Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Having gone from interested people’s wish lists into Early Access last week, Cashu Entertainment and Freedom Games’ Sands of Aura is an open world Soulslike making me think that maybe From Software’s Elden Ring could pull it off. Starting small before the whole world opens up on seas of sands, this is definitely one to pay attention to going forward.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for this is that the developers have been very active in order to get everything smoothed out. From the first pre-release version that I sat down to over to the version 1.02 that I’m basing this preview off of, it’s only become more stable and smoother to play on each iteration.
So what exactly is Sands of Aura? Sands of Aura is an open world action adventure Soulslike without the burden of an RPG. Currently there is no leveling up your characters, instead, you’ll have to get around certain situations by improving your gear or by “gitting gud”. Obviously wanting to take the gear approach there’s going to be more than enough customization in order to make up for not having core stats that you can improve upon.
Following along with the theme of customization, what really impressed me was Sands of Aura’s weapon creation. Instead of needing to run around for weapons and hope to find something that suits you before wasting materials on upgrades which are rare enough at the moment, you make your own. Do you want the tip of a sword or the head of an axe? What kind of body do you want for your weapon? Each of these choices will produce something different from light swords and bastard swords over to a two sided glaive. It’s neat and I appreciated having it all up front and also the developers attention to feedback as the basic weapons are now so much easier to make in order to figure out what works for you and what you actually want to upgrade.
Taking that level of customization further are the following two options. For your weapons, it’s possible to customize them with elemental runes that let you do some pretty awesome area of effect attacks, dashing effects and elemental damage for a limited amount of time. Picking up Fire, Ice and Thunder in your first dungeon, you’ll be able to find more from your enemies as you begin to explore the world so it’s possible to have multiple weapons with different elements instead of replacing the element in your current weapon which will break it. Better to have more than to have less, especially in a world that’s entered its twilight.
The other customization ability is to add runes into your armor sockets. Armor piercing, faster movement speed, more armor, higher critical rate chance, each of these has its own time and place in your adventure. As you explore you’ll find new armor sets and what I found interesting wasn’t that they didn’t give you more or less armor, instead, they gave you different bonuses while equipped such as the first set will give you two seconds of additional armor for every dodge maneuver you perform. It’s different but at least like your weapons you can also upgrade them as long as you have the materials for it.
Putting all of that aside though, Sands of Aura once you leave that first cavern that you start in and the world opens up to you is just amazing. It has people, it has real quests, and unlike most of the Souls games, the world even while falling apart under seas of sands feels alive. Leaving your island for adventure and setting sail, you aren’t stuck going to one place, you can go wherever from the top of a belfry tower for a mid boss fight where you can hire an NPC to help down into some unknown graves where it’s super dark and you can die by simply stepping off the boardwalk into poison. Other places look like fortresses with giant staircases with loads of enemies just waiting and the thrill of seeing them as you sail by is enough to make you want to stop to see if you can’t indeed take them on and win.
It’s a great design and it only continues to offer up more as the developers incorporate feedback. If I had to list complaints, there would be two. The first would be that any time that you walk into a new space, the camera is facing your face instead of behind you in order to see forward. You constantly have to turn the camera around each and every time. The other would be that while combat feels like it has impact, there are moments where you’ll be hitting an enemy and they’ll be flinching but then they swing and hit you and there’s nothing you can do about it as you were swinging while they were flinching. If an enemy is in stun lock, they shouldn’t be able to hit back without some indication.
Finally, I’m just looking forward to seeing where Sands of Aura goes from where it currently is as I’m certain that it’s going to be a hell of a ride with its open world approach to the Soulslike formula without relying on RPG like mechanics in order to make it work.Score: N/A