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NY Comic Con: BattleForge impressions

1:00 PM on 02.20.2009

Hearing the term “real-time strategy” instantly brings to mind certain genre tropes: harvesting resources, building bases, climbing up technology trees. But EA is releasing a new IP this year, an RTS for the PC called BattleForge, that takes a completely different tack: it’s based on a collectible card game akin to Pokémon or Magic: The Gathering. The game has been in development for the past three years at EA Phenomic, the mega-publisher’s smallest studio, which is located in Germany.

Sebastian Neil, a producer on the game, gave me a walkthrough at EA’s Comic Con booth. Read on to find out how to catch ’em all master the four elements: fire, shadow, frost, and nature.

Online gaming has been huge on the PC for a long time, so that’s where Phenomic decided to go with BattleForge, which is an online-only game. The set of cards at launch will be known as the “Twilight” edition; it will contain 200 cards. Each copy of BattleForge will ship with four decks (one per element) of 20 cards each, which is the maximum you can bring into battle -- so obviously, there will be many different tactics you can try once you start combining various elemental factions. In fact, the game offers a sandbox mode, the Forge, for you to test out your battle sets and hone your strategies.

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Every card belongs to one of four categories: fire, shadow, frost, or nature (there are fifty of each in the Twilight set). The cards are split up into units, spells, and buildings. Fire is, as you might expect, a destructive element, used primarily for offense (with most spells, you don’t have to worry about friendly fire). Meanwhile, frost cards are played for defense -- for example, one of the frost cards brought out a group of archers as protection. Shadow is tougher to play, since its cards will hurt your own cause as well as your opponent. Nature cards heal you, but their main attractions are their creatures. These run the gamut from basic werewolves to, on the upper tier, beasts such as the Colossus -- a massive endgame unit.

Unlike most CCGs, which simply allow you to trade duplicates for cards you don’t already have, or use them as, well, duplicates, BattleForge brings in an RPG element: a duplicate can be added to the original to upgrade it. So you can combine two of the same card to go from +5 health restore to +10, for example (I’m just making that up -- that may or may not be an actual card -- but you get the idea). Of course, in addition to trading cards with other users, you can just buy booster packs to bolster your card library.

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Along with the initial set of cards, the game will come with 3,000 BattleForge points -- enough for 12 booster packs (if you do the math, that’s 250 points per pack). Microtransactions are the foundation of BattleForge’s business model: just like Wii Points, $1 = 100 points, and Phenomic won’t be charging for anything but the cards and the initial $50/€50 purchase price (in other words, it’s not a subscription-based game). Each booster pack comes with eight cards: one rare/ultimate, two uncommon, and five common. If you don’t feel like paying for random chance, the game has a significant community component, including a marketplace with an auction. Players can also join tournaments and guilds.

As for the gameplay itself, BattleForge is built for co-op. The focus of the game is its PvE (player versus environment) scenarios, which are designed for two, four, or twelve players to team up. There’s also a single-player campaign, along with PvP play (one-on-one, two-on-two), for a total of thirty maps/scenarios upon release. They won’t all be available initially; you’ll have to unlock them as you progress through the game. Four weeks after launch is when Phenomic is planning to release the first new map, and again, they won’t be charging for the scenarios -- just the cards.

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Phenomic has been running a relatively small beta of BattleForge for a few months, and they recently expanded it to the US. You can get in on it if you pre-order the game, or you can just wait until the full game comes out on March 24th. I was very impressed with what I saw at Comic Con; it’s obvious that Phenomic has put a lot of work into the game. Check out its official Web site for more information.



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