Savage Updated Impressions

S2 Games' multiplayer game that blends first-person action with real-time strategy is shaping up for release this summer.

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We see lots of games that clearly follow the well-established conventions of the FPS and RTS genres, but there have been few attempts to combine those two popular PC game types that are as promising as Savage. In a nutshell, Savage will let large teams battle it out in first-person combat while commanders direct the construction and research for each side. Not only will this allow players with different kinds of skills to participate in the same game, but it'll even be possible for skilled 56k modem users to be competitive commanders.

We recently got a good look at an early beta version of the game that S2 Games has been using to test the network code. But the small studio--made up of a grand total of three programmers and three artists--recently upgraded the beta version with an enhanced graphics renderer capable of some new visual effects and a new skeletal animation system. There's also a new level of polish to some parts of the game's interface that's more indicative of what the game will be like when it ships. For instance, there are now contextual help messages that pop up to tell you when you're near a building that you can interact with--like a stronghold, where you can change classes or buy weapons--or near a resource that you can help collect.

Most revealingly, we got the first-ever look at the second faction in the game, the beast race. The beasts are much more in tune with nature than the humans (who have both a primitive side and a technological side). The light beast class is a slight, hunched figure that carries two bone weapons. More unique is the medium beast warrior, which uses its claws for its primary attack and has a fast pounce that can quickly get it in range for a vicious swipe. The current design, subject to final balancing, has the beasts somewhat more reliant on melee attacks, but they do have three tech paths to develop. Quite tentatively named, these are the fire, strata, and entropy powers that commanders can research once they build the required structures.

The beast siege classes won't be siege machines at all. The ballista-like class is the shaman, a spellcaster with a strong line-of-sight attack but few hit points. The heavy siege class isn't a ranged unit, but is rather a slow, truly enormous giant--called the berserker--that carries a tree trunk and can take down buildings in a few blows. Even the beast workers have a distinct look, resembling large insects with spindly limbs like a praying mantis. The beast buildings generally have a sunken, templelike look, starting with the town hall equivalent, called the lair.

S2 Games made it clear that there's still plenty of play testing and balancing left to do. A larger public beta is expected to start next month to get more feedback on the gameplay. The developer was able to explain a few details of the game for us that we hadn't figured out on our own. For example, the true advantage of building the main technological buildings isn't the weapon upgrades that become available for research, but rather the temporary upgrades that commanders can grant to troops--adrenaline, electrify, and magnetic shield, for the humans. That's one way the commander can directly intervene in battles. Commanders can also elect one officer per five players on a team. Officers are depicted by a big flag on their back and get health regeneration and melee damage bonuses. These bonuses are also granted to teammates nearby, which should encourage players to move in groups and let commanders give attack and defense commands mainly to officers.

Savage is currently scheduled for retail release in July, but the release date is entirely subject to the results of the upcoming beta test. Publisher iGames was formed specifically to release this game, and S2 says it has the support it needs to work on the game until it's finely tuned.

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