When the original Sacred came out, years ago, the term "Diablo Clone" was bandied around a lot. To be fair, back then any top-down hack-and-slash RPG was called a Diablo clone. Sacred did a lot of things differently though, adding a large world to explore at your leisure, a complete lack of a skill tree, and a large variety of classes. It was also riddled with bugs and other problems that made it a minor chore to play at times. So now Sacred 2 has been released, and I'll say this much: this is about as far removed from a Diablo look-alike as you can get.

The game begins with an over-the-top cutscene, complete with fantasy metal rock and guitar riffs, just so that you know it won't take itself seriously. After that you're free to pick your character (and god), name him or her, and get started in the world. The character selection of Sacred 2 is varied, to say the least.

There are the Seraphim, a guardian race of amazon-like women; the Dryads, ladies of the land; High-Elves, females that live and breath magic; the Shadow Warrior, an undead warrior from beyond the grave; the half-robot Temple Guardians; and finally the insidious Inquisitor. Six characters to choose from in total, and with the exception of the Seraphim (good) and the Inquisitor (evil), each character can choose a light or dark god to follow. There's a good deal of variation in their abilities, and each character gets different quests, depending on what alignment they follow, so there's a great deal of replay value.

Not that there's too much need for replay value in a title this large. The world of Ancaria is massive, filled with deserts, mountains, towns, quests, and dungeons to explore. More importantly, the world is pre-made and not randomly generated, so while this limits replay value a little it does mean the world is a lot more interesting to walk through. In addition, everything (aside from dungeons) is seamless and is pre-made, so there're no loading screens to speak of between areas, even towns. There are issues with this, however, and there are times when the game stutters while it loads a new area. It's not deal-breaking, but it's a nuisance that I could've done without.

The world is large, however, and even playing for over a dozen hours, I zoomed out on the map screen to find that I'd only discovered a tiny portion of it. There are ways of getting around without pounding your boots so much such as portals and, like the first game, mounts. In Sacred 2 there is also the addition of unique mounts for each of the characters like the Seraphim's tiger or the Temple Guardians monowheel, a large mechanical gyro-stabilized wheel. Each of these special mounts can also be equipped for battle and upgraded. Pretty interesting creatures. However, the quests don't tend to be.

Each quest, when explained to you, gives a short summary first before going into detail. This means that you'll see "Rescue my girl from the bandits!" and then the whole story of how a little girl got kidnapped by bandits. More often than not, I find myself just clicking the 'accept' button without reading the description. They tend to be wordy, pointless, and it's hard to get into any of the descriptions when the motivations of the random NPCs are so inconsequential. The world is large, but it's not terribly deep, and quests are more or less treated than sources of experience than what they would be in a more complex RPG: a way to do something for someone. Of course, this is a hack-and-slash, which is why the point is mostly inconsequential. The genre has a way of disassociating yourself from the world it presents, but Sacred 2 does little to try the opposite. Just don't go expecting an involved character.

Each character has a series of unique abilities that they can learn by finding runes around the world. Each extra rune you use can increase the power of these abilities. You'll also find runes for other character abilities, and if you don't feel like giving these away to those you're playing with (more on that later), you can trade them in with a rune master along with a bit of cash to get a rune of your choosing. Your abilities are not built around any sort of magic points system, but instead individual cooldowns, so you need to wait a while between using each ability in order to use them again. In addition, using buffs is completely separate from others: while 'attacking' abilities are placed in a series of quickslots, buffs are placed separately, in the corner of the screen. When you use them they stay active permanently until you deactivate them, but with the trade off that other abilities take longer to cooldown. It's a system of balances that works really well, since it means you don't need to worry about carrying around a bag full of magic potions, and can concentrate instead of beating other things senseless.

Each character also has traits that they can learn when they level up. At first, you can only learn one selected from a selection of four different groups, but as your power grows you can learn more traits, levelling them up as you go along. Put enough points into a certain group and you'll unlock a second tier of them, more for you to learn. As you learn specific traits you're also able to get unlock augments for your abilities, adding to them special effects unique to each. There's a wide array of customizability available for each character to choose from, focussing on various weapons, defensive capabilities, abilities, and so forth. Some traits will also determine what level you can raise your abilities to before you start getting penalties (such as instead of raising an ability to level 5, it will be raised to level 4.8).

Combat is simple: left click to attack with a weapon, right click to use an ability. As you level up, more and more quickslots become available for weapons and abilities. These are mostly needless, especially for weapons. Though there are different damage types, they aren't actually that useful. Yes, with some ice damage you may be able to take down a fire demon in ten hits instead of fifteen, but does it really matter?

All these damage types do is just add to the already confusing mess of various attributes for each weapon has. It can be a bit of a turn off having to decide between three different weapons, each with the same damage output but with attributes ranging from extra points in abilities, attribute points, damage types, trait points, bonuses to your ability regeneration time, and so forth. There's actually a button to press to bring up all your bonuses from equipment or abilities, and the list is just staggering (not in the good way) after playing for a dozen hours or so.

Anyone worth their video-game-playing salt knows that when it comes to Sacred 2's genre, online play is key. And thankfully, it's delivered. Whether you want to play the online campaign - different from the typical campaign and lacking in character-specific quests - with a new character on the closed net, which gives you access to Ascaron's servers, or play with your single-player character in the open net or local-area play, you're welcome to. The service is good with little lag, though the servers are pretty empty. At its peak, I've noticed a couple dozen people at most in the closed net.

Sacred 2 improves upon its precursor in many ways. While some elements of it still need work, much of the game is a good example of the evolution of the hack-and-slash game. An open world, a myriad of quests, enough loot to satisfy anyone, and of course some stable online play certainly adds to the appeal. Some bugs in the code have been reported (though many patched out), and other problems such as the over-complexity of stats and attributes do mar the game's gameplay. In the end, the game's not perfect, but it is a step for the genre in the right direction.