Saga: Checking out the MMORTS

XFire is having a special promotion going on for the game SAGA, which brands itself as an MMORTS.

The game has a free version with limited options, and a premium registered version you can buy for $20. Until March 6th 09, Xfire users can obtain a registered account with a decent starter army for free.

First Impressions:

As for the game itself, it’ll appeal to people who’ve ever been into Real Time Strategy (RTS) games like Total War, Warhammer: Mark of Chaos and others. It’ll also appeal to players of collectible games, such as Magic: The Gathering or collectible miniatures games such as Mage Knight. It’s actually a lot different than what I thought it was going to be.

Essentially you’re building up your city/nation, and get a selection of troops rated different values and the best way to increase your resources for building and expansion is to go on “Quests” which are pretty much missions against the computer. When you head off to these missions, you have to assign squads of units which can vary in size, but the bigger costs more command points which you’ll be limited to how many active points can be deployed on the field.

saga_free_mmo_rts_01The actual combat aspect is pretty cool. I’m a fan of tabletop war games like Warhammer and Mage Knight, and it flows as sort of an RTS version of that. I could compare it to sort of a simplified version of the Total War games, as you have formations that you send your squads in.

As for player interaction, from what I’ve seen so far it depends a lot on what you want to get out of it. It seems if you want to just play solo and build your nation up and do quests and missions against computer opponents, you can. There’s also ways for guilds and other players to help each other out for missions, and even distribute funds and units to allies.

Matter of fact, a big part of the resource acquisition between battles is dealing with an open player market for resources, money and units in addition to your city management. What’s cool is, while the game can take hours to build new buildings or settlements, you can log off for even up to days and your peasants will keep building and harvesting.

The “Magic: The Gathering” Approach

Well of course, any game that is played exclusively online usually has some catch for continuing to rake in money. This game doesn’t have subscriptions and as I said, you can get the registered full version with a decent starter army for free this week via Xfire’s promotion. Here’s where people are either going to say “That’s cool” or say “Fuck that” :

The basic, easy way to acquire more army units is by purchasing Booster Packs. The game is essentially set up like old “Magic: The Gathering” collectible card games (or collectible miniature games like Mage Knight) in that you shell out a few bucks to receive a “pack” of 10 randomly assorted units, with a mixed range of rarities. They actually sell physical card boosters with promo codes in stores, but of course the cheapest and easiest way to buy is online.

Interestingly enough, like cards/miniatures that means there’s a hefty player market so you don’t necessarily have to keep shelling out a few bucks at a time to get random units you might not even use. One of my buddies, who is generally frugal about these kinds of game, has managed to acquire some decent units trading in-game resources on the player market. There’s also in-game events that will wrack you up chances to earn coupon codes for more boosters.

That said, boosters are like $2.95 USD, so it’s not like you have to spend an arm and a leg to get satisfaction. Also, once you have these pieces they are yours until the game servers come crashing down. That sounds kind of risky but I’ve seen this title around for a few years and the community appears strong on it. And it still beats paying a monthly $15 for fear of being cut off from game service.

Also, the graphics don’t suck, the controls make sense and there’s plenty of cool PvP stuff that is all optional. You can do scrimmages with no risk to test out your skills, or participate in full fledged wars trying to take territory over from your enemies and reaping their success.

Fun note: You’ll never fully lose your units. Most of the time they are only injured on the battlefield and sometimes are killed, but can be rez’d back in your city. Also, your city will never be ransacked by opposing players when you’re offline. Only special “Wilderness” territories you fight to take will be at threat of being assaulted by players, so it’s your call if you’re willing to invest troops and resources into those zones.

Overall first impression:

I’m pretty happy to have been suckered into trying this game. I’ve known about it for years but have been trying to avoid it since the last thing I need is another cash and time sink game.  That said, it’s probably the more affordable in both time and money to me. I have the game registered for free, without costing me a cent, and if I wanted to purchase boosters I could easily toss chump change to get something I’m either going to use, or trade for something useful.

The actual game itself is cool. It has all the good caveats for a fantasy war game, with archers, cavalry, infantry and special units you could only imagine in a magical setting. Matter of fact, it’s been a long time since I’ve played a game like this (Mark of Chaos being the closest I can think of) and generally I prefer battlefield strategy where the resource management is kept to a minimum during battles.

It’s not going to appeal to everyone, of course (my new disclaimer for anything I enjoy) but what I will say is that for anyone who wants a long-term strategy game with some depth, a persistant world for them to return to, huge battles to engage in and yet still be able to walk away for lengthy periods of time not worrying about losing “progress” in the game, this is a pretty tantalizing title and I recommend grabbing that free copy this week while you still can.

People who will love it: Strategy freaks, people who love long term multiplayer games of nation building, fans of miniature wargaming and collectible games.

People who will hate it: Instant gratification junkies. People who are against the microtransaction payment methods, or who despise the “collectible” nature of the game.