First Impressions: SAGA

Akela Talamasca
A. Talamasca|07.22.08

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First Impressions: SAGA

SAGA (not to be confused with Saga, who gave us the immortal "On the Loose") is an MMORTS -- massively multiplayer online real-time strategy game. While there are few enough of these on the market -- making its very existence worthy of approbation -- we thought it would be worth taking a closer look, to offer up an opinion of our first couple of hours into gameplay. Thus, this First Impressions post.

Remember: this is not a guide, nor was this in any way influenced by the development studio. This is an entirely subjective look at SAGA, from an average gamer's point of view. And now, on with the show! Game. Thing. Whatever. Onward!


Remember, you can click on any picture for a link to its larger sibling in our Gallery. The first thing you get to do in SAGA is to choose your Faction, banner, and starting Domain. The Domain choice didn't play too heavily into our experience, so we'll ignore that. This is not to say that it's not important, but for this first foray into SAGA, we'll exclude it.

The choice of Faction is arguably more important; each Faction is allied with a different god, and grants different powers. Similar to World of Warcraft, you get your choice of one of two opposing sides: Order and the Brotherhood. The Order is composed of Elves, Dwarves, and Giants, while the Brotherhood is home to Orcs and Dark Elves. The most important consideration when choosing your Faction, personal preference aside, is which powers you'd like to play with: War, Magic, Light, Nature, and Machines. Each of these gives a different set of abilities, though it's beyond the scope of this post to enumerate them all. We chose to play as Elves, under the God of Nature.

This is the initial playing field, with the Market selected in the lower right. Each of these buildings helps you manage a different aspect of play, and this is where the game finds its RTS similarities. Visible in this picture are, from left to right, the Stronghold, the Carrier Pigeon Roost, the Temple, and the Market. In brief: the Stronghold is where you'll manage your peasants and army; the Carrier Pigeon Roost enables messages between you and other players; the Temple is where you'll find quests and troop resurrection; and the Market lets you buy and sell resources, including spells, weapons, and armor. Again, we won't go into any great detail here, as SAGA is a fairly complex game with many systems in place; for more detail you can check out their manual, downloadable from the main site.

This is the Quests and World Map screen, accessible through the Temple. This is where you'll find various quests to embark upon, which will give you the resources you'll need to start building your kingdom. As you complete quests and you level up, more and harder quests will be open to you. Each quest is color-coded according to its challenge -- Bronze, Silver, and Gold, with green-coded quests representing a chance to broaden your territory.

Here's a shot of the tutorial quests, with the leftmost being the first. These teach you the basics, like how to select and move your troops, how to attack, and how to manage your kingdom.

This is one of the many loading screens you'll see between leaving your Domain and entering the field. It's a good thing they're pretty, because you'll see them quite a bit. The loading times are long enough to make you fidgety, but not long enough to cause you to give up in disgust. Presumably these wait times can be mitigated by turning off the more advanced graphics options.

This is a shot of your landing point on the field of battle. It's here that you'll deploy your troops. Troop deployment is dependent upon each unit's CP, or Command Points. Each quest gives only a certain amount, so it's important to choose your units wisely, in the short time span you're allotted.

Here are the deployed troops in formation. Notice the icons in the lower right, which control troop disposition and movement. There are different formations for your troops that help mitigate the damage they might take from various enemy units. Also, the lower left displays a minimap, with your units in green, and the enemy units in red. Buildings are in black. The visibility cone is also displayed.

This is a close-up look at battle. The enemy troops are distinguished by the banners above their heads, which display troop health, fatigue, and morale. Note that the graphics are reminiscent of Bungie's Myth, which SAGA does resemble in more than just looks.

Once you've achieved victory, a portal opens, into which your troops must march to complete the quest. This is an extra step that could easily be done away with, especially as sometimes the portal appears a distance away from your current location, which necessitates a trek.

This screen displays the results of your victory, in experience, loot, and combat stats. Note the blank background. One wonders if this is by conscious choice, or if this game is still in development, because as the next screen will show ...

After each quest's completion, you'll see this screen, which asks your opinion about the experience: How fun was it? How were the rewards? How hard was it? How long did it take you to finish? And finally a space in which to record your extra comments. While it's nice to see a developer take an interest in the feelings of its audience, it also gives the impression of an unfinished title.

This is a brief look at the peasant management screen, which is important for growing your kingdom. Each peasant can be assigned to different tasks, and this complexity will manifest itself in different ways, allowing great replay value.

The tutorial includes learning about how to create and modify your troops, which is an exacting science. Command Points must be taken into account as much as individual unit strength.

Here's one of those troops, a Human Archer. Its stats are displayed, as well as current equipment. It's worth noting that each unit experiences leveling up according to its use in battle. You might choose to reuse a certain type of unit in each battle, letting it level up to great strength, or continually rotate troops in and out, spreading the experience around for a more balanced army.

Here's a look at a more powerful unit, the Behemoth, which just wouldn't sit still long enough for a good photo.

Here is more combat, with the advisor recommending the various formations to use to make the most of your troops.

Here's Our Team looking good standing outside the enemy gates.

And here's the same shot, from the opposite side. Finally, a good look at the Behemoth! Aww, he's adorable.

An interesting aspect to field combat is the ability for your troops to capture enemy buildings. Here, a light skirmish is backed up by an enemy's arrow tower, which fires upon any opponents that venture into range. Once captured, however -- a process indicated visually by your army's banner supplanting the enemy's -- the tower will fire upon your enemy instead.

After the tutorial missions, returning to the world map displays more quests. Shown here are four Bronze-level quests. As can be seen, it's a rather large world. If there are quests enough to fill it, then it's a reward to the SAGA enthusiast.

Here's a look at the Item Shop, found within the Market. Note the "Enchanted Lesser Firearm of Dexterity", which was won during a battle.

The Market itself operates as a kind of Auction House, with trades, offers, and the ability to buy outright.

And this is a look at how SAGA gets you. Once you've been playing long enough to get a feel for combat, you may find yourself wishing for more powerful troops, which can be purchased online. It's presumed that the game can be played well enough without the need to purchase troops, but there is always the chance to receive rare cards that will enable great feats in battle.

This screen, accessible through the Stronghold, calls to mind the various espionage options found in Civilization. As befitting the medieval milieu, some of the options are quite nasty -- murdering peasants, defiling holy sites, etc. It's all in good fun. Interestingly, you must enter the name of the nation against which you'd like to move, rather than choosing from a drop-down list.

During another quest, a group of peasants approach from the distance, causing your advisor to shout "Stupid peasants! Do they want to die?" Ahh, the joys of gentrification.

A reverse shot of the ensuing battle, with archer towers in the distance, raining down fire upon the peasants.

SAGA proved to be an interesting game with a lot to offer to the player who chooses to invest some time into learning its fairly complex system. During our time with the title, we barely scratched the surface of the available options, which include using your peasants to create new buildings, a process that continues even after you've logged off. SAGA does everything you'd expect an RTS to do, and it does it online. Will this spawn more MMORTS titles? Let's hope to see something in the science fiction vein the next time around!

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