Saga, a different sort of MMO

Like many MMO players out there my friends and I are waiting patiently for Warhammer Online to release. We’re ready to see if it lives up to all the hype and have something else to entertain us since the health of Conan is in question these days. That, however, is another story and since no raids were scheduled for Labor Day weekend it was time to discover something else to do!

My roommate is always an industrious fellow and found something quite unique on the web. The game is billed as a real time strategy MMO and I think it is safe to say that it truly delivers as such. Known as Saga, each player may select one of six races and take on the role of king. From on high you must grow your nation by recruiting units, constructing buildings and researching technology to improve everything under your flag.

From the outset the game is very straight forward. If you’ve played any of the Total War series or Heroes of Might and Magic (the good ones) you’ll feel right at home. Unfamiliar players are brought in through tutorial tips and fairly well done manuals. Once you familiarize yourself with your nation you’re urged to immediately get to the combat via the “quest system”. This is achieved by opening the world map which displays small tokens in various places. They are hidden until you reach the appropriate level to attempt them. Clicking on one will give you the opportunity to go to a small map and complete a mission either solo or with a partner (your choice). More or less, you’re going to war every time.

Combat in Saga is quite entertaining and satisfying. Units move and act in a way that you would consider normal. They don’t hold odd formation shapes that seem unnatural (a common complaint I’ve had with Total War). Basic formations are also added to give more strategic control. You may select general defense, ranged defense, melee defense or all out aggressive from the menu to suit the given situation. In addition to this many units have special abilities. As king you have the additional option of casting spells on the field of combat. These spells may be a nuke, heal or buff. All told do not expect to throw your units forwards carelessly and hope to emerge victorious. Strategy and maneuvering is truly involved.

Saga is persistent due to the fact that your nation levels and exists at all times. Leveling progress is achieved through violence alone. Units also level and may be given a weapon and armor. Items such as these come from slaughtering anyone who dares stand before your might. You also get a sense of persistence from your peasants. They toil endlessly in the collection of gold, wood, stone and food. Their work is quantified in a “per day” system. Every tick (15 minutes I believe) a portion of their “per day” work is completed. Whether you’re online or off, this occurs. Your peasant’s needs must be met or they’ll take off on you. Sadly you don’t get to see the grubby little fellows working. They do it all when you’re not looking.

The business model for Saga is fairly ingenious. The game, for the most part, can be played for free. You download it and are immediately going without paying a dime. You can build your nation, run quests and pretty much participate in all the basic features. The major draw back to this is that you can’t trade. Trading really allows you to flesh out your army with race specific units. With the basic package you only get the neutral units. Simple things any nation can use that ultimately get dated quickly. If you want to get specific units (aka cards) you must either purchase booster packs or trade.

Booster packs are $2.95 U.S. and contain 10 random cards. Personally, I don’t see the value in them. With six factions plus all the neutral units you’re not likely to get something you need, especially since one card equates to one person (units can be varied in size. Some are as large as 25 and some as small as one. The average is 12). There are third party sites out there that sell the singles. This is generally a better deal but you must be able to trade to receive your cards.

That said, to get the full package you must pay $20.00 U.S. I did see “starters” on the internet for as low as $13.99 U.S. but you have to wait for them to ship. With the starter you get three booster packs. There is no monthly fee to speak of. If you want new units, however, you will have to collect cards through some machination.

Ultimately Saga is very stable and reliable. The game is prone to only a few errors now and then. The free trial is amazingly fun and I recommend it to everyone, there is nothing to lose. I can also say with great confidence that the $20 is fully worth the value. You receive just under $9 worth of cards which will ultimately net you some of your units. The rest can be traded. Considering most MMOs sell for $50.00 and have a $15.00 a month fee, you can’t beat this in the dollar per hour fun department.

Features:
-Persistent World
-Nation Leveling (Levels open new and harder quests)
-Unit Leveling (Units become more powerful)
-Itemization (Simplistic but effective. Each unit has a weapon and armor slot)
-Nation Building (A simple Sim City like experience)
-Trading Cards (All units are cards and may be swapped with friends and other folks)
-PvP (Totally a voluntary experience)
-Guilds (Allows for guild wars and bonus resource gathering)
-Real Time Strategy (Not the most advanced but amazing given the scope of the game)
-Many Different Units (I have yet to find a –uber unit for all situations-)
-Spells (Kind of a weak point. Rather simplistic)
-No subscription / Pay Once (Unless you want more units… and you will)

Finally, if you decide to play you can sign up with this link => Play Saga. By doing so if you make level 10 or purchase the game you’ll actually help me get new units! Surely you want to help feed my addiction, right?

Saga gets 9.5 out of 10 Gnolls

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