Maybe it's just me, but it seems that every once in a while there is a game that comes out that makes a statement about MMORPGs. That the best part of those games is the player-versus-player segments. In 2007, there was the "glorious hit game" Fury, which made waves with truly innovative gameplay ... or not. The end of the year sees another group of developers making the same statement with Forge.
Developer: Dark Vale Games
Publisher: Dark Vale Games
Release: December 4, 2012
Laptop: Intel Core 2 Duo P4750 @ 2.30 GHz, 4 Gigs Ram, Nvidia Geforce GTX 260M
Forge is a bit weird to me. I think I knew everything I wanted to say about the game within the first hour of playing. It's also technically incomplete, with some features missing currently, though the hooks are in the game for them already. I feel that it is complete enough to have loads of fun with, and there's enough included to still warrant a full review.
The combination of a shooter and an MMORPG player-versus-player mode, Forge plays out with two teams engaged in arena-style combat, with a small variety of modes featuring different objectives. At its core, the shooter aspect influences these modes a bit more. Objectives range from killing enemies to capturing the other team's flag, or in Forge's case, a crystal. Teams are made up of players who can choose one of five character classes, each one falling more towards the MMO roles, such as tank or healer. There's the Assassin, a melee damage dealer with some stealth abilities; the Pathfinder, a ranged bowman than can lay traps; the Pyromancer, a magical damage dealer; the Shaman, a healing dwarf with some light offensive skills; and the Warden, a damage sponge and enemy distraction.
This fusion leads to interesting gameplay, as well as a control scheme that I just absolutely love. Forge controls less like a typical MMO and more like a shooter. You strafe with the A and D keys, not turn, and your mouse movements directly aim your viewpoint. Following the MMO formula, instead of swapping weapons with your hotkeys, they control your character's abilities. The biggest innovation here comes in how the default layout is set for the hotkeys. Eschewing the standard 1-9 keys that are used for weapon selection in shooters, and casting abilities in MMOs, Forge lays out the hotkeys on the keyboard buttons next to the WASD keys, and above the space bar. It takes a little getting used to, and perhaps a little rearranging, but the end result is that all your skills are easier to hit without having to compromise your movement or aim.
This approach feels really cool and takes into account the fast pace of the game. MMORPG PvP isn't usually slow, but the pacing in Forge falls a lot closer to something like a Team Fortress or Unreal Tournament, but with the ability spam and cycling of World of Warcraft integrated. The choice in controls also allows for much more varied actions to be performed, such as wall jumping, which can be chained with no specific limit other than space or resource points.
This brings me to the next point, stats. Each class has its own stats, including a unique "resource point." It sounds special, but it basically amounts to the mana or stamina for that class. These points substitute ammunition in shooter terms, though instead of governing how much you can use your weapon, they govern your ability usage. Not only do your abilities eat up this resource, but so does sprinting, jumping, and blocking.
Resources do recharge at a quick rate, but the drain from skills and actions is fast enough that players still have to be conscious of their skill choices. After sprinting across the map, you may opt to hide in a corner for a bit to recover some resources before entering a fight, for example. It also can shut down popular shooter strategies such as bunny hopping, making the choice between fighting and fleeing more distinct in these cases.
The stats extend beyond simply health and resources, with a usual bevy of RPG statistics that vary per character. Unlike an MMO, you don't "level up" to gain any new points to grow these stats. Each character starts with all the abilities, and all the stats that they will ever have. This means two things. Firstly, that skill in gameplay is the major distinction between levels of play. Second, it means that anyone who enjoys the feeling of growing in power will be disappointed.
Characters do level up, though the usual association with what happens does not apply here. One of a few things can happen: you can rearrange some statistics, reallocate your armor's points, or you'll unlock something unimplemented yet. While there is no gain of power in Forge, you can make each character into a specialized version of that character by rearranging the points that it has at the start of the game. So if one really wanted to, they could make a Warden that dies more quickly than others, but is faster and deals more damage.
The idea of specializing is something that I really enjoy in most games. That's no exception here, and it still helps keep the playing field even across the board, as becoming strong in one area takes away from another. Leveling goes back on one of the major claims in the marketing -- that there is no grind. There's a general pool of experience, earned from performing specific feats in a match, such as capturing flags and surviving for extended combat periods. The experience can then be distributed to a character to level them up. Earning experience takes a good few matches early on, and only continues to take longer with each new level. Add in varying performance each match, 99 listed levels per character, and you have a grind!
Of course, this leveling can be ignored. Much like Team Fortress 2, one can hop between characters and still do well, even without having a lot unlocked for each of them. Similarly, it feels like the game emphasizes playing characters as the match calls for them, rather than just sticking to one familiar class each time. This specialization is the only small thing that feels counter to that idea, as it rewards you more for pouring all your experience into one character.
Graphically, Forge manages to hold up to the standards of today, despite being an indie game. The environments of the levels vary wildly, from a medieval city square, to a forest outpost with cave network underneath, as well as a couple of massive temple ruins with a valley and single bridge between them. The characters are also intricately designed, with each one having a very distinct look, yet they all look like they fit with everything else in the game.
I only counted three maps, not including the tutorial map, but each feels well designed. They are all large, offering multiple paths, and have a nice amount of "verticality" to them, such as underground caverns or high-laid rooftops. The nature of having each map need to apply to all of the modes in Forge shows -- each one has two distinct "bases," but given that all the modes are team-based, it works as a strength. The bases also usually have healing totems in them, which help fight back against spawn camping most of the time.
The audio design is good too, once again fitting around a single theme, or a single track in this case. What is there is well composed, but at the same time, there's not too much variety in music or sound effects. I think I heard maybe two or three footstep sounds, and what feels like only one background track. Some skills even seem to use the same sound effects.
The game performs well, even on my now aging laptop. The framerate with everything maxed out, running at 1366x768, the maximum resolution my screen supports, remained stable and smooth. The network connection also prove to be sturdy, as I noticed lag maybe once in my initial hours of playtime. Load times were fairly quick for me, taking roughly 20-30 seconds when changing maps.
All in all, Forge is quite enjoyable. At the same time, I did find myself struggling to want to continue playing. I'm not sure if maybe it's that the game is more of a shooter than I expected, or how it lacks that progression and stat growth, or if it is just because it's incomplete. When I do play, I enjoy Forge, but I wish that I was playing an MMORPG with the same gameplay setup instead. In the end, unless you're someone heavy into shooters who is looking for something different yet familiar, or are into MMOs for the PvP mainly, then it would be worth waiting for the game that will be "forged" a few months down the road.
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