charged with protecting the world and keeping the balance. The other side of the spectrum, the Inquisitor, is everything she is not. He is as dark as dark can get, and his abilities and 'lovely' personality reflect this.

The characters, as far as I experienced them, have obviously benefited from a lot of forethought. Sacred 2 eschews the typical 'ranged-melee-magic' triplets of most action-RPGs, and instead has made unique characters, each with a personality and back story to match. I recall one encounter I had as the Shadow Warrior: as I cut a swath through a group of kobolds, I heard the gruff voice of the Warrior cry something out, almost singing in German. Mario laughed. I asked him what my personification of death had uttered, and he replied "Ten little, ten little, ten little kobolds…"

The ability system is also something of an anomaly, at least for people who've played hack-and-slashers like this before. The oddity is this: you start out with all of your abilities unlocked already. There are essentially no level requirements. As you level up, you gain skill points that you can attribute to any of your abilities or raise things such as weaponry skills and defensive abilities. While some might raise a questioning eyebrow regarding this choice, I for one found promise within it.

The ability to use all of the abilities without investing any skill in them means not having to worry about what kind of 'build' I should have, and feeling like I've wasted skill points after spending them. There's nothing quite as demoralizing as saving up skill points to spend them in "Armageddon Explosive-tacular" only to find out that it's a somewhat-large burst of fire. The ability system also brings in a lot of customizability to your character, and the question of if you want to specialize your skills and grow powerful in particular areas or to generalize and have a bevy of abilities at your control is yours to answer. And with fifteen abilities per character, there're a lot of choices to make.

One of the alluring aspects of the game that was likely the most apparent thing of the alpha build I viewed was the engine and its technical abilities. The world is massive, and takes up hundreds of square kilometres of space. Mario mentioned that if one was to start from the top-left corner of the map and walk in a straight line to the bottom-right corner, it would take about six hours. That's large. Often the issue with a map that big is that there's a lot of empty space, but considering all the maps segments have been crafted manually, it's hard to imagine that happening.

Down the roads I walked, there was always something catching my eye. Whether it's a babbling river, a run-down house, or a few monsters that wanted my blood, I was impressed at the variety of everything around me. The game's great ability to convey ambience and atmosphere (helped by the new engine) made this easier, and didn't feel like you were just running through cookie-cutter areas that were all the same. The stark contrast between the bright, howling desert and the foggy, muffled marshes really emphasized this.

Walking around is seamless and completely without visible loading; though entering the dungeons meant seeing a fade-out and fade-in (which took less than a second, I might add), I was told that the goal was to have that fade-out removed entirely and make entering the dungeons as seamless as the rest of the world.

There's a lot of little things that really make the new engine shine, such as the way NPCs go about their daily business or combat each other if they're on opposing sides, and the great level of detail on armor, characters, and the setting. There's also the option to mount a variety of creatures: while there are general mounts that any character can ride on, each character has a unique mount that they can find and use. Personally I'm looking forward to riding the Inquisitor's spider. Spider-riding has been proven to be 3.53 times better than horse riding.

In terms of game modes, Sacred 2 is definitely centered on multiplayer gaming. Though you can play alone, playing with friends is easy. Drop-in co-op is available, both on the consoles and on the PC, allowing you to jump in the game dynamically with a friend without him/her having to start a new one. There's the campaign mode with support for up to four players, a 'free' mode that has none of that silly story nonsense and can support up to sixteen players (depending on the host system), and a player-versus-player mode as well.

The game is set to be released on the PC and on the Xbox 360 simultaneously. So far, it's shaping up to be a pretty impressive title. With the engine looking complete in this build, it's just a matter of filling it with content, like the over-six-hundred quests it's said to have. All I know is that when it comes out this September for the PC and Xbox 360, I am going to ride a giant spider if it kills me.