Even developers Super Genius struggle to find a succinct, all encapsulating description of Forge. “Forge is a class based multiplayer shooter set in a distinct fantasy universe” might seem clear enough, but there’s a lot more to Forge than shooting. Indeed, the game doesn’t feel like a “shooter” at all. In look and feel, it’s far closer to an MMO, with a third person viewpoint and a range of character classes all of whom have unique skills organised in a skill bar along the bottom of the screen with their own individual cooldowns.
Forge is well presented and makes a good first impression. The menus and interface look good and the character designs are great. Perhaps this is the part that Forge gets right the most. The five classes (Shaman, Assassin, Pathfinder, Pyromancer and Warden) are all appealing and you want to try them all. The games art is reminiscent of League of Legends, and that’s a comparison that you can draw at many points in the game even though its a totally different genre. The skills, levelling and general feel of the interface resemble Riots world dominating MOBA. League of Legends presentation also owes a lot to WOW though, so once again Forge feels like an MMO before you get to the action. Once you get into a game, it still feels a lot like an MMO.
Before engaging in a match you’ll want to hit the training first though. Even at this early stage the games issues begin to become apparent. Forge plays as a third person fantasy combat game, complete with arrows, fireballs and swinging swords. As a result you will be playing with the standard WASD keys and mouse. You will be jumping, wall bouncing and dodging enemy attacks and your aim and reactions will be as important as the strategic use of your classes skills. Sadly, as your hands are on the WASD keys and your mouse is free aiming, your skills have to be activated by other keys on the keyboard. While MMO’s might have a row of skills you can click on, in Forge you will have at least eight separate keys for your skills. When you try and use these skills as you struggle through a tutorial with any of the five classes, you will find they have been mapped all over the keyboard. Outside of the safe tutorial, imagine you’re in a frenetic battle with an enemy pyromancer who is raining fiery death down on your head and you have to take your hands away from the movement keys to activate one of your skills. Awful. After a period of re-mapping the controls to more sensible locations closer to WASD, you can finally get started learning the games combat systems.
Of course there is a big learning curve with each character. The tutorial does its best to teach you the basics, and while there are some enjoyable and intuitive parts (like the satisfying wall jumping) getting the hang of your chosen classes skills and how they interact will take time. Using the Pathfinder (a kind of archer), you can use your skills to effect opponents in all manner of interesting ways, like pinning them to the spot, poisoning them or laying little traps for them. The skills for each class are well thought out and fun to use. As the Pathfinder you can activate a kind of invisibility that stays active as long as you don’t move. This lets you snipe, and you can even lay a trap nearby so that when an enemy does discover you and head in your direction you can snare them, giving you time to escape and reset. While the Pathfinder has great skills like this, some other classes skills offer even sneakier tactical opportunities. The Assassin can drag his opponent into a shadow realm where they are weakened and vulnerable. Playing as the Assassin, you generally feel like a gloriously sneaky bastard. If you fancy a more straightforward combat style though, you can always opt for the Warden who is plucked straight from Skyrim, but can twirl around like a whirling, spinning top of death.
Forge has two main problems though. The first is that the action itself is insanely confusing. There are a number of game modes, but all of them look the same in action: a mess of spells and powers all being used at once as both teams clash in a confusing brawl. The problem is that with so many spells and powers and skills, you are constantly being assaulted with status effects. Simultaneously blinded, poisoned and paralysed, you usually have no idea what is happening. With so many skills at your disposal, you tend to fire off everything you have in the general direction of the enemies. Of course as you get better at the game there’s a lot of scope for teamwork and you have to choose your skills more wisely, but with so many players using so many different types of skills and abilities at the same time finding the right skill to use becomes an intractable puzzle. There are simply too many variables and everything happens too fast. This is exacerbated by the classes movement abilities. From the Assassins ability to teleport behind an enemy to the Warden’s spinning move, each class has a way of moving very quickly to a different part of the game world. As a result, not only do you have hundreds of different skills and abilities being used, but they are also being used by enemies who teleport around the game world, constantly appearing where you don’t expect them to be. Its chaos.
The second problem with the game is that the combat lacks sufficient feedback or feeling of solidity. When you’re being killed, you often don’t realise until you drop down dead. Your health is whittled away without you noticing, and its not until you learn to keep a close eye on your health-bar that you realise when you are being hurt. Of course, in such a fast paced game with so much happening, its almost impossible to look at your health bar. You just have to look at a title like Chivalry to see how this can be done better. In that title, every blow, whether its blocked or not, feels solid and the characters respond appropriately. In Forge there just isn’t enough feedback. It’s hard to see when you are hurting enemies, and it’s hard to see when they are hurting you.
While this may all sound pretty damning for Forge, there is definitely the core of a good game here. The combat is confusing, but after you play for a while you start to see patterns emerge and some tactical play is possible. The game certainly improves as you learn the classes and by the time that you know each one and how it plays, it almost achieves its goal of compelling class based combat. I also have a feeling that if you are used to MMO combat at high levels then some of the skills will translate too. The combat is floaty and weightless, but this is the case in MMO’s too so maybe fans of the genre will be more forgiving. And while its not a great looking game (with some drab environments) the character designs are strong and animation and spell effects are great. This means there’s just about enough to recommend giving Forge a try. Its not for me, but I can recognise that there’s gameplay in there that others will love.
6 chaotic clusters of crazy character classes out of 10