Forging Ahead Down A New Path
Forge Shows Promise Along With Flaws
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Take a look at your game collection and ask yourself a question: how many games do you own that aren't a sequel, or part of a series? Taking a look at my own collection, I can't find any games that aren't in some way the successor of another.
That's not a criticism of these games. Borderlands 2, Mass Effect 3, NHL 2013 and Skyrim are all sitting next to my Xbox right now, each one an excellent game, having built off its predecessors. In many ways, it's the fact that they are a part of a series that makes them such polished, quality gaming experiences. As such, it also makes them relative "safe" projects for developers, that likely sell well based on prior entries.
Trace it back far enough, though, and every game series has a starting point, an original IP. These are the games that venture to try something new, take a risk, and ultimately start new franchises. That's right where Forge comes in, breaking convention wherever it can through a combination of several genres. It's ambitious. It's bold. It's innovative.
It's also crushingly flawed, presenting several brilliant ideas that inhibit one another rather than enhance the experience as a whole.
Forge is an amalgamation of an MMO, a third-person shooter and an action game all rolled into one. It's not the first game to cross genres in an attempt to create something new. It may, however, be the first to do so without providing instructions to the player, with a bare-bones tutorial that amounts to players experimenting with different characters and abilities on their own.
The MMO aspect of Forge proves to be its strongest point, setting a solid foundation for the game to build on. There are five classes in the game with varying strengths and weaknesses. The ingeniousness of their design comes from the fact that every class has something to bring to the battlefield, complementing one another in an almost flawless fashion.
The Pyromancer, for instance, can deal huge amounts of damage in a flash, but it acts as the proverbial glass cannon. A Warden, on the other hand, can't deal much damage, but can take a beating while healing his teammates. Put the two of them together, and suddenly the battlefield has a two-man wrecking crew running around.
But Forge isn't just an MMO. There's a third-person action element to it, almost akin to Star Wars Battlefront and Lord of the Rings Conquest. But it's the blending of these styles that derails the game in the worst way possible. Action games require quick reflexes and timing. MMOs require intricate control layouts and careful attack preparation. The combination of the two makes Forge's combat too clunky and tedious for most players.
Each class has a number of abilities mapped to various keys. Players use the WASD keys to move and the spacebar to jump, all the while aiming attacks with the mouse. By default, abilities are mapped to the left mouse button, plus Q, E, R, V, G, F and T. See the problem yet?
It's nearly impossible to move, aim and use an attack simultaneously due to the control layout. The controls can be remapped, but short of growing a third arm, it's still nearly impossible not to inhibit movement in some way. In other words, using an attack other than the left mouse button temporarily leaves you a sitting duck. The game provides an option to use a controller, which is seemingly the only way to efficiently map the controls.
The poor controls are compounded by the coup de grace: wall jumping. In an attempt to take advantage of its expansive, vertical maps, every character has a wall jump ability, which is as simple to execute as pressing jump twice while next to a wall. In a game that already makes targeting opponents and using abilities difficult, the added challenge of trying to hit a constantly bouncing enemy scurrying up a wall causes no end of grief. Given that the game is completely player vs. player, making it really difficult to target enemies makes for a pretty frustrating experience, especially for new players trying desperately to learn the ropes.
Forge's level-up system is equally frustrating. The system itself isn't confusing so much as it isn't explained well. Each time I went into the menu to level up a character, it amounted to me randomly throwing points here and there, aimlessly wading my way through the game's interface. At no point did I see any clear in-game instructions on what to do while upgrading my characters.
With a handful of game modes that are standard fare and average-looking graphics, Forge isn't pushing the boundaries on presentation. The maps are unique in their emphasis on verticality, but they aren't particularly stunning. Likewise, the game's sound serves its purpose, but doesn't do much to stand out.
Forge is a game of frustration. Although character classes complement each other well, there's an overt lack of balance among them. More frustrating though, is the game's lack of direction. With a project so ambitious and complex, a remarkable lack of guidance and a simple tutorial leaves players to figure out most of the game on their own.
Dark Vale Games doesn't lack for ambition, and the vision they've got is undeniable. They didn't create the MMO or action game genres, but they've put them together in an imaginative, special way. Perhaps that's what the most frustrating part about Forge is: the vision and potential were there all along, but the execution missed the mark.
In spite of its frustrating gameplay and interface, Forge does succeed in breaking the typical mold. Dark Vale has given itself a lot to build from. Based on ingenuity alone, Forge is among the best games out there. But ingenuity alone doesn't make a great game, and when it comes to its all-around package, Forge's fire burns a little cold.
It earns an average 2.5 GiN Gems. It's not a bad game, and PvP combat fighters may really enjoy it, especially for the low $20 price tag. But it needs more work before it can attract the huge fan base that most online-only titles require to survive.
Matt Jones is an avid gamer and enjoys helping people solve all their gaming questions. : matthewJones10@hotmail.com.