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Savage: Battle for Newerth

Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: S2 Games
Media: CD/1
Players: 4 - 64
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

Savage: The Battle for Newerth isn't a super-power when it comes to graphics, but it looks good. The game won't exactly push your video card to it's absolute limits, but at the same time it looks like the artists spent a little more than, I don't know... two and a half hours on the game. I really liked the distinct look each race sported. Humans have a real earthly look to them that you normally don't see in games and the beasts don't follow the typical 'cat-person' stereotype. Although the game does have the typical bare-chested, sword-slashing barbarian type characters, it also has a few more interesting designs like the decidedly Native American looking trooper you begin the game as. Each character has armor and weapon additions you can gain over the course of a match help to give them that certain little 'kick'. World designs have a lush, organic feel that is really enjoyable. Little things like waterfalls, snow flurries and long forgotten towers and structures (which make for great sniping spots) add to the game's mythos. Although I have heard a few players complain about the enclosed, maze-like feeling of the level designs, I liked them and thought they helped to promote team strategies (such as hiding a group behind a corner and ambushing unsuspecting enemies). Savage does have a few faults. The animation is good, but not great. All of the warriors have one attack animation that comprises nearly every action they perform. Special effects are also one of Savage's weak points. By now, many gamers are accustomed to big, flashy magic effects. Savage does the exact opposite and shows little more than colored flashes to indicate some sort of magic is being used. Where the game does feature effects, they are sometimes overdone -- such has the blinding glare featured in some maps.

In the audio department, Savage does all the right things at all the right times. Even small things, like the swing of a sword, feel bigger for some reason. One of my particular favorites was the 'singing swish' swords would make as your warrior swung it. Sound also helps to set a mood to the game's already neat looking environments by including nice touches like rustling leaves as you travel to your enemies keep. The soundtrack is great and fits well with the game's feel.


Gameplay:

When you think online gaming, two genres immediately spring to mind - First-Person Shooters and Real-Time Strategy games. RTSs usually cater to the player who has more time to spend playing (unless of course they're the speed-rush type player), while FPSs usual lend themselves to a quick game or two (unless they are a camper). When you look at these two distinctively different playing styles, it's hard to really see them going together. But, where there's a will, there's a way -- and the guys at S2 Games have definitely found a way with Savage: The Battle for Newerth, the world's first Real Time Strategy Shooter.

Yeah... you heard me right -- a Real Time Strategy Shooter...

Yeah, I scratched my head a little at first when I heard about the game during my interview with the S2 Games team at E3 way back in 2002, but the idea looked like it could work then and it definitely works now. This isn't to say it doesn't have a few problems, but any adventurer should expect some rough terrain when first trying out a new path. Before going any further, it's important to point out that Savage is an online only game. The entire game is built around 64-person team-based combat. There's no single-player campaign mode, nor are there offline bots. So if you are not much into the online stuff or have a really slow connection, this isn't the game for you.

Savage is based in the land of Newerth and tells the story of a struggle between humans and beasts. There was a time when humans were the only intelligent creatures on the planet, and leeched off the land's abundant resources. They became the ones who held all of the power and enslaved the 'lesser' beasts. Soon, the leader of the humans, a man named Jaraziah, rekindled the arts of science and war and declared the human's outright dominance over everything. Over time, the beasts began to evolve, and gained intelligence comparable to that of the humans. One night, Jaraziah's sister, Ophelia, witnessed the brutal murder of a beast at the hands of humans and fled. Ten years later, rumors of a 'beast queen' began to circulate amongst the humans. These rumors also carried whispers that the beasts were grouping together and had developed their own technologies. The humans saw these rumors as a threat to their dominance and took them as a declaration of war against the beasts. Where the battle goes from here is up to you...

After logging in to Savage and choosing a game, you choose whether to play as the humans or the beasts. After choosing a team, one member will become the team's commander while the others play as soldiers. When playing as the commander, players experience an RTS instead of an FPS. You can research and build structures, as well as develop new weapons for your team, build peons and direct the other players around the map. The commander can also promote players as well as take gold requests from players so they can buy new equipment. Those who choose to play in the FPS mode (which is technically more of a third-person mode unless you're using ranged weapons) will be able to choose their troop type and weapons and carry out all the duties of a foot soldier. Aside from fighting other people, they can also help to scout out and mine resources and help construct buildings. As FPS players kill members of the opposing team (as well as animals), they will earn gold, which allows them to buy new weapons either from their stronghold or before they respawn.

Savage is based around teamwork, similar to games like Battlefield 1942 or, on a smaller scale, SOCOM: U.S Navy SEALS. Players develop strategies within their ranks and coordinate battle tactics. This is not a game where a 'me against the world' mentality (which is common in online games) would work. Although players do have the ability to completely disregard their team and just, as someone on my team so eloquently put it '...just kill s--t', it pays to go with your team. Aside from the obvious leaps up the tech tree a good commander can eventually access (provided he has both the time and resources), characters can also level up during the match for following orders and helping to mine/build. The commander may even choose to bestow your character with armor upgrades, or may give you better weapons if you can't afford to buy them on your own. The moral of the story is that good things come to those who help the team, which has a direct result on how hard the game is.


Difficulty:

Judging a game that is completely based around other humans is hard. The difficulty of each match is determined both by the amount of teamwork displayed by your group and the competency of your commander. This turns out to be one of Savage: The Battle for Newerth's biggest flaws -- although it's nothing you can blame the developers for. Playing with a group of knuckleheads can ruin a game. Thankfully, once you're in a game, you're not completely locked into it, so there is a chance to escape. This is a problem that gets every online game though, and although you can't just solve it with a patch, it's an easy fix -- play more games. As you play more and more games you'll meet new people and learn who knows what they're doing and who walks into walls (then backs up and does it again). Although the game is still in relative infancy, teams are already starting to pop-up. This is not a game you can play for two and a half-hours and expect to totally master. You have to play and - gasp! - interact with people in order to not only have fun, but actually be successful.

Game Mechanics:

Savage: The Battle for Newerth is a very easy game to get into regardless of which role you choose to fill. When playing as the commander, the interface gives you a scaleable, top-down view of the action. The menus are very easy to navigate and allow you to quickly respond to what's going on in the game. Giving out orders to troops is also easy, and can be done in a few ways. Your entire team can be contacted via the Team Chat window or by individual messages. Clicking on a troop causes him to glow, letting that character know that you need him to do something. Clicking on an area will result in a boomy voice to tell him to 'Move here', which is indicated by a glowing green column. Playing as the troop in the FPS mode is just as easy. The old FPS standby 'WSAD' keys move your character and a mouse click attacks. A one-click combat interface is nice, but it does get boring (think Diablo). A more dynamic battle system, say, something like the one found in Jedi Knight, (or at least the ability to just hold down the button for a repeated attack) would have added a lot to the combat strategy. Instead, it's usually a race to see can out-click and out strafe the other person.

Playing with both large and small groups comes with varying degrees of difficulty -- adding a layer of depth to the game. Large group games are obviously the more active of the two and usually lead to giant, Braveheart-like epics. With the increased number of people, there are more chances for you to die. These games usually boil down into quick and dirty rush battles. Smaller groups are a little easier, but still come with their own brand of difficulty. From my experiences, these games usually became cloak and dagger games between players. Commanders would mainly focus on getting their troops the best equipment while other players would try to find a sneaky way to kill enemies and take out bases. These different styles also lend themselves to each of the races as well. Melee is king during large-scale battles, which is where the beasts excel. Smaller games revolve more around ranged combat, which is the human's forte.

Overall, Savage is an excellent game -- especially from a first-time developer. Just like the press info says, these guys made the game they always wanted to play and their passion and vision can be seen in every aspect of Savage. But, at the same time, there is also a blind spot in the game that needs to be addressed -- that is the online only functionality of the game. I agree that Savage just wouldn't be the game it is as an offline game, but the lack of bots does hurt the ease of getting into a game. Instead of having the opportunity to learn by playing offline, you're instead thrown into the online fires and forced to fend for yourself. Yet again, this is a problem faced by all online only games and although it feels overwhelming at first, it gets better with the more time you spend on it. Savage is also a work in progress of sorts. The team has plans of offering free downloads such as new weapons, maps and even improved graphics in the future. These additions can only make an already excellent entry even better. Good jorb!


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, Linux Keyboard, Mouse; 600 MHz (1000 MHz Recommended), 128 MB RAM (256 MB Recommended), 4x CD-ROM and 600 MB HDD space, Geforce or Radeon series card (Geforce4 -- Open GL compatible, 64 MB RAM Recommended) --, 56k modem (Broadband Recommended).
 

Test System:



Windows XP; Pentium 4 1.7 GHz; Radeon 9100 128 MB; 40 Gig HD; 640 MB RAM, Cable Modem

Sony PSOne Beyblade Windows Silent Storm

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated