Savage: The Battle for Newerth review

PC Gamer gets to grips with this strange beast that defies pigeonholing

Oddfish, this Savage game: it tastes just like an online FPS, with third-person elements, but there's a strange smell about the place. It's almost as if... there's some real-time strategy going on. For the beginner, Savage is a disconcerting experience: just what is this strategy element? Where is it coming from? What does it mean? And whose orders am I completely ignoring? Important questions indeed.

Perplexingly, these are questions that remain unanswered by the game itself. There is no tutorial whatsoever, so you are forced, like a new kid on the first day of school, to guess your way through the complex rituals of the game. Savage is online-only, and so, needless to say, there are plenty of nice people out there in the world who are willing to help you out, and plenty more screaming at you for your obvious and naive ineptitude. This is only to be expected in multi-player games, but it seems somewhat forlorn of a full retail game not to at least go some way to teaching players how to play what is not exactly a simple game. There isn't even any means by which to practise offline. I fear this singular factor might severely dent Savage's popularity.

Anyway, The Battle for Newerth is taking place between warring tribes. These are tribes of humans, who look pretty trendy in their remixed, native, North American Indian tribal gear, and the beasts, who look pretty beastly indeed. Battles, which generally have a time limit of about an hour, can take place between two human tribes, two beast tribes or a most enjoyable beast and human mixture. These battles have the potential to become awesome in their scale, with both sides fielding over 30 players and dozens of allied buildings.

The goal of the game is to destroy the enemy stronghold, while building up your own. Demolish the right buildings to claim victory. (We understand new, free game-types are on their way.) Players on both sides run about, undertaking tasks and attacking the opposing team. The combat, however, lacks dynamism, with neither default third-person melee combat, nor the first-person magic and guns mode proving particularly exciting. Most players will rely on their third-person melee skills for the worst of the fighting, since these weapons are very powerful and also come by default. Ranged weapons are commonplace, but rather inaccurate, and with limited ammo. The sneakier players will use the cover, attacking with a ranged weapon to soften up a target and then use the 'dash' function to speed forward and hack their foe down in his tracks. As the game escalates, more troop types become available and the melee combat becomes increasingly deadly for the weaker players.

But there is more to Savage than just combat, even though for the grunts of the game life is all about running and clicking-clicking-clicking. You click to shoot, to attack, to slay animals for harvesting, to mine the precious red-ore and even to create buildings. Mining? Building? Oh yes. Not all the team are on the ground, doing the dirty work. One person is doing the 'god-in-the-sky' routine familiar from normal RTS games. He can see all the events as they take place on the map, as if he were playing Warcraft or one of its many clones. This commander can decide where to plant many types of buildings and also has control over some NPC minions, whom he can order to build and mine resources. This heavenly strategist can attempt to give his human minions orders too, only they don't have to listen to him if they don't want to. They're exercising the greatest illusion of all, their free will. All in all, the boss experience is frustrating and under-powered. For the internet generals it will be a disappointment unless they can muster an organised team of 30 players to obey their whims. Which seems unlikely.

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