By Jason Harper (Hhean)
Forge is an unusual beast. When you have a game that steals gameplay elements from both the FPS and the MMORPG, the end result often births a MOBA. Instead what you get is a game that feels like the PvP battlegrounds of an MMO that doesn’t exist, or a shooter that has been brutally invaded by hotbars. It’s a curious, shambling beast that becomes more than the sum of its parts as often as falls to bits.
A match in Forge is a clash of two teams composed of a small pool of different classes (Assassin, Hunter, Pyromancer, Shaman, Warden, Ravager and Tinker). Each of these have eight activatable abilities, displayed across the screen in the same way as an MMO hotbar. This large ability selection seems unmanageable at first, and is near impossible to utilise with the game’s default key bindings. However, after rebinding the keys, and memorising which button triggers which ability, the gameplay has a good flow to it. Getting over the initial hump can be a challenge though, and you’ll frequently get rolled by opponents with a better handle on their classes than you to begin with.
Some abilities need careful aim, requiring a steady hand as you’re hurling projectiles at a mad dwarf swinging towards you. Others simply auto-attack the nearest enemy to your reticule, giving an enemy no option but to take damage. Depending on the class, a character can feel like the game is being played for them, or that the game can have some very stringent windows for what does and does not count as a hit. The former can be frustrating to play against, but is a bit dull to play. The latter can evoke either satisfaction from a clever play, or a stream of curses depending on how lenient the system is feeling, or how well your connection is holding up.
Most of the abilities a class has are what you’d expect to find in an MMO, though there’s a few fun additions that stand out. Assassins, for example, have an ability that places both them and their target in their own separate phasing of the match, creating a ghostly version of the map that plays host to their private duel. The Warden has another oddball in their arsenal; Spinning like a top in order to take flight, going where ever your point your crosshairs. There’s something truly wonderful about watching a group of archers on top of a wall suddenly finding themselves under assault from a flying whirlwind.
The game’s moment to moment play is pleasing, but it leaves no lasting impression. While you’re playing, coming up with devious ability combinations to best your opponents feels good, and is an excellent mental workout. Once you exit the game though, there’s not much to think about. There’s simply nothing outside of the game to mull over, as everything in the game is built around the here and now. I’m aware it’s an unusual thing to criticise a game when you’re not playing it, but I’ve never had a game that I’ve forgotten about as quickly as Forge. This is a game that I wound up forgetting about while being asked to write a review for it. It simply leaves no impression.
Part of the issue is that while the game has a way for each of your classes to level up, they don’t do so in a manner that feels impactful. When a character levels, you gain the ability to drop one stat (Speed, Armour or Energy) in exchange for benefiting another. You also can sometimes unlock variations on your existing abilities that change about the numbers they use under the hood (Reducing cooldown while also reducing damage, for example). This does a good job of making a new player feel like they have just as much chance of winning as a veteran, but it has absolutely no spice to it. Everything operates under the hood, so compared to something like Call of Duty’s perk system, it doesn’t feel like it’s offering a different way to play but rather a few things to fiddle with on your calculator.
Another failing of this system is it locks in any changes to your character’s stats permanently. One of the real joys of building a character in an MMO is being able to tinker with the numbers, and constantly change things around to suit your tastes. In Forge, all your decisions cannot be undone, so you have to live with any change you make, even if those decisions are made when you don’t fully understand what you want at the time.
You would think something like a relevel would be held to ransom behind a paywall, but the game’s shop currently only sells aesthetic options. This is clearly to keep things as balanced as possible, a tenet the whole game admirably attempts to stick to. The downside though is that many of these aesthetic options are just color swaps, sometimes with minor model changes or an added visual effect on top. Without much to sell, the developers made one of the most frequent mistakes made by F2P titles. To make up for their small stock they pump up the prices of their goods to try and makes a larger return on the small number of purchases they get. You can be looking at costs rivaling or exceeding that of a boxed game, with some of the extreme options being in the region of $ 90 for a cosmetic suit of armour. Microtransactions, these are not.
The upside of all this is that while what you can buy is exceptionally expensive, the game never pushes towards its store, and you can play the game quite happily without ever spending a dime. In fact, looking around at the people playing in the games I took part in, most of its players seem to have gone for this option. In all my time with the game, I didn’t see any skin outside of the default and the extremely cheap ‘shadow’ skins that come with the digital starter pack.
Forge is a good way to spend an evening with some friends, but likely won’t occupy you for long. It’s a blast once you get over the initial learning curve, but you’ll likely have forgotten about it once you put it down. Worth giving a shot, but don’t expect anything remarkable.