Nick discovers a pretty game that looks a lot like an MMO, but somehow missed the point entirely.
By Nick Kolan on December 14, 2012 at 1:41 pm
The old chocolate-and-peanut butter adage states that two good things can sometimes combine to create something far greater than the sum of its parts. FORGE, a Kickstarter failure but Steam Greenlight alumnus is banking on this premise.
FORGE is an online multiplayer class-based shooter in the same vein as games like Team Fortress 2, but with a little twist — it uses mechanics and tropes pulled from fantasy MMOs.
There are five classes available: Assassin, a high-damage melee stealth character capable of removing a player from battle for short periods of time; Pathfinder, a long-range bow-wielding class with poisons, traps and snares; Pyromancer, a ranged damage-dealer with strong area-of-effect damage capabilities and high mobility; Shaman, a support character with very little potential damage output but plenty of healing; and Warden, a tanky, protective character that excels at disrupting enemies and strengthening allies.
Each of the characters is beautifully rendered and animated, as are their spell effects and the environments that make up each battleground. FORGE confidently showcases its own art style that sits somewhere between RIFT and Age of Conan, and never strays or shifts in visual quality. You could easily be forgiven for thinking that art was a huge priority for FORGE, especially once you start playing (or take a look at the credits and see dozens of artists and almost no game designers).
FORGE has a few really cool gameplay features. All characters can wall-jump, and maps are to some extent designed with that added mobility in mind. The Pyromancer can even do a rocket-jump style ability to get to normally out-of-reach positions. Some of the maps, like the medieval town one, provide a lot of interesting gameplay options just by virtue of being able to reach the roofs of the buildings.
But the core combat mechanics feel sloppy and unintuitive. There’s a cross-hair in the centre of your screen that, were this a typical shooter, would function as an indicator of the trajectory of your projectiles. But in FORGE it functions more like the targeting circle on a World of Warcraft-style MMO – you can’t throw a fireball at a rat if you don’t have the rat selected in WoW, just as you can’t fire an arrow if you didn’t have someone pinpointed on your screen when you clicked the button.
This results in some odd scenarios where an enemy strafing back and forth from behind a wall is easier to hit when you’re targeting them behind the wall. The game redirects the arrow’s trajectory mid-flight if they step out because it’s essentially locked-on.
This gets especially weird for abilities with casting times, like the Shaman’s heal. It feels like whoever is under your cross-hair at the end of the cast should be the one getting healed, but it’s whoever was under it at the start, even if it was no one at all. It also means that you can click heal over someone, turn almost 180 degrees away from them, and they’ll still feel the benefits. The system undermines the responsiveness of FORGE‘s movement almost entirely.
Then there’s the default control layout which, in an effort to be more ergonomic, is spread across the keys around WASD, even though the on-screen hotbar looks very traditional. It’s certain to feel totally unnatural for any experienced MMO player. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it potentially asks you to undo years of muscle-memory.
Players get experience points for various in-match activities which can be used to buy level-ups for any of the character classes. A level-up doesn’t actually make you stronger necessarily, but it lets you customise a character’s stats, like armour values, movement speed or energy pool. Increasing one stat requires you to decrease another.
Having a level-up system in an MMO works because it actually makes you stronger, gives you a reason to keep playing, and allows you to learn the mechanics of the game at a comfortable pace. Having a similar mechanic in a classless shooter like Call of Duty works too for the same reasons. In a class-based shooter, however, it has the potential to really discourage varied play and on-the-fly class switches to better suit your team. The end result can be (and has been) matches with four Pathfinders, three Assassins and nothing else.
Leveling up a character is meant to unlock “focus skills” which new skills that you can swap in over a skill you perhaps don’t use very much. They’re not actually implemented right now though. Neither, for that matter, is the ability to choose your server, or your map, or your game type. The end result is the overwhelming impression that FORGE is pretty… but also pretty incomplete.
- Strong and consistent visuals
- Nifty mobility options and interesting level design
- Combat is unintuitive at its very core
- Entire features are missing
FORGE is available on Steam for $19.99.