What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Salt and Sanctuary: My return to the Salt Isle (seriously, what’s the island called? I’ve never found name for it.) has gone on longer than expected. There’s been a wisdom build (read: Faith Build) and I’m doing a dedicated poison build right now and that’s a whole lot of fun. For all the bits of jank and rough edges the game has, Salt and Sanctuary remains an excellent game with lots of replayability. And it’s the best 2D Soulslike in town. Blasphemous will provide competition on that front as will Eitr (well, assuming it arrives at some point) but right now, if you want a 2D soulslike Salt and Sanctuary is where it’s at.

There is one thing that pleases me immeasurably about this game. The game has a class of weapons called Reapers (read: Scythes) and like all weapons, these have a riposte animation following a parry. Now, I love Dark Souls III, but it had possibly the dumbest riposte animation for the scythe. It was the same as a sword and I’m pretty sue that you cannot jam a scythe headfirst through someone’s gut. But Salt and Sanctuary actually see’s the player character use the blade end of the weapon to run through someone and it looks glorious. Feels glorious too.

The two builds I mentioned in the introduction. Let’s talk about them. First the Wisdom build. Being my first dedicated foray into miracles and things of a non-melee nature, I was a little nervous going in, but it went very well. The miracles range from active damage prayers to passive ones. The passive ones I got a real kick out of. Magic defence and physical defence buffs saved me from so much damage and meant I could align stats elsewhere as the prayers covered up any defences in the armour department. I mean, I could survive a spell barrage from the Witch of the Lake. That’s outstanding. What was a pleasant surprise where the weapon buffs. Blessed Weapon, and its bigger brother Divine Blessed Weapon apply holy damage to a weapon. A lot of the weapons that have inbuilt holy damage are dexterity-based weapons and as such lack strike damage, a common problem with dex weapons. The buffs however almost completely circumnavigated that problem. Enemies and bosses that previously where difficult on a dex build had that difficulty removed by the sheer murder power of religion. Still, the last boss was a struggle because it has both slash and elemental resistances. So, after 3 failed attempts, I did it by gun alone. Pretty fun.

One thing to note with casting and prayers. It permanently takes away some stamina until you rest again. So, bring along some fatigue restorers and rings to alleviate that. But that aside, the Wisdom build is great fun to use.

The poison build is the build I’m most proud of in all my eight Salt and Sanctuary play throughs. This is as well as sticking to a set of weapons I also roleplayed a character, that being a forest hunter. This meant that I could only wear armour and carry weapons that are found in the forest areas of the game. Obviously this excepted the beginning of the game where that’s not possible but from the Watching Woods onwards that’s what I did. I joined the Stone Roots creed, purchased the Raptor Armour (which I wore until the very end). I transmuted the Soldiers Spear into the Trident by using the Mad Alchemist’s Ear and used that up until I killed the Stench Most Foul to make the Adder Fang. That was backed up by the Eviscerater (damn daggers are awesome) and the Pessklaw. The Adder Fang and the Eviscerater did most of the work, and I even dabbled in a bit of magic to get some poison buffs. And I remained a forest hunter through and through, and that felt great.

On the mechanical end, compared to most builds the poison build is a different beast. I wasn’t doing massive amounts of damage. Well, pure damage at least. The damage comes from the toxins being inflicted. There’s something incredibly satisfying about envenoming a boss and wandering over to the over side of the area at it tries to chase you down as the poisons kill it. Only do that near the end of the fight though. Otherwise stay aggressive and keep up the envenoming process. But once the health is low enough you can reliably do the cool guys don’t look at explosions bit. Except it’s a boss coming a part under the strains of poison.

Jamestown+: Me and shmups/bullet hells share a fractured relationship. I’ve always liked the look of them, tried to play them, the frustration kicks in and I leave the genre alone for a good while. Sure, I’ve played things like Enter the Gungeon but I don’t think that’s classed as a dedicated shmup or bullet hell. However, in the latest PS4 sale (games under £4 – mighty fine deals) there sat Jamestown+. For £2.49, why not? If I didn’t like it then it’s nothing lost. And if I did fall for the game then that’s a bonus.

Count me as fallen for. What was a boon is how Jamestown+ approaches difficulty. To start with there’s an optional tutorial which does a bang up job of explaining how the game works. Everything’s broken down into easily understandable sections so I knew what was going on before I headed into the game proper. And the fact the tutorial is optional means that experienced people in the genre won’t have to sit through it. A win on both counts.

Secondly, the game has a story mode with five missions. However, the last two are locked away until the earlier missions are completed at higher difficulties. This is something I love. You can play the first three levels are the base difficulty (normal) to get your feet wet and then escalate the difficulty once you feel comfortable. Not only does this give me something to work towards, it also eases me into a genre that I’ve always struggled with. I started with the base difficultly and I went onto levels on the legendary setting, and while I used continues where I didn’t before I am made my way through the levels and completed them. That felt pretty damn great. What also helped is the clean pixel art so I can always tell what’s going to hurt me and what isn’t. And the game is just smooth as butter to play. So damn responsive, so that when anything does go wrong it’s always on me. I’ve missed a projectile. I’ve missed a scoring opportunity. That’s something to be loved in a game.

I felt this most strongly in the final story mission. Up until this point I had struggles here and there but nothing major. But final mission felt like the game was baring its teeth. Game over screens where happening. I was missing projectiles. I was caught unawares by new spread patterns. But when frustration would normally take me I went back to my From Software experience. I slowed it all down and broke the level down. Get to this point without taking a hit. Avoid that specific flight of ships. Nail that spawn point before it gets out of hand. I can take my time on this section, don’t rush. Get through this boss phase without a hit, I’ll need them later. And attempt after attempt I put all of that together, beat the final bosses and completed my first bullet hell/shmup. It all left me feeling happy and satisfied.

In addition to the story mode there’s a challenge mode. And there’s a boat load of challenges to get through. They are a neat way of applying skills learned, and upon completion the bonuses are bigger as well. Bonuses are earned during the story mode as well and are used to buy new ships, new shot patterns and challenges and the like. Bonuses are bigger depending on things like no hits taken, no continues used and such. But you still get rewards for basic completions, so they are just extra incentives to do better.

The story is something I dig. A lot. It isn’t the most complicated story. It isn’t the most in depth story, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s told in a charming, almost serialised way like old Westerns which is great. And the setting is wonderful. It’s 1619, and somehow Spain and Britain are fighting over Mars. In full period get up. With steam punk machines. And the Martians are involved. A man’s trying to clear his name in the midst of this. Just roll with it. It’s a banger.

I’ll talk a bit about the scoring system. Mainly because I’m still not great at this game and shmups/bullet hells in general but if Jamestown+ opens the door to this genre for me and I gain more skill then I could talk about it in more detail. On a basic level, you collect enough gold and that gives you access to a shield. Deploying the shield (vaunting) enables a scoring multiplier that also increases your firepower and gold drop rate. Providing you don’t die between shield drops you reap the score multiplier. Again, that risk reward comes into effect and pushes one into attempting riskier plays to get the extra money.

Regardless of that, for the first time I’m enjoying a shump/bullet hell, I’m looking forward to playing a shump/bullet hell and I’m finally getting why people enjoy it so much. Hell, I’m still playing the game, on the challenges and playing the main levels on higher difficulties (Divine man, jesus). That alone has been a massive achievement for Jamestown+. It’s also a great game, so there’s credit on two fronts.

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