Long ago, I remember reading a letter to a computer gaming magazine where a frustrated gamer was asking for a strategy game; a special strategy game. In this game, the high level strategy would be conducted by a commander. The commander would then have it's lieutenants, who would rally the underlings together. Not only that, he wanted a human player at every level of the chain of command. Topping it all off, it had to all exist real-time in the same universe; none of this turn-based play by mail stuff you saw for strategy titles. The editor wrote back to him, "keep dreaming". In a nutshell, Savage is that game.|
For one player, his or her screen will look like any recent real-time strategy title. Savage has multiple zoom levels, courtesy of its well-developed 3D engine. Like most real-time strategy titles, there are workers and resources that must be gathered in order to produce more units and structures that will fuel the battle against the other opponent. Most of the maps in Savage are quite small. I think if you put these maps in other games, they'd be considered arena size, but the longer build and upgrade times make up for it, preventing you from accessing advanced weapons, including siege ballista and catapults easily.
The other side of Savage is the most novel part of the whole game. Instead of churning out mindless grunts, the units you command are actual people. Each person is a living entity in the game. You have your own set of gold that you earn by besting NPC creatures or via mining. Anything you buy that reaches beyond your authority limit will push you to request funds from the commander, who may or may not be at liberty to extend them to you. It's a good system. Character classes, for example, are some of the most expensive items in the game and a good commander will most likely assign the siege weapons to the veterans instead of the novices.
The controls themselves are fairly intuitive. Most of the game is played from a third-person, behind-the-back perspective. For ranged weapons, you'll be put in first-person view, but there's never a way to stay in a certain view. Rather than making the game disjointed (top down for strategy, first-person for projectiles, third-person for everything else), it actually gives the game variety and keeps the experience fresh. If you want to mine, you simply walk up to a mine and start hacking away at it. If you want to repair a building, you use the same melee weapon to hack away at the structure. Savage's developers have apparently kept it simple.
This is one of the few games where the support personnel are simultaneously important and not important in keeping the game going. If you're a fan of real-time strategy titles, you'll get a kick or at least a few smiles out of being the ubiquitous peon for few moments, but the developers were smart enough to include NPC creatures for you to slay in order to earn experience and money. The experience is actually important. It has the ability to increase your capabilities and via extension, improve your value to the commander. This is personal improvement that you manage for yourself.
Another clever thing the developers did was not to rely entirely on the humans to do everything. Often you'll find in games like Battlefield 1942 or Tribes, nobody ever wants to do the rear guard actions and handle the logistics. Here, at least you can count on up to ten workers to carry out the commander's bidding. That way, if your game isn't large enough or if you need all your human players out on the offensive, you still have workers who can carry out the menial tasks. Don't expect too much intelligence from these guys though, the commander's interface is spartan; completely decrepit of the amenities found in recent titles like Rise of Nations. You won't know if your workers are idle and they won't automatically prioritize and assign tasks to themselves. That, of course, is not the whole point of the game.
Most of Savage's technology tree revolves around upgrades. These upgrades aren't used on the workers though. Instead, they are given to the human players who will use their money to purchase items and outfit their characters. You can't make a bunch of footmen and send them over the hill as cannon fodder (although that might seem like a good idea to add later on). The upgrades will unlock bigger but slower moving classes. Then it's up to your human players to select the appropriate class, up to siege machinery. I particularly enjoyed the ballista. Upon being destroyed, you'll become the crew member, but his lowly melee weapon guarantees near death unless he makes it back to a friendly garrison; the spawning points for the game.
Building on the chat features in the game, Savage offers commanders the ability to set waypoints and assign objectives to human players and workers alike. I really liked how clear the objectives were to the human players when the commander assigned tasks. A compass arrow at the top pointed me in right direction. The compass also has space to indicate what the commander has issued you to do, and usually there are some on-screen identifiers to help direct you. If you need to attack someone sneaking in behind enemy lines, you'll find that the commander's top down view will give you superior intelligence in manning defenses. In larger games, the commander can delegate some of his authority to officers on the field, further adding to the scope of the game.
The graphics in Savage aren't top notch for a first-person or third-person action game, but they get the job done. The workers are a bit stilted in their walking. Occasionally, lag will make your strafing look like moonwalk dances. However, the concept is novel and if the developers are able to sell the idea well, I think more than a few real-time strategy gamers will want to check this game out. At its best, not since the release of Microsoft's Allegiance did I have this much fun.
Going back to my opening comments, I remember the previews for Team Fortress 2 were raving about how the commander's view will be a real-time strategy game, while the other constituents will be live human players. That might have answered that frustrated gamer's grievances. Well, Savage has already done all of that and more. You can construct buildings and there are automated computer characters floating around. No doubt, this is a trend I wish more games would take advantage of.
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