*This review is based on the game before the update on 15 December*
I have a theory about Dark Vale Games’ workspace. I believe their office is part game design area, part science laboratory. In their science laboratory, Dark Vale Games creates mutations of different gaming genres. Their first experiment is a mix between MMO PvP and a third-person shooter or action game. They call this creation, Forge, and its one of the latest games to be released via Steam’s Greenlight program. However, is it the next big thing?
Before I go any further, I want to talk about Forge’s visuals. Dark Vale Games has done an impressive job creating a pseudo-realistic medieval fantasy setting that looks as beautiful as it is functional; the game itself runs crisply. Character models can all be easily recognised and the animations are nice and smooth. It’s great to just sit back and watch as abilities fly across the screen, all while looking spectacular and maintaining a stable frame rate. To complement the medieval fantasy setting, Forge’s audio effects and music sound great and further create an immersive medieval battleground. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so satisfied when hitting an enemy, and it’s all thanks to delightful sound editing.
Forge has 5 classes for you to take into battle. The Assassin is a melee character who excels in stealth. The Warden is a melee character who plays the role of the tank and team protector. The Pathfinder is a ranged character who uses a bow and lays traps. The Pyromancer is basically a ranged fire mage. The Shaman is the game’s healer. None of the classes feel that overpowered, though some do tend to perform better in certain environments and situations. All the classes are pretty fun to play once you work out how their abilities work. With that said, the Shaman may be one of the most boring classes to play. He basically has no offensive abilities. His main, and only, role is to heal his team. If you can get past not being able to attack, the Shaman is one of the most crucial classes to have on a team because he is pretty much the only way to regain health.
More often then not, you will be fighting the opposing team in Forge. The combat consists of a hotbar that can slot up to eight abilities. All your abilities, excluding your basic attack, cost you energy (mana), but you only get taxed energy if your abilities actually hit a target. Everything from jumping, sprinting and blocking use up energy too, but can easily be regained by using your basic attack which makes you replenish energy. Therefore, if you play correctly, you will always have some energy to use your abilities. That being said, all abilities have a cooldown period. Some are longer than others, preventing any chance of spamming the same ability over and over. I wouldn’t say it doesn’t happen, but it is less likely to.
Something else I enjoyed were the keybindings for the hotbar and how they are positioned. Your abilities are activated by using E, R, T, F, G, V, B, and left mouse button. It may just be personal preference, but I know where the letter keys are on my keyboard better than I know where each number key is. It’s a nice change for someone who has trouble with quickly finding where number keys are positioned. And of course, you can always remap the keys if you want.
Combat is mostly taken from the shooter part of its mutation. There is a crosshair, and you move as if you are playing a shooter or an action game, not an MMO. Also, all the abilities are not skill shot based. All you have to do to hit someone is be in range, and have your crosshairs over him or her. This gives ranged champions a bit of an advantage over melee champions in a lot of places because it can be hard for melee players to keep ranged players close. However, when melee players do get close, they can be very deadly to any ranged player. The crosshair feature is good, but I think it would have been better to maybe limit how easy it is to hit someone. It’s a good thing to have for new players, but at times I feel it lead to some cheap deaths.
Throughout my whole time playing Forge, I honestly wasn’t sure if I was having fun or not. From what I’ve played, one on one encounters are very close affairs and it often comes down to who is more skilled. However, as soon as another player joins the fight it often comes down to either which team has a healer or which team has the greater numbers. Although this encourages team fights, you don’t get that awesome feeling of winning a fight when outnumbered (because it rarely happens). Another issue I had with the combat was that it felt very ‘spammy’ at times. A lot of the time during games, so much would be happening on the screen that I wouldn’t be able to see what was going on and, as a result, I, and everyone else, would just start firing off abilities and hoping for the best.
Being killed is probably the most annoying thing in Forge. First, most of the time you have no idea how you died. When there are multiple enemies on your screen and you die, it would be nice to be shown a kill cam or something so you can learn from your mistakes. Second, there is no visual or audio cue to tell you your health is low. When the action gets frantic, I don’t really want to be looking at my health bar every second to see what I should be doing because that sometimes gets me killed anyway. Finally, there are times when you spawn right where your enemies are and die again. This happens because both teams only have 1 (sometimes 2) spawn area. So if the enemy comes near, you spawn anyway.
At the moment, there are only 4 maps to do battle on. Most of the maps have been designed for the max number of 32 players. I would like to see some smaller maps put into the game in the future because it takes forever just to find anyone on the maps available now. Typically you will end up finding a group of enemy players, which will lead to your death, which will, in turn, lead to more walking.
Dark Vale Games has done something very interesting with their leveling system. All five classes share the same experience. Therefore, if I play a few games with my Assassin, I can use the experience he earned to upgrade my Pyromancer and vice versa. It’s different, but I like it. When you level up, you will be given the ability to move a point around into three different categories: Armour, Energy, or Speed. This allows you the ability to craft a character the way you want, but only to a certain extent. If I take away a point from speed, I can have more energy or a tiny bit more armour. I don’t really see it having that much effect until you upgrade something quite a few times. Another way you are able to customise your character is by moving armour stats from one category to another. The four armour categories are physical, spiritual, nature and magic, but the game doesn’t tell you what abilities do what damage, so it is hard to create a class that specialises in fighting a particular opponent. There doesn’t seem to be a way to undo choices either, so choose wisely.
The biggest drawback I took away from my time with Forge was the lack of content. You can only search for random game-types, although Dark Vale explained the reason for that saying, “We held off on allowing people to split between different servers based on game-type as we knew that though being forced to play Random could be frustrating to some, it paled in comparison to the frustration of playing on servers that seemed empty. Until the number of players grew to a level we were comfortable with, it was vital that we keep everyone playing together.” Of the three gametypes that are on offer- Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill (not official name), and Capture the Relic- two of them require strategy. So if you get players who aren’t familiar with the gametype or would rather just play TDM, your team isn’t going to have a fun time trying to play objectively.
Also, there is a bevy of content players can’t access at the moment. Recently, Dark Vale has said they will be adding the option to customize your abilities, and you can see that they have the framework in place in the leveling up tab, but I haven’t found anything yet that gives me the urge to play for hours.
At its core, Forge is an interesting concept. Choosing to mash together MMO and Shooter elements was a brave idea and it paid off- for the most part. Dark Vale has taken staple elements from both genres and put a new, refreshing spin on things. And yet, while the combat is fast paced and the classes are fun to use, the fights are often won by the team with the most players. I’m excited to see how Dark Vale Games will continue to support Forge and what updates the game will receive in the future. The fact that Forge is a bit barebones at the moment might influence how much time you spend with it in its current state. I can see myself still playing Forge in the near future, but I’m eagerly awaiting the first massive update.
Nathan Manning is an Editor for Analog Addiction and this is hi first review for the site. You can tell him what you thought on Twitter.