Even though the game was only available in Chinese, it sold more than 50,000 copies in just a few short days on Steam. The strategy simulation of Mount and Blade is incorporated into an ancient Chinese setting with mythological creatures, rare artifacts and cackling wizards. Instead of learning a complex combat system that requires precise timing and sword swings, and wearing only squirrel pelts as armor, I am a badass mage who commands an army of feralwolves and summoned demonics. Although it’s quite cool, Sands of Salzaar can be frustrating and janky. It was released in Early Access in January which feels like a decade ago. After a brief tutorial, I was thrown headfirst into an open-world sandbox. There are many characters that I can either befriend or challenge, as well as tribes going to war, merchant caravans passing bandit ambushes. After a few hours of flailing and kicking around, I began to feel more comfortable and started to make some progress. It’s gratifying to be able to create my own niche, whether I’m a merchant, warlord or lonely swordsman.
Sands of Salzaar doesn’t look exactly the same as its predecessor. In a way that reminds me of Heroes of Might and Magic 3, the fantasy elements are seamlessly integrated into the game. The world is not largely empty. Instead, it’s bursting with resources to collect, mini-dungeons that can be explored, and strangers to make friends. You’ll find it much more lively than Calradia’s green hills, especially if your exploration takes you into the flaming deserts where Ifrit live, a race that is trying to eradicate all humankind. There’s also a greater emphasis on writing stories. There are many bespoke quests I find that are more engaging than the bandit hunting I am usually limited to during Mount and Blade games. Although the English translation isn’t very good and the presentation overall is a bit janky, there’s still a lot to it. It turned out that the guy who led the cult was actually the one I had been looking for. Surprise, surprise. The dialogue can be jarringly hamfisted or borderline unintelligible in those moments. But there is also an odd charm about it that I find charming. Sands of Salzaar seems to be at least
I’m willing to overlook the poor English translation, as it’s fun to just run around and take on quests. The same addictive loop that is found in great strategy sims is still alive and well. Even though some aspects like the need to repair armor or weapons are irritating, I enjoy my slow climb from nobody to a renowned hero.
It would have been more thrilling if the combat was more intense. Sands of Salzaar battles are not in first- or third-person. They feel more like an action RPG, Diablo 3. Although it doesn’t create the same tension as Mount and Blade, it’s still fun to be able to dive into enemies and destroy them with spells. Each character class has its own skill tree and ability that can be activated MMO-style. While it’s enjoyable for a while, I miss the variety in what I can do and how my fellow combatants fight. Although there are some options to form formations and command individual squads, it feels a bit pointless when chaos is breaking out in real-time. It’s far more efficient to use my own skills and let my troops distract the enemy rather than trying to position them cleverly, especially when the battlefields are often just open, featureless areas.
However, sieges can be quite harrowing. Sieges are not about fighting to the death, but capturing strategic areas on the map one by one while repelling waves of enemies is what you do. As long as your resources are sufficient to capture objectives, any member of your squad that dies will respawn shortly afterwards. The whole thing is a mess. The whole thing is a mess. Enemy units often appear right on top me when I’m half done with capturing points. Once you know the attack pattern for reinforcements, it’s very easy to sweep across the map. However, during one fight, I couldn’t even find a way I could trigger a failure condition. Although I didn’t have reinforcements, the enemy refused to take my last camp. If I tried to kill myself, I would respawn just seconds later. I had no other choice but to quit and load an old save. Although frustrations like this don’t ruin the fun, I knew I had to quit and load an old save.
It is close to being something extraordinary. These are the kinds of kinks that you would expect to find in an Early Access game, so I am optimistic about how Sands of Salzaar can evolve. If you are a Mount and Blade fan, you will probably still have a great time. Mount and Blade fans wouldn’t be as passionate if they were irritated by jank.