Before reading this review it will be worth reading my recent preview of the game, as I'll probably be referencing it quite heavily during this review. Savage is set a long, long way in the future. Civilization has long since been destroyed and all that remains are two main groups of warriors, the humans and the beasts. The two different races are battling for supremacy in this post-apocalyptic world, in short it's a typical science versus nature storyline. To be honest the story doesn't matter a great deal as the game is more about the battles that you'll be fighting in.
Gameplay hasn't changed significantly since the preview code I last played, but the small changes do make a significant difference. In the free demo you get to play as humans only, whereas in the full game you can play as beast or human. The differences in the two races are massive. Humans start off with a basic melee attack and the choice of a ranged weapon. As new techonolgy becomes available a good range of ranged weapons can be used. Beasts on the other hand do not start off with ranged weapons, instead they have only a melee attack. The beasts initial upgrades, are upgrades to this melee attack rather than adding ranged weapons. This is compensated by the sheer power of the beasts physical attacks. When a beast pounces at a human whilst swinging his poisoned claws, you can pretty much guarantee a quick human death. This variety adds a great deal of depth to the game as you will have to adopt quite different strategies when playing as the different races. Team strategies will also vary significantly between the two groups. For example, early on in a game a small group of humans with ranged weapons can quite quickly dispatch lone beasts before they have to enter in to close quarters battle, so team play is vital to a races success.
As play progresses players will also be able to purchase better classes of character. Each race has four basic characters and two siege characters. These can be purchased with gold obtained from killing your enemies or NPC's (NPC's in this game are monsters that spawn onto the map at preset locations). The later characters have bonuses such as dealing greater damage or having more health. The siege units are used for taking down enemy buildings. Again these vary quite dramatically between the two sides. The beasts have a summoner and a huge beast holding a tree. The summoner is fairly weak against attacks but has a devestating long range attack. The beast with the tree has a massive amount of health, but can only attack at short range. Having a balance of these units will allow you to take out defences, such as guard towers with your long range units, then you can send tree wielding beasts in to finish off the key structures. Humans have two long range siege units, the ballista and the catapault. These have fantastic range, can take a fair bit of a beating and can do maasive amounts of damage. Unfortunately they aren't very manueverable. It's quite clear that a lot of time has gone into balancing the two sides and the overall gameplay effect is quite impressive. With the amout of effort that is being put into post rpoduction support I wouldn't be suprised if even more classes arrived in the future.
NPC's have been significantly beefed up from the previous code. Now there are several NPC's that will kill a level 1 character with ease. It's worth going after these creatures after you've gained a few levels and slightly better weaponry as the gold they drop can help you purchase the games more expensive classes.
New players will find the game extremely difficult. This is because on most servers there will be a wide range of players from newbie up to hardcore. Due to the early beatings that you will take it is quite easy to get annoyed with the game. It is important to stick with the game though because after a few hours you'll find yourself picking up plenty of kills. I would reccomend that early on you try to tag along with other players to learn the games various maps and strategies.
Graphics and sound
The only thing that has changed since I previewed the game is the framerate. Patch 2.0b promised up to a 40% increase in framerates on some systems. Thankfully my sytem was one that received a good boost. Even with 20 people on screen and lots of effects the framerate remains at a playable level. As I have only played the game on my system I'm not sure how it affects other systems. There are a few things that i would like to have seen changed for the retail version, mainly the animations. Players can attack, mine, repair and build, yet the same animation is used for all of these actions. It would have been nice to see a different animation for each action rather than your character swinging his axe.
The games maps are extremely well designed and are significantly more varied and detailed than the preview code suggested. Maps are now populated by rustic structures such as log towers and houses. Spawn points are generally located in flashpoints or bottlenecks, where players from both sides will be forced in to fighting. Inevitably players will find they have favourite maps, though fortunately most servers rotate through all of the games maps so you'll get a chance to play in different locations, and it also prevents one team from 'owning' a server by using one tactic over and over again.
Sound is very atmospheric, the background music is of a very high quality and makes for very good mood music even outside of the game. Sound effects are what you'd expect, grunts, bangs and screams and are particularly well suited to the game.
For those of you buying the European retail version, there are plenty of extras out of the box. You get a 64 page strategy guide, a Linux version of the game and a full mod called Samurai Wars. As the game retails at about £29.99 this is definitely value for money. In addition to this there are no subsrciption fees for the game. Already the game seems to be getting a large amount of support from the developers and publishers. Digital Jesters are encouraging the mod community to create mods for the game by offering prize money for the best they see. We all know that mods can influence the success of a game (Counter Strike anyone?).
The game has been significantly improved from the code I initially played. The maps, framerate, gameplay, range of units and balance have received a lot of attention from the developers. Both real time strategy and first person shooter fans will enjoy the game, though to accomodate both genres of game small sacrifices have been made. There is often a feeling of frustration with the game whereby your fellow players refuse to work as a team. This can be particularly annoying when you have just purchased a very expensive siege unit with all of your money and players refuse to escort you to the enemy base, thus resulting in you getting slaughtered before having chance to land a single blow on an enemy structure. Ultimately your success and enjoyment of the game will depend upon the players around you. I have often found that a small group of players (4 or 5) working together can have a significant effect of the result of a game, and when your in one of these groups you will find yourself partaking in some of the most satisfying gaming environments around. The PC gameworld has some pretty stiff competition from Xbox live and PS2 online games, but with innovative, well thought out, polished games like Savage, PC gamers won't be finding themselves reaching for their console joypads for a long, long time.