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Sacred 3 hands-on - Marvel: Ultimate Alliance meets Lord of the Rings

A venerable RPG is rebuilt for Xbox 360

If you were a fan of the first two Sacred games, brace yourself for a change. Ascaron Entertainment has folded, and Deep Silver has acquired the rights to the franchise. Consider Sacred 3 a kind of series reboot. It'll still be set in the high-fantasy realm of Ancaria, but almost everything else has been stripped down and rebuilt into a more action-oriented, Xbox-friendly hack-and-slash.

If you're familiar with isometric action-RPGs like Activision's Marvel: Ultimate Alliance series, Sacred 3 won't be a hard game to grasp. This is the first Sacred game that's developed primarily for consoles, so gone are the PC-style interface and vast overworld of Sacred 2. These have been replaced by a combat-centred RPG battle system and linear level progression.

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Our look at the game begins with a beefy Safiri berserker and a scantily-clad (why is the cladding always so scanty?) Ancarian lancer dispatching large groups of goblins and oversized beetles as they work their way through a dry desert outpost area. This time around, combat has been designed much more around co-op play, with players' actions working in tandem on the battlefield.

As a basic example, the sorceress' knock-down moves are great crowd control, giving the warrior a chance to execute them with his over-sized blade. And even if you don't fill out the co-op slots with human friends, you'll always have a team of three AI allies following you around like an angry fan club.

Attacks have been streamlined as well, allowing for a greater number of moves and special abilities at the cost of only having one weapon equipped. You get to choose a small number of powers from a growing list - this prevents you from getting overpowered, and gives you a chance to experiment with different builds. It's also possible to combine moves with your co-op partners, too, if you're skilled (or lucky).

As our heroic duo move beyond the dusty canyons and villages, the camera swoops in to provide a sweeping vista of a glowing spire in the distance - a nice touch to help spotlight the game's crisp visuals. Sacred 3 is quite the dramatic, stylised looker, with impact flourishes during combat, vast terrains, and character models that really bring out the action.

Towards the end of our demo, we glimpse a Moria-esque tomb that showcases Sacred 3's lighting effects. Various objects around us are bathed in gorgeous, realistic levels of glow - while giving some idea of the vast number of enemies that can populate the screen without any noticeable framerate issues. If high-production value action RPGs are your thing, then you may want to reserve a spot in your gaming queue for Sacred 3.

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