Sands of Salzaar Review – Settle In For A Long One
In recent years, I’ve come around to the RPG genre that sees you exploring expansive worlds and diving into character progression. It started with JRPGs before bleeding over into the tactical strategy and empire-building genres, all of which can become major time sinks if you allow them to be. My most recent playthrough of Sands of Salzaar certainly possessed all of those same characteristics in the right ways.
No doubt about it: Sands of Salzaar is massive. If you’re looking for a game that will keep you busy for hours upon hours, developer Han-Squirrel Studio has you completely covered. From the huge world to be explored to its character progression and legacy building systems, Sands of Salzaar doesn’t necessarily break the mold, but it manages to fit a certain niche for a very specific type of player.
Sands of Salzaar drops you into a war-torn land full of various parties and factions. You take on the role of a character who possesses different special abilities and characteristics depending on your class, which ranges from sultan to knight errant to shaman and everything in between. You’re able to customize the look of your character, as well as choose some of their starting perks and special abilities. The perks and skills list itself is wide-ranging and in-depth, immediately giving you a look at just how expansive Sands of Salzaar is.
Once you finally settle on your character, you’re sent off on your adventure. However, you’re not exactly given much direction as to where to go or what to do. I feel like this is a bit of a make-or-break factor for many players. Some may seize the opportunity to really make the game their own, venturing off into the unknown and creating their own adventure. Others may be too overwhelmed with this type of freedom, either paralyzing them in their tracks or getting frustrated by a lack of direction. I chose to take the former path, diving into my Spirit Witch character who, by nature, was a bit of a lone wolf driven by her own ambition – a style of play that I often prefer in these types of games.
As I’ve alluded to, there is a lot to take in throughout the expansive world. Meeting and aiding strangers. Battling bandits, monsters, and bosses. Questing. Recruiting troops and waging war on opposing factions. It’s all here. Combat feels a bit uninspired in the early stages of the game – similar to the early levels that you may experience in an MMO – but eventually, you’re able to command entire armies, which can be as fun and engaging as it is chaotic. Thankfully, the game allows you to slow down or speed up time to allow you to make the most of each battle, encounter, or time spent traveling. I can get flustered easily in the heat of major battles, so I appreciated the ability to make more calculated moves.
When not engaging in combat, I spent a lot of my time exploring the world and increasing my character’s skills, reputation, and alliances. Despite being more of a lone wolf, I actually enjoyed recruiting party members and growing my influence. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of dialogue to take in, which is mostly well done, especially considering that the game was initially developed in Chinese before eventually being translated into English for the full release. Sometimes, it felt like my responses (selected from a list of choices) didn’t really have a major impact on the outcome of the conversation, but I never felt like that was a bad thing. (Can’t please everyone, right?)
I appreciate the hand-drawn style of Sands of Salzaar, as well as the soundtrack. It felt similar to Treasures of the Aegean in its presentation, which makes it unique, standing out from other games in a crowded genre. It’s clear that Han-Squirrel Studio has put a lot of care into Sands of Salzaar, with plenty of plans and updates in store throughout the game’s first year to make it better.
Ultimately, I think that Sands of Salzaar is a game that really only appeals to players who are ready and willing to commit themselves to double (and maybe even triple) digits of hours in the game. With its massive world and various character classes, there are ample opportunities to replay the game without ever having the same experience twice. As long as you’re fine exploring the world on your own, you’ll likely find plenty to enjoy about Sands of Salzaar.