Thursday, December 13, 2012

Impressions of Forge

Forge is a fantasy multiplayer action game (with light RPG elements) that recently launched on Steam. After failing to reach its fundraising goal on Kickstarter, Dark Vale took the project to the Steam Greenlight, where it succeeded and made its way to an official release. Described as an MMO FPS that blends the tactical combat of end-game PVP from MMORPGs with the typical action of an FPS, I was immediately intrigued once I saw the game in Steam's "new releases" tab. 

After playing about eight hours, I'm rather enjoying Forge. There are some shaky things going on with its launch, there's obviously a lot of content missing, and there are certain aspects of its current design that kind of bug me, but the overall experience has been satisfying despite these kinds of initial issues. The controls are tight and responsive, the combat is tactical and visceral, the classes are nice and varied, and the maps are really interesting. Dark Vale are still working on the game, and with the things they've promised, I have high expectations for the game to continue improving. More of my thoughts after the jump.

Forge is a third-person, class-based team arena game in sort of the same vein as Team Fortress 2, except in a fantasy setting with swords and sorcery instead of guns. The five classes you can choose between are the Assassin, the Pathfinder, the Pyromancer, the Shaman, and the Warden. Assassins and wardens are melee fighters, with assassins relying on stealth and deception to take out their foes, while wardens concentrate on defense and buffing their teammates. The pathfinder is the archer complete with poison arrows and traps, the pyromancer is the fire mage with fire storms and walls of flame, and the shaman is the self-explanatory healer.

Forge gameplay trailer

Each class gets eight active skills that serve a variety of purposes. Some skills are movement-based and allow you to navigate different altitudes of the map or to get in or out of a fight more quickly. Some skills are debuffs that stun your enemy or root them in place or cause damage over time. Some leave passive environmental hazards while others are active, direct attacks. Some deal direct damage to a single target, some deal area of effect damage. Each class has different skills to use in different situations, and there are enough skills with enough unique effects for you to develop your own preferred combos and strategies. The eight skills take a while to get the hang of at first, but at the same time you're not overloaded with skills.

To give you an idea of how the skill system works, this is how gameplay typically works for me as an assassin. At the start of a match I activate cloak and skirt the edges of the battlefield, looking for stragglers or vulnerable targets. When I've picked my target, I press 1 to teleport behind them, and then I press E a few times to stack bleeding effects on the target, then I press Q to curse the enemy, which does increased damage based on the number of bleeding stacks on the target. 

When the enemy turns to deal with me, I can press R to shift the both of us into a shadow realm, completely separate from our allies for a short one-on-one battle. While in the shadow realm, the enemy suffers a debuff to movement speed, giving me a slight edge in maneuverability for setting up backstabs. I can also press F to stun the target and subsequently make his next skill miss, or I can press 2 to drop a smoke cloud to further conceal my movement. All of these skills can be used in different situations and for different purposes (I particularly like using the shadow shift to isolate a healer from his team). 

The skill system therefore employs a certain degree of tactics and strategy; unlike other MMOs and shooters, this isn't a game you can win with sheer dexterity or by grinding to a higher level than your enemies. It's all in how you position yourself in the maps (which are actually surprisingly complex in design), how you choose to engage your targets, and how you use your skills. But the action itself is really intense, too, requiring the same manual dexterity of a typical multiplayer shooter and having the fast-paced fluidity of one. It strikes a pretty nice balance between the two.

Fights are not about instant gratification, and I was rather pleased at how long it can actually take for one player to die in one-on-one combat. Such fights can last as long as 30 seconds, and if you're playing in a full team with a warden and a shaman nearby, it's pretty common to survive as long as three, five, or even seven minutes at a time. As such, the game is more about doing damage than getting kills; it's a game where you can get six kills and four deaths in a match and still feel greatly accomplished. Of course, it also makes certain battles feel a little spammy and pointless, such as when you have two small groups going head to head and each group has a warden and shaman doing AOE heals and buffs -- it becomes incredibly hard for either side to actually kill the other and starts to feel kind of pointless.

Matches consist of three different game modes: team death match, capture the flag, and king of the hill. These modes should be familiar to anyone loosely experienced with multiplayer shooters, but the slightly unique twist in Forge is that sometimes a match will include both king of the hill and capture the flag. So while your team focuses on occupying the cap zone to score points, others can be trying to snag the other team's crystal and return it to their base for more points. This is kind of a fun idea, but in the game's early stages players don't really seem to know how to work on the objectives properly, and you often wind up with everyone playing team deathmatch anyway. 

The big problem with Forge is that it was basically released in a beta state, still unfinished. Steam supposedly has a policy against releasing games to the public in beta state, and Dark Vale were sort of forced to release the game incomplete in order to take advantage of its greenlight status. Some of the missing features feel absolutely essential and make the game a little difficult to recommend until Dark Vale release an update or two. For example, the only way to actually play the game right now is to join random matches -- there's no way to browse servers or to meet up with friends. That last one is especially silly, since there's currently a special going that grants you a second gift-able copy of the game if you buy before December 18th, but if you decide to take advantage of that deal you can't actually play with a friend.

Other than that, there are few minor technical hiccups that need to be worked out and a few balancing issues. With the way experience points are earned (experience points are used to unlock cosmetic upgrades and counter-weighted statistical boosts), wardens and shaman are always at the top of the list for earned experience, and if you have a halfway decent warden and shaman working together in a team, they can be almost impossible to kill. Other than that, the only thing that annoys me is the tendency for matches to become oversaturated with ranged pathfinders and pyromancers, who just camp on a high ledge or shoot down a narrow hallway constantly.

Ranged enemies are especially frustrating to fight as a warden, since wardens are melee fighters. Once you run out of stamina, a warden has basically no way to fight a ranged opponent because they can't use their skills to close the distance, and they need to get within melee range to recharge their stamina (for all classes, hitting an enemy with your default attack instantly recharges about 15 stamina or mana). It's kind of a catch-22 in that regard, and I wish I had some kind of option in those situations besides running away and dying. At least the assassin can cloak to escape if she needs to, the warden has no such option.

And those are my initial thoughts on Forge in a nutshell. It's got a few problems that need to be ironed out, and some of the missing features are especially disappointing, but the core gameplay is solid fun and Dark Vale are promising more maps, a new class, new game modes, and all sorts of other nifty things in upcoming updates. Hopefully these updates will be around soon, but I'm going to continue playing in the meantime because I'm just enjoying the game too much to stop now. 


  1. Thanks for the overview I had no idea this was on steam till now.

  2. Have you actually played GW2? It has a well polished PVP system that encourages teamwork, is heavily player skill based and most classes can specialise in different areas based on how you build them. And you can make a lot of different builds. Didn't play Forge yet, but judging from your description it sounds like a less developed version of GW2 PVP.