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By: hamtastic, Erik Friborg
Mar 17 2008 12:50pm
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(Editor's Note:  As some of you may have heard, Heath has decided to invest some of his time into the newest collectable online game, Saga.  Do not worry though, Heath is still going to devote most of his time to MTGO, so you're still going to have the same reliable customer service and the same quality articles for MTGO that you have come to know and love here at www.puremtgo.com!  If you are interested in Saga, please visit our sister site at www.sagatraders.com!)


Hello and welcome one and all to my latest game review!  The last time I reviewed another game it was for PoxNora, a turn based strategy collectible game where players would play with Runes (like our cards).  The review can be found here, and the site is here.  The reason I bring up Pox, is because the latest game I've been looking at is called Saga.  And Saga, like Pox, blurs the lines of strategy and collectible games with a mix of Role Playing for good measure.  Out of respect to the multiple format blurring, I too, shall blur my formats together.

Background:

 

Travel Log:

March 10th, 15:54
Went to www.playsaga.com and started the download.  A very acceptable download of a 380 Meg installer begins.  Fifteen minutes later I'm installing Saga.  The installation runs smoothly and everything goes fine.  My first impression is that everything seems well polished and clean.  Text is easy to read, UI elements are intuitive so far.  I set the installation directory to a non-Program Files directory since I'm using Vista and don't like rolling the dice with application functionality.  Everything goes fine.

March 10th, 16:30
Now that I'm done with the installation, I launch the program.  The updater looks for, and apparently finds, updates for my client.  After a quick download and update, I'm presented a 'Launch" option.  Feeling brave, I click.  Again, a feeling of a polished UI is noticeable.  I pick my race/faction allignment, choose my banner colors and pattern.  I wonder if this will be important later? 

March 11th, 11:33
Chat with a rep from the company about the game and the plans for the future.  Some pretty interesting plans.  I'll have to prep that interview for the article I'm writing.

March 12th, 18:15
I play the game for about two hours and go through a few quests with my units.  I get up to level four pretty quickly.  I seem to be a rather mean potentate as I like to attack my own citizens.  I'm pretty sure they have it coming though.  After all, it's not MY fault that they're peasants.  I had a couple of crash/hangs at the end of missions when I chose to 'skip' submitting my thoughts on the quest.  Possibly a psychological conditioning trick to get me to provide feedback.  If so, props to Pavlovian response conditioning because I'm now clicking the submit button instead of the Skip button, although I'm not actually submitting anything.  Oops.  The good news (to me at least) is that even when it hangs after a quest it has already recorded the quest completion.  I haven't had to go back and re-quest anything yet, unless I choose to do so.


Interview:

hamtastic:  So, I'm getting into Saga, and I like what I've seen so far.  Heath mentioned that there are a plans for multiple level tournaments (to allow for newer players to get in on the action).  From what I can tell, those would be for people working on quests and/or have completed quests?

Slava:  Well we have 3 types of tournaments planned.  The constructed that allows you to play with your own army will be level based, so we will have events for level 6-15, 16-25, 26-35.  The sealed deck and draft don't need to be level restricted.

hamtastic:  Sealed deck and Draft sound interesting for this setup.  How far along are the plans for those?

Slava:  They were planned for release actually, well the sealed was.  But we had to make a choice, bugs or tournaments and decided it would be better if the game didn't crash.

Slava:  I would say sealed is less than a month out, constructed will come soon after that and draft is in the pipeline.

Slava:  Here is how the sealed will work: you get 2 boosters, and inside will be 20 troops, you can field them and for the purpose of the event, each one card will turn into a full unit

hamtastic:  Okay, I'm guessing draft would work in a similar way then?  Each card can be a unit?

Slava:  Yes, just like MTGO, except you get to trade first.

hamtastic:  How many people will be in a sealed event?

Slava:  Eight. Just like the mtgo event and to keep things to a resonable time frame.

hamtastic:  Okay, and I'm guessing that Prize support would be included, simalar to MTGO?

Slava:  You pay 2 to enter and winner gets like 4 packs, then 3 then 1 each, the numbers are still being determined.

hamtastic:  Okay, that sounds pretty typical so far.  :)

Slava:  I ran events for Magic the Gathering since 1993, so a lot of this is going to be similar.

hamtastic:  And the quests, those seem to be designed to build up a players experience before going 1 on 1?

Slava:  Well the quests are varied, let me explain.  We have quests you're meant to solo, and quests your meant to duo and heroic quests and quest lines, each of which have a different purpose.

Slava:  The solo ones are a fun way to play without much stress, typically easy and while we give you the ability to add 1 player the average player with the average army should be able to beat them.

Slava:  The group ones will soon allow up to 4 players in them and are meant to recreate the WoW experience.  So you can have players with soak units and heal units and dps.

Slava:  Each with his own purpose trying to beat a boss for better rewards, although I have seen solo good players beat them.

Slava:  Then we have heroic quests which are OMG hard!  As you get higher level you learn more about the history of the Saga world.

hamtastic:  Very interesting.  

Slava:  The idea of Saga is an MMO from 1000 feet up and with armies.

Slava:  So everything you can do in an MMORPG we want to put into Saga but with armies

hamtastic:  Will there be new quests added as the game goes on?

Slava:  New quests are being added weekly in free content patches.

hamtastic:  Awesome!

Slava:  No subscription fee but players seem to enjoy buying packs once in awhile which keeps the electricity on

Slava:  As long as its on, were adding content

hamtastic:  Speaking of boosters,  how do the boosters tie into the Saga world?  I know that you get units from boosters, and that you can level up the units through battles.  But what other incentives are there for buying more boosters?

Slava:  None, we dont ever want people to feel like they HAVE to buy boosters, in beta 2 players set out to prove they can get the highest pvp rating without ever buying a single card and they did it.  For the most part buying boosters is a time saver.  You can gather lots of resources and use them to trade for troops from other players or just buy them from the market, but buying boosters is a shortcut.

Slava:  In the end the units are fairly well balanced and more units just gives you more strategy options, or at least thats the goal.

hamtastic:  I see.  That seems like a good way.   And of course, you'll need boosters for Sealed stuff, obviously.  :)

Slava:  Right.   Which I myself have already spend $2250 on for MTGO, I expect few will go to that extent but it should be a fun alternative to just strait out buying them.  So you can either buy 2 boosters or buy 2 boosters and 2 event tickets and maybe get a lot more stuff if your at least average.  And you can always trade cards for event tickets from players with deep pockets, I expect going infinite will be possible just as in MTGO

hamtastic:  Expansions are something that I'm also curious about.   Will expansions introduce new units?
hamtastic:  And are there any plans/thoughts about adding in more factions later?

Slava:  Absolutly, and while it should have been hushed up, the president already let slip that a 3rd faction will be introduced in the next expansion to even up the current 2-3 match up, which will be important when the world conflict system is added in a free content patch

hamtastic:  World conflict system?  That sounds interesting.  

Slava:  I'm really looking forward to world conflict, its amazing, allows guilds to control terretory on the Saga Map, and build things for guild benefits, staff and protect it, etc

hamtastic:  Wow, that will add a pretty big level to the game play it seems.

Slava:  we had SOOO many more things planned and because we dont have a publisher we dont have to cut features.  So its all still on the schedule.

Free Client vs "Paid Client":

I'll quote Talespinner from the www.playsaga.com forums for what the differences are between the paid version and the free version of the client.

"A better way to put this is that you're essentially getting a trial version, but one without a limit in time.

What you can do is play the game. You get a basic army, can fight in Quests, use any Chat options, gain experience (both for your Nation and it's Army) and plunder, build your city and gain peasants so you can do more in the game. 

Both versions come with 3 boosters but after you register for the full client you are able to trade your troops and they are your property.

What you can't do is trade (this doesn't stop you building, training and equipping troops), which limits the growth of your army over time, and you can't join a Guild. These are very important later.

The main thing to stress, however, is that you can decide whether you like it, and want a future in the game, AND that anything you do in the trial remains - so all exp, buildings and other progress is kept should you buy the full version. 

Of course, if you like it and also bring friends into it, you'll get more free boosters for that. If you bring friends in, you can trade between you and even set up your own Guild."

Essentially, you can play forever with the free version with the quests provided in the free content patches.  You can also upgrade at any time to go unlock the rest of the features if you should ever choose to do so.  That's a pretty hard offer to pass up. 

 

Game Play

Game Play - General:
Essentially, you're the commander of a growing population and army.  You need to do such things as managing peasant activities (to make sure none are bored or unhappy), building structures for your town and creating troops and units.  As you build structures you can improve certain aspects of your units or open new spells for your units.  You can circumvent a lot of these growing pains by buying boosters (this is where the collectible aspects kick in), or you can trade for the items you want in the Marketplace.  I had a concern about the tradable aspect of strong cards, which was put aside once I was informed that when you trade a leveled up item it reverts back to its non-leveled up state.  Meaning that a new player can't come in and buy a bunch of level 20+ units and demolish opponents.  You can acquire powerful items and units, but you still have to level them up on your own.  There's also a depth of strategy of which I feel I'm only beginning to scratching the surface.

Game Play - Troops/Units:
All the previous work is to lead up to this point: building an army.  You create or acquire units, then you compile units into troops.  Each troop can only have one type of unit.  For example you can have a lot of archers in a troop, but only archers.  Repeat for other unit types such as infantry units, mounted units, etc.  Some unit types can only have one unit as a 'troop', generally these are the bigger units such as Catapults, Battering rams and so forth.  When you go to deploy a unit into the world you only have so much CP (short for Command Points), and CP is what determines how many units you can deploy.  Your available CP increases as you get to higher levels and seems to increment by 5 each level, so I've found that having my troops' CP requirements be divisble by five to be a good plan so far.  Also, it seems good to have a few big troops, a handfull of medium troops, and another handful of small troops since you can deploy more troops from the reserves if a previously deployed troop is completely destroyed.  But when deploying you have to remain under your CP limit, so it's important to have backup troops that can be deployed all the time.  You can also equip weapons and armor to troops of the correct type and level, adding even more to the customization options.

Game Play - Quests:
The quests are (so far) my favorite part of the game.  It reminds me a bit of a Warcraft feel of a band of warriors under my command rampaging through enemy territory.  Quests not only provide experience for you and your troops, but also loot for your village including things like Wood, Gold, and other resources that are required for upgrades and new buildings.   Looking around at what I have on my map I can see that I have a lot of fun ahead of myself while I explore the world around me and build up my army and town.  As you play through quests and defeat foes you and your troops gain experience points.

Eerie Experimentation?  Not on my watch, no sir!

Collectible aspect:
So you may be wondering how does this game qualify as a 'collectible' game?  I mentioned earlier that there were boosters for the game.  These boosters contain 10 cards that supplement your troops, spells, etc.  You can also find loot in your quests.  Things such as swords, armor, and so on are randomly acquired throughout your trials.  You can sell or trade these items between players like in many MMO's.  You can also buy them in an item store as well.  You don't need to do any of this, of course, but it's there if you choose to do so.  Packs will cost you $2.95US from the store, and you can pay via Credit Card or PayPal.

Future plans:
As mentioned in the interview there are already plans for another faction to balance out the current 3v2 setup.  Also, there are plans for Sealed Events and Drafts.  Something of interest in the draft will include the ability to trade units with other members.  I'll admit that this is a neat feature but quickly follow that up with 'if they can keep collusion out of it'.  My point being that when prizes are on the line people tend to make decisions in ways that they wouldn't normally if it was just for fun, and to that end, I can see players colluding with one another to build the best decks of the pool, or doing lopsided trades with other players to remove cards that would be really good against one of the other players.  I have no idea how likely that is to even have happen, but it's something I worry about a little bit whenever trading is brought up in a sealed environment.  But with that concern aside I look forward to reading about the format and seeing how it shakes out.

 

Ratings and Conclusion

Ratings:
Game Play: 9
Art/Graphics: 7
Controlls: 8
Features: 9

The game play has me hooked so far.  After each quest I keep wanting to go further to see what's going on.  I want to check up on my resources and buildings.  I want to build more units and conquer that Orc stronghold.  And I haven't even gotten to the PVP stuff yet...

The art is good.  I don't find it breathtaking like some of Magic's art or even that of PoxNora.  Graphically it's pleasing and nothing seems to feel out of place in the world when you zoom around a city.

The controls make sense and are easy to comprehend.  Although I keep trying to pivot the camera as if I were playing Myth, but I'm finally starting to get past that.

 

Overall I give Saga an 8.25 out 10 right now.  I can see bumping this up to a 9 once the stability issues are worked out in future clients and once the sealed items get added into the experience.  However, for the price (free!  To start anyway... ;) ) you can't go wrong with trying out Saga.

Conclusion:
One of my biggest concerns about PoxNora was the lack of liquidity of the long term market.  MTGO handles this through redemption.  One can turn their MTGO cards into MTGP cards through redemption, and if MTGO goes belly up, all the redeemable cards can be taken out of the system.  This helps with the concern of buying virutal items.  Saga approaches the digital item conundruum in a much different, although very good manner: collectible items aren't required to be bought.  By making boosters into a 'shortcut' instead of 'necessity', they're allowing the players to make the choice of buying them or doing the grunt work to build up to that level.  That brings with it peace of mind that you're not being pressured to 'buy or die' like in some other online games.   All in all, I'd strongly recommend downloading the game and giving it a whirl.

17 Comments

by Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.187.73.58 (not verified) at Sat, 05/03/2008 - 22:25
Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.187.73.58's picture

I didn't notice anything about Mac support... kinda dissapointing... :(

by Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.89.103.229 (not verified) at Sun, 05/04/2008 - 00:08
Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.89.103.229's picture

Check your flolder permissions error??

 

Update Problem by Sytri (Unregistered) 75.161.17.195 (not verified) at Sat, 05/03/2008 - 11:33
Sytri (Unregistered) 75.161.17.195's picture

I watched the video and downloaded the installer. Everything went fine until it started to update the fils. On the first one it came up with an error and said to check the file permissions. Whatever that means.  

Bye Bye Saga by Sytri (Unregistered) 75.161.17.195 (not verified) at Sat, 05/03/2008 - 13:49
Sytri (Unregistered) 75.161.17.195's picture

Not only can I not get it to update even after I turn off ALL protection and anti-virus programs (no replies from the game maker at all after e-mailing them), but I've been reading some reviews of users who have been playing this game. They are a lot less "glowing" than what's posted here. This game is coming OFF my hard drive right now. :-(
MTGO III may have it's problems, but at least it installed on my computer without any deactivating of protection programs.

by DRAGONDUNG at Wed, 03/19/2008 - 09:57
DRAGONDUNG's picture

Ill be sure to check it out tonight what are the cost for the real version?

vista by Anonymous (Unregistered) 71.169.191.206 (not verified) at Wed, 03/19/2008 - 10:11
Anonymous (Unregistered) 71.169.191.206's picture

any help on getting MTGO to run ok on vista? my bro is having problems with it

by hamtastic at Wed, 03/19/2008 - 10:23
hamtastic's picture

$19.95, which isn't bad for a game in general.  $2.95 per pack of cards if you choose to buy packs.  :)

by hamtastic at Wed, 03/19/2008 - 10:26
hamtastic's picture

While this isn't really the article for it, I'll take a couple stabs at what might be going wrong:

!) Don't install it into c:program files.... instead, put it in c:games or somesuch.

2) Make sure you're running everything as adminstrator. 

If that doesn't do it, http://forums.gleemax.com/forumdisplay.php?f=669 is the V3 tech issues forum on WotC's boards, I'd recommend posting more info there about your computer, specs, version of Vista, etc.  :)

~Erik 

by Ibanez (Unregistered) 24.60.139.247 (not verified) at Wed, 03/19/2008 - 03:44
Ibanez (Unregistered) 24.60.139.247's picture

Was this game demo'd at gencon indy? I remember trying a game along these lines and it was fun... was it you, Saga?

More stuff by szatuchny at Tue, 03/18/2008 - 20:52
szatuchny's picture

I forgot to mention that you can’t buy every troop at level 1 and PWN some NEWBZ.

First of all, RTS stands for Real Time STRATEGY, which means someone with more experience is going to have an edge over someone who simply spend more money.

Second SAGA is an MMO which means at level 1, your troops will be level 1, and while a level 10 troop is not 10 times as strong as a level 1 unit, by the time you equip it with items which you can only get through questing, then customize those items through our crafting system (didn’t think we had that one did you?) that level 10 unit is going to seriously womp your army of level 1’s.

Fortunately we have many systems in place to prevent high level players from doing much more than helping lower level ones, unless the lower level players choose to subject themselves to such torture, which for some reason many of them do.

The upcoming sealed deck tournaments will allow level 35 players to compete on equal footing with level 1 players.

I should warn you, the game has a steep learning curve, which I expect not to be a problem for MTGO players. If you can take the time to learn MTG rules, your going to find SAGA simple. The game is also FREE to try, which most people find reasonably priced.

-Slava 

by hamtastic at Tue, 03/18/2008 - 20:46
hamtastic's picture

Honestly?  It's kind of like all of those, which is why it was so hard to classify it.

You have day to day maintenance, like say, Civilization et al.  Telling peasants to work, assigning them to certain 'chores' etc.

Then you have the armies.  You build and configure the troops as you want them and go on quests.

Then, in the quests you deploy the troops you've configured and thell them what to do.  Attack enemies and buildings, take over buildings (by not attacking them) and move them about.

What keeps you from just buying stuff and running rampant?  Levels.  Both your level and your troops' levels.  Your level determines how many troops you can have in battle.  The higher end troops (like Dragons) take more CP to deploy.  So even if you have a dragon, you still need the levels to deploy it to the field.  Also, you cannot just buy a level 5 soldier, or what have you, as they devolve once traded.  This keeps the 'buy the best and stomp the newbs' from happening, at least, as much as any game can hope to accomplish.

And that's just the basics.  Not going into strategy or city planning or anything else.  Definitely give the free game a try and follow the tutorials and see what it's like.

What SAGA is by szatuchny at Tue, 03/18/2008 - 20:44
szatuchny's picture

I like your idea of spending 1000 bucks, stick with that.

As for the game, it has RTS elements mixed in with MMO mixed in with CCG’s. The game is many things because as gamers we saw many things we liked about many different games and wanted a game that encompassed it all.

At the core, you own a city and a stack of cards that represent various troops. You organize these troops into units which when fielded against other players or while questing on the game map come to life and move around as in an RTS game. So for example you would select your archers and tell them to attack your opponents dragon, then select your knights and tell them to attack his catapult, then cast a heal spell on the archers because the dragon just used his breath weapon on them. All this happens in real time, when you tell your archers to attack, they run across the field and shoot arrows, no turn by turn play here.

The great thing about SAGA is that unlike other RTS games, the world is perpetual, which means after your archers slay the dragon they gain experience, if you find a bow, they can equip it. So in future battles you may have level 3 archers with a bow of frost.

We love MMO games such as World of Warcraft, because after a play session you feel like you’ve accomplished something because your toon gained XP. Same thing in SAGA. Although unlike WoW you don’t need to play 8 hours a day. You can log in and do some quests, play with the market, assign your peasants to build a farm and log out having had an enjoyable experience for 30 minutes. Because we use a CCG model instead of a monthly fee, you don’t need to feel as if you should be logging in every day to get your moneys worth.

Does that clear things up a little?

-Slava
Marketing Director
Silverlode Interactive

by Anonymous (Unregistered) 74.213.196.41 (not verified) at Tue, 03/18/2008 - 19:10
Anonymous (Unregistered) 74.213.196.41's picture

i didn't quite get the gist of it out of the review.. (i'ma gonna re-read relevant sections again...nope still don't quite understand)

 is the game play like a Real Time Stragegy game (you have deployed troops you highlight said troops click them on an area to go attack) or is it more arcade-like (like for example, you have an attack button and you hit that with some troops) or is it completely off hands ( you tell your troops attack nearest city or something like that)

so then, how do the "card" aspect of this all play out>?... is it hands on? (like in MTG you have a library of a certain amount of cards you draw cards at random you play spells with priority and the like) or are they basically like you buy a "booster of cards" and its a lot like D&D minis or something like that where you just add more troops and the like to your "collection" but they don't play an active role in the actual game other than depicting a troop unit or something.

 i ask because I don't quite see the simularities between.. besides what fun is doing teh quests when I could just go to sagatraders spend 1000 bucks get all the best troops/stuff at level 1 and start whomping on newbs in the proverbial new players casual room.

Nice Review, some comments by Basic Land at Tue, 03/18/2008 - 15:33
Basic Land's picture

Great Review Hammy,

I played Saga in the Beta until level 10. It didn't take that much time to have fun, and the more I put into it the more I liked it. I touched on the PvP aspect towards the end and it gave it a more real feeling rather than just playing against a computer opponent. Another thing you didn't mention is that when your troops die, you have another resource that can get by winning battles or praying called God Favor which is used to revive your troops. So, you don't lose them permanently when they die in battle.  

The hardest thing I found was being able to get troops that I wanted through the marketplace as the specifics wern't always there and I didn't just want to bust boosters to get them. I am glad www.sagatraders.com is open now. 

I also liked the guild aspect, as you get bonuses for your guildmates doing well in battles.

Definitely check out the free version if you haven't already. 

Thanks for the comments by szatuchny at Tue, 03/18/2008 - 18:06
szatuchny's picture

Hey guys,

Thank you for the kind worlds. We’re very proud of how far we have come since Beta and are looking forward to the road ahead. If you played the game during Beta you’ve probably experienced half of what SAGA is today.

Erik is right about the scope of Saga. This is what happens when you don’t have a large publisher. There is no one here to tell us not to put in every feature we’ve ever wanted into SAGA. I for example absolutely love sealed deck tournaments, they are a good way to pit quick thinking skill against players on an absolutely even battle field. For this reason sealed deck tournaments will be the next feature implemented into Saga.

 

Our designer is a PvP nut. He’s always wanted a world conflict system where guilds could use their combined strength to battle for territory. So that feature too went on the time table. In addition while we hate to admit it, we don’t have all the great ideas. Many more features have and are being implemented thanks to player suggestions.

As Eric mentioned, Saga is free to try, although the free version does lock out any feature that would pollute our economy such as trading your cards away after making 1000 free accounts. We don’t have a monthly fee because like MTGO we believe that if you actually own the product we don’t have a right to charge you a fee to play with it.

The one thing I would like to recommend to people who download our game is PLAY COOPERATIVE QUESTS. I really can’t recommend this enough. I think it was 2 months before I was forced into playing a quest with a guild mate and I have to say, I’ve never had so much fun. SAGA is the only RTS to date that I’ve played that allows me to go through the story line quests in cooperation with a friend. To “start” to experience the full scope of SAGA I recommend you start by doing some quests with another player.

by hamtastic at Tue, 03/18/2008 - 14:29
hamtastic's picture

I actually didn't mention that in the article, not because it's unimportant (because it's pretty cool), but because there's just so much going on in that world that it's hard to know where to draw the line.  The persistant growth is really neat and will add a bit of a draw to keep players coming back into the world to check on the status (which can also be done from their webpage, actually).  

The game is fun on a lot of levels and sure seems to be poised for future growth and excitement.  I don't know where it will end up exactly, but there's a lot to be done there.

~Erik

Awesome review! by Mitchy at Tue, 03/18/2008 - 13:32
Mitchy's picture

great job on the review hamtastic!

 I played a bit of SAGA in the beta and had a blast laughing at the Magic Faction quests lol. The game seems really solid and im lookin forward to playing it a bit more when I get some free time...

Oh, unless im a dummy and missed it, ya forgot to mention that the town you build is persistant and will build even though your logged out, but building can take up to several hours on certain structures.