The massively multiplayer RTS genre is one that hasn't seem too much exposure on the gaming market, often glossed over for the more traditional MMORPG. Still, the genre has a following, at least enough of one to warrant another title in the field. Saga is one of these few games, and has hit the beta stage, allowing gamers to experience this massively-multiplayer-online real-time-strategy game, one filled with dragons and dwarves, elves and orcs, and all the other staples of a fantasy world.
Signing up, you're given a nation to start with. You're allowed to have up to five nations at once, but only the latest one you've logged in to will actually be active (meaning resources are gathered, buildings are built, and so forth). The others will stagnate. Each nation of yours has a faction, a dedication to one particular group. The faction you choose will not only decide what units and spells you're allowed to use, but also who you're actually allowed to work and ally with. You won't see the Light faction allying with the Dark faction, for example, nor the dwarves of the Machine faction with Nature's elves. Once you choose, you're given a plot of land that contains only what you need to progress, a handful of resources, and a short tutorial before you're on your own.
It's a little disorienting to play an MMORTS if one does not have much experience with them. Much like any MMO, progression is slow. Often does the occasionally newcomer ask a question on why their building isn't constructing, for example. The answer? It is, it just takes a long time. Buildings can take nearly a day to build, but can be expedited depending on how you allocate what can be considered your most precious resource: your peasants.
Your peasants are the lifeblood of you nation. You start with ten, but more will come if the happiness of your nation is high enough, which can be accomplished by making sure they're well-fed, housed, and not overly taxed. You assign peasants to tasks like resource collecting and construction, and depending on how many you put in there, you see results. Eventually. It's not a quick process.
The core of the gameplay, much like any RTS, MMO or otherwise, comes from the battles. The option is given to battle against other players (which is rewarding, if you win), most of the combat will likely will likely be in the form of 'quests'. These are battles against computer forces in a variety of locales that have objectives like destroying a building, killing enemies, or other more unique tasks. Through battles, gold is received for a victory, as well as experience for units. Additionally, there's an option to 'plunder' buildings. This is done by moving units close enough to a building for a long enough time that the building becomes property of the captor. Then, as time passes in the battle, the building's health will slowly decrease. As it does, resources are given to the captor.
The combat is pretty in-depth, yet manages to stay simple enough for the non-RTS junkie. At the beginning of each battle you place your units. Now, each unit is actually a grouping of warriors. One light infantryman can't do anything, but get twenty of them together and that's a fighting group. Putting a unit into battle, however, costs 'Command Points' (CP). Depending on the size of the group and the type of fighter, the CP cost will vary. At first one is only able to place a few units in battle, but as a nation earns experience through combat, the amount of available CP rises, allowing the size of the army to rise alongside it. In addition to units, CPs can be spent to bring spells into battle that can be used over and over again, as long as enough time passes between castings. Battle is tactical, and using a variety of formations for each unit that boost attack, ranged defence, or melee defence, is the key.
There's a community for Saga, active in the forums, the market, and the guild halls. The market is the typical trading center for Saga. Here you can buy units, resources, and spells at high prices, or trade with other players for more reasonable deals. The guild system allows groups of nations to band together, gaining bonuses from each other in various ways. This allows wars between guilds, large-scale conflicts that aren't relegated to single battles. Instead, a drawn out war is developed based around points, where each guild gains a certain number of points for doing various tasks like winning battles or conducting some underhanded espionage. To the winner goes the spoils.
There are quite a few problems with Saga at the moment, though most of them are cosmetic. Odd bugs here and there, low graphics quality, and some missing visual features contribute, but these can be overlooked as the game is still in a beta stage. There are problem with rampant disconnections and a few gameplay glitches here and there, but there is still much time left in the beta, and the developer has noted many of these problems already as bug reports come in, so it's likely many of them won't be present in the final version.
Saga is looking to be quite an interesting MMORTS. It may not appeal to those who are used to quick and explosive battles from other RTS games, but it could draw in players who have yet to delve deeply into the RTS experience. How it holds its own in the MMO has yet to be seen, but with a bit of spit and polish, it may have a chance at converting even the non-MMO gamers when it releases this Fall.