Do games have souls? They certainly have personalities. Savage 2's is warm, complex, and yet oddly unlikeable. He seems like a fine chap, but you'll never be friends.
Savage 2 troubles me. On the one hand it's an ambitious game that mixes multiplayer FPS with melee combat and real-time strategy base building, and on the other there's this feeling of complete critical disconnection. I can't see why I would recommend that anyone should play it. That sounds like a terrible thing to say about a game as bold and accomplished as Savage 2. It's clearly a labour of love for the developers, but... there's something wrong.
On entering the game you join one of two sides: human or beast. The sides are roughly balanced, and essentially offer either human fighters and builders, or beast-creatures and supernatural demon wizard things. The theme is fantasy steampunk (called Clockpunk these days), where bows and arrows can be backed up with magic and manly chainguns.
The battles take place on large, pastoral maps, in which either side is able to construct structures in the manner of a base-building RTS. The high concept here is that the individual players are like units on the field of battle in something like, say, Warcraft III, and the resource-managing eye in the sky is the commander of either team.
This creates some interesting potential for complex strategic play, and the low-down tactical play is wide open too: players need certain structures to spawn the units they need to fight on the field, and the commander needs the field players to defend structures so that he can meet his upkeep and build new structures. Management and skull-cracking together in one neat package.
On the field you get to play any of 16 different units, each with its own skill set and range of applications. As you can imagine, a game of this breadth introduces everything from siege equipment for assaulting structures, to snipers and melee experts designed to crush your enemies.
Standard troop types vary enormously in their tactical potential too: you might do some ranged sniping with a bow, and then get closer to face-stab your foe. Or you might engage at mid-range with a lightning bolt or automatic weapon, giving support to your shambling, roaring, blade-wielding chums.
The two different factions introduce some interesting asymmetric battle possibilities: the beasts might rely on a cross‑over combination of hugely powerful Predators (best at close range) with the buffing shamans and the pet-conjuring conjurers, while the humans might choose to counter with axe-wielding legionnaires alongside ranged weapon support from the scouts and savages.
In an organised battle, much will depend on the whim of a commander. In a strong position, a commander could choose to turtle, with his players defending under the arc of defensive towers. This, in time, could lead to the decisive assault: the deployment of the hellbourne.
The hellbourne, fiery mega-units available to either team, are created via sacrificial altars into which enemy deaths are channelled. Get enough kills and these hell-bastards can be deployed, making things rather difficult for your opponent. It's a spectacular finishing move.
Combine all this with an ongoing level-based experience system and you have something that sounds like it could appeal to jaded online gamers - and indeed it seems to, with thousands already trying their hand.
The performance issues will be smoothed out in time, but right now they're more than a minor annoyance. Bizarre, laggy moments made the tutorial almost unplayable, and the problems continue into the online-only multiplayer game. My rather ribbed gaming PC is no slouch, and yet once online it was huffing and stuttering from moment to moment. Some of the maps were smooth and solid, others jittery and hazardous.