Reviewed: November 9, 2003
Released: September 9, 2003
Part RTS and part team-based action, S2 Game’s Savage: The Battle for Newerth is based on a unique concept that has been a long time coming. Choose to be a commander and you will play an in-depth RTS managing the stronghold, or choose to be a warrior and you will play an intense game of first person combat. With the creation of a new game play genre, RTSS (Real Time Strategy Shooter), Savage expertly redefines the first-person shooter and real-time strategy genres by combining elements of both into one cohesive experience. As the commander in RTS mode, you will tackle resource management, develop a robust tech tree, plan your assault and lead real human players into battle. As a warrior in action mode, you will master many unique weapons, powerful units, and siege vehicles to fight a fast paced battle.
Set in a unique fantasy world eons from now where Humans and Beasts battle violently for their very existence. Savage transports PC gamers to the next level in multi-player gaming. Choose to fight on the side of Humanity, armed with science and technology, or take the side of the Beast Horde, masters of nature and magic. Each race has its own style of battle, its own leader, and its own way to victory. Savage offers something to RTS and combat fans alike.
Savage: The Battle for Newerth is based around a conflict between the Legion of Man and the Beast Horde. Players are given the choice to play on either side although the choice is not of the weighty, MMOG sort since one can change sides at any point. Obviously, both sides have their advantages and disadvantages and any player should be able to find a team and character load-out suitable to their playing style.
The Beast Horde is an incredible nimble collection of creatures capable of leaping great distances to mount surprise attacks or use “hit and run” tactics. As the game progresses, they gain the ability to “leach” the health of their opponents, cast a myriad of spells, become transparent and so on. Nearing the end of the tech tree, members of the beast horde have access to hulking melee units and painfully slow but devastating siege weapons.
The League of Humans is largely dependent on their projectile technology. Starting with arrows, the humans quickly acquire machine guns, hand-held explosive launchers, and ultimately, catapults.
Of course, there is always the debate over who has the true advantage. I found that while Savage is full of imbalances, these unit-by-unit inconsistencies cancel themselves out in the larger picture. Because of this, the team and commander quality decide the outcome of any given match.
No matter what role you choose, Savage is a team-based game and so to some degree, each player must be strategically-minded. Obviously, as a commander it is your job to build a base, research new technology, help to secure resources, and generally try to keep your troops on the right path. However, the commander needs his troops to find the resources and keep him abreast of enemy activity. Because of this, officers and troops must know the battlefield and make beelines to the areas of greatest interest. Whether it be capturing a key spawn flag, locating stone and helping to build a mine, or simply guarding weak points around the base, each player has to see the larger picture and act accordingly.
To help maintain a strong team environment, Savage offers a number of in-game communication options. The most obvious is a chat window that is backed up by a series of voice commands and reports. From “build here” to “enemy spotted”, the basics are all covered and easily accessible. Officers also have the ability to target an object and make it a focal point for his or her comrades. For instance, targeting a enemy unit will issue the voice command “Attack my target” and drop a beam down on the unit.
In true RTS fashion, Commanders can select groups of units and order them to build, attack, defend, and so on. As a foot soldier, you are given some degree of warning since a green circle surrounds you as the Commander selects you. It’s a minor point but knowing that you are being watched over by an unseen commander adds a lot for a “team fiend” such as myself. There’s just something cool about watching your teammates flitter about only to suddenly freeze as the ground around them suddenly glows green and they wait for word from their “higher power”.
Along with stones (the basic building material) gold also plays a large role in Savage, not only for the Commander but for troops as well. Each time a player spawns or enters a building to reload, they can spend money on better units, weapons, and various gadgets. This gold can come from killing enemy players, NPC creatures scattered across the map, or from the Commander (this can double as a reward system in theory but I’ve never seen it used that way).
Another concern for the ground troops is their level. As a unit accomplishes various tasks, they gain experience points that then increase their level. Higher levels grant the player better armor, weapons and physical attributes that make them better fighters as well as better miners and base builders.
The maps themselves are all very impressive. Although everyone has their favorites, each map offers a different experience and requires different strategies. Be it through topography, resource location, or the climate and tree density, every map has a unique feel that helps the Savage from becoming repetitious.
What I found to be most surprising about Savage is how well it plays no matter how many people are playing. I’ve played many matches of 2-on-2 and 25-on-25 and both could be equally entertaining given the right players. Obviously, the smaller games tend to be more friendly since they’re not taken as seriously while larger games tend to be tooth-and-nail affairs with large scale battles and, oftentimes, a little infighting.
Sadly, a high number of glitches and technical shortcomings bring Savage down. Ranging from an irritating “clicking” noise, to gameplay-damaging exploits that let enemies vanish into the top of buildings, to dumb-as-nails NPC workers that are endlessly underfoot or unresponsive to commands, Savage is far from being polished. More troubling is that these problems continue to plague the game even though they have been present since Savage first went retail. While it’s true that the positives outweigh these issues, the bugs and AI shortcomings are too large to go unnoticed and tarnish what is otherwise a very good game.
Although hardly revolutionary, I found Savage’s graphics to be a pleasant surprise. Something like a down-to-earth version of Shiny’s Sacrifice, Savage portrays an almost-earth world filled with outlandish inhabitants and buildings that have a distinct Giants: Citizens of Kabuto feel. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, Savage is pleasing to the eye and from a technical standpoint, up with the times.
Although there is only so much one can do with winterscapes, the levels set in fairer weather are quite stunning. Lush with swaying grass, well-modeled trees, fertile and sweeping hills, butterflies, and small streams crossed with wooden bridges stained by years of rain, Savage makes it easy to get lost in its fictional world.
Glitches aside, the audio portion of Savage is fine. Still, it’s unlikely that anyone will be impressed but the music and effects merely get the job done. Each weapon has a distinct enough sound so you’ll know what is being fired at you but lack any great deal of “texture” and come off as weak. Voice commands, on the other hand, are excellent. Voice acting for the apparently British beasts and gruff humans is pleasantly over-the-top without being laughable so, and there is nary a “huzzah” to be heard.
After PlanetSide, it’s nice to see a quality, team-based, online game that doesn’t charge a monthly fee. While Savage’s inclusion of an RTS system means that each game’s entertainment level is somewhat dependant on your leader, it also means that each match plays out differently. Add in Savage’s diverse level design and the replay value shoots through the roof. If Savage’s gameplay sounds like something that you’d enjoy, then this should be remorse-free purchase.
Despite its flaws, I am addicted to Savage and have a blast every time I play it. A near-perfect mix of action, teamwork, and RPG influences, Savage is the core of everything that I loved about PlanetSide except on a smaller scale and without the monthly charge. When all is said and done, Savage is a game that I both respect and enjoy immensely, and will likely be playing far too often.