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Savage: The Battle for Newerth

Developer: S2 Games
Publisher: iGames
Genre: First-Person Shooter / Action / Real-Time Strategy
Players: 1-64
Similar To: BattleZone (1998)
Rating: Teen
Published: 10 :27 : 03
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 8 = Excellent


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Minimum Req.: P3(?) 600, 128 MB RAM, GeForce 2 or Radeon video card, Win 98/ME/2000/Linux
Reviewed On: P4 2.5ghz, 256MB, GeForce 4ti, SB, Win XP Pro


In a bleak future, man and beast clash for the last of precious resources on Newerth. After the nomadic humans unite under the banner of the Legion of Man, years of prosperity are coming to an end as word has come from the frontier that the beasts are organizing. Learning man's ways, the beasts are going to use their mystical and primordial arts to combat man and their newly rediscovered sciences. So goes the story in S2 Games' Savage: The Battle for Newerth, a thoroughly enjoyable online title that successfully blends several genres, but still lacks little refinements to make it a true merging.

Gameplay: 8/10
I would be lying if I said that I never looked down at my peons, toiling away in the fields and goldmines, and never wondered about their stake in my gaming kingdom. Sure, in some games like Castles II and Medieval: Total War, those peons can revolt and become a gigantic pain, but in most strategy titles, they're simply a means to an end - and great fodder to hold off an approaching enemy.

Well, in Savage, you'll get to be one of those peons. Actually, not a peon, but one of your assignments can certainly be working and mining right alongside the only true non-player characters; although, they are controlled by the commander. Being an online title, Savage relies on other players to play the parts of fighters and, at times, laborers. Interestingly enough, the latter turns out to not be as incredibly dull as it sounds.

Doing menial work is surprisingly rewarding, regardless if the commander sent an order to do so or not. Not only do both actions increase the player's experience pool (which increases their strength, stamina, labor skills, etc.), there's also an intrinsic value that's just as important. While it won't be known for certain if that extra load of gold or the assistance in building that tower helped win the game, knowing that it very well could have is a reward in itself.

Of course, doing well as a fighter or the commander is a little more appealing. As commander, the player will really play Savage like they would most other strategy titles. They will mine for resources (gold and red stone), build structures, create peons, research upgrades, as well as promote and command units. However, since these units are other players, they don't always obey. To entice players to be obedient, the commander has incentives to act as rewards; they can bestow upon good soldiers gold from their side's treasury, a free upgrade, or having pooled mana used to heal them. Being a commander is rough, especially since there is no offline training and players are relentlessly cruel to those who aren't up to snuff, so be prepared to take a beating at first. It's hard to get too upset when players revolt, because a good commander is absolutely essential for a side to win, and it's with that reason that the ability to impeach a ruler is a necessity and, at times, a godsend. For those with the taste of giving orders, be prepared to take some serious verbal abuse for the first few games; it isn't pleasant, and it really makes that aspect of the game less enticing, but it's necessary.

For those like me, who just want to who just want to be down in the trenches and spilling the blood of their enemy across the land, Savage manages to please. Each side consists of melee units with various degrees of power (think of the progression from peasant, footman, and knight) with humans using axes and swords, with a secondary ability to block, while the beasts use their claws, protruding bones, and have a quick leaping ability. As researching is completed, humans will have access to crossbows, medical kits, ammo packs, shotguns, repeaters (rapid fire laser rifle), laser shotguns, flamethrowers, and even chemical explosives that can be used as grenade launchers and demolitions; the beasts will have more natural abilities, like the power to regenerate when attacking a unit, invisibility, poisoning an enemy with an attack, and magic powers that cause massive explosions. The most impressive unit in the game has to be the mammoth beast unit that towers over everything and carries a tree as a weapon - I can't express how fun it is stomping on units and feeling just as giant and badass as the unit looks. The balance with these weapons is surprising good, and having them countering each other so well means that it really takes a true team effort to win.

The maps are good, with a mixture of deep jungles and snowy mountains. There are some serious design problems, though; for instance, on one map, there is a hole that is impossible to get out of, even though the player can jump into the wall (minor clipping) and jump again to go over the sides. The maps also point out Savage's - overall - downside: they're good, but lacking. In the level cases, there needs to be more of them, and in the case of everything else, there should be more there as well. Particularly in combat, where additional abilities, like crouching - which was taken out due to hitbox issues - would go a long way in making the fighting portions much more involving. Not just crouching, though, but a lot of minor touches, like the ability to go prone, making blocking more effective, giving the beast's leap a knockdown ability, and making the weapons require more skill to use. A good example for refining the weapons would be bow and arrow: the sensation of tension is basic, nowhere near the same as experienced in the Thief titles, and the only skill really needed is realizing that arrows shoot to the bottom right of the crosshair's center and timing issues in relation to side-stepping. The lack of an offline practice mode really hurts as well, and in particular, it makes commanding a needlessly trying experience.

Luckily, many of the elements taken from all the genres are represented in such a fundamental manner that they can be grasped relatively quickly. The winner is determined by who destroys their opponent's stronghold, with secondary buildings called garrisons that act as mini-strongholds and are primary means for attacking and defending strongholds. Throughout the maps there are spawn points that can be captured and abandoned structures that can be used for defensive purposes; unfortunately, there are some also annoying dead-ends, so check that mini map. Getting new weapons and upgrading units is as easy as simply going to a garrison or stronghold, entering it, then purchasing them. If times get rough, the commander may cut off the supply, but they can also give them out if an accomplished player requests them. The way everything ties together is done so well that it seems as though this is a standard that has been done a hundred times before, which goes to show just how well S2 did this first time around.

What's there is really fun, and some skill is required, but it's rudimentary, and all of I could really be so much more. I hope S2 Games keeps the game up to date, because a few technical problems aside - one crash to the desktop, laggy servers displaying low pings, workers getting stuck on objects, and odd building messages saying something can't be built in a spot when it can - it's relatively stable, especially for an online title. One thing I really enjoyed was that some of the S2 staff actively plays the game, which is refreshing. While some players weren't so charming, the staff were nice to the gamers, conversed with them, and some (at least, in my case, a certain S2Travis) took their deaths with dignity. Hopefully this involvement will mean that there will be continued support, and Savage ultimately reaching its full potential.

Graphics: 8/10
Basic units and structures look good; not amazing, but they are certainly easy on the eyes. The benefit of keeping the game going at playable speeds online is well worth the trade-off for more detail. The humans and beasts are all designed well, with unique architecture and distinctive classes. Aside from some snow that can blind the player, the levels looked great, especially those with bridges and forts built throughout forests and jungles. The game really gets impressive when each side is blasting away with lasers and magic spells, it starts to look a little Star Wars'y. The only thing I really didn't like was that the same animation is used for mining, construction, and fighting; even though attacking the various objects is how resources are mined and structures built, the basic stiff swing movements really get tiresome after a while.

Sound: 7.5/10
The music is good in general, but it seems to be geared more towards the player that is commanding the units. The low-key melodies don't seem as appropriate for a soldier on the ground. If standing on guard duty on a dilapidated tower and watching the sunrise, sure, the music fits in; but, when it is crunch time and the two sides are rushing into each other ala Braveheart-style, I want something pounding so the music can match the rush I get from the gameplay. A problem can also occur if a commander or soldier is excessive in either their commands or sayings, there's nothing more annoying than going to build a structure and hearing "b-b-b-b-build here," because they won't stop sending the command to do so. Luckily, players can mute others, but annoying commanders can't; I understand why, since some orders will need to be heard, but it also makes me thankful for the impeach option.

Control: 8/10
Much of the game is played out like standard releases in their respective genres. In first-person mode, players simply aim and shoot, with much of the skill being in how the weapons fire in relation to the crosshair and the timing needed to compensate for the quick beasts. Things like recoil and various attacking positions aren't there, which I hope are added later. The main thing I didn't like about being in first-person was that a weapon with depleted ammo had to be manually replaced by a melee weapon, instead of automatically. In third-person mode, attacks are handled with the left mouse button and the secondary skills with the right button; again, there's nothing like rolling or a basic combo system to learn, although there is the skill of strafe attacking that needs to be mastered.

Commanding has a generic menu with what to build, upgrade, research, etc., the rest with a typical layout of a real-time strategy title. The only thing I didn't like about commanding was that clicking on another player didn't have a 'cancel' button, like workers have, which caused for some mistaken orders to be given. One element that was done well, and why the commanding portion is so useful, is the excellent waypoint system; not only are there large lines that go up into the sky indicating where to go, there's also a handy bar at the top naming the objective and arrows displaying if the player needs to go left or right, incase a mountain or structure is blocking their view of the line. Much of the commander's abilities are geared toward helping their soldiers, and since so much confusion can occur since players don't have to follow orders, keeping things as simple as possible was a good idea.

Overall: 8/10
I think what really lends to Savage's enjoyment is that it dabbled in the first-person shooter, third-person action, and real-time strategy genres, enough for people to get a taste of all the traits, but not opening themselves up by going full bore and failing to represent one of the genres good enough. In the end, I also think that's its biggest problem. Controlling a combat unit is fun, but it just seems like it could be so much more, leaving the - fun - system in place feeling like it's a sample of more to come. Commanding has some surprising options, like the ability to promote units, and is handled well, but some additional options to enforce orders would help too. However, there are some problems that go beyond my preferences: the small selection of maps and the lack of an offline practice mode or even a tutorial make the game itself a learning experience, which wasn't the best route to take. Relying on other players to do what they're told is a risky proposition, but thankfully, and surprisingly, it worked out well more often than not. With a handful of good maps and a fun basic structure, I hope to see Savage: The Battle for Newerth evolve and become the seminal title to merge all these genres into one successful blend. It's certainly off to a great start.

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Related Links: S2 Games