Big kahuna. That’s the term I’d use in trying to describe mega-developer EA’s MMO/TCG foray into the wild west of play4free OSG titles: but BattleForge left me wanting. If you haven’t heard of this title, try to imagine a turn-based-slash-real-time strategy offshoot of Battleship meets Magic: The Gathering. With cards. Intruiged? I’ll say off the bat that BattleForge had me salivating in the first few hours I spent flirting with her, but the date turned card-sour on day two.
BattleForge bills itself as blending fantasy, strategy, trading card game and magical spells in a dynamic and unique MMO environment. Originally, EA released BattleForge as a purchasable standalone title before re-working the battle system (and diminishing offensive and defensive options) in order to re-package it as a free2play download. Jumping into the world of the game, you, dear player, are a Skylord. What the fudge is a Skylord you ask? It’s fairly badass actually, but as a Skylord you are an immortal soldier that both defends and assists the Sky Gods. Convenient, right? As Skylords, our crib is the Forge of Creation, an ethereal city above the clouds which was created for us by the Gods. Before we were Skylords, a massive battle between us humans and Giants culminated in the Giants being driven underground – we had battled valiantly amongst the Gods and were rewarded with eternal life and a new home – the Forge of Creation. This is explained in the first hour of gameplay and quickly moves into real-time strategy after said exposition.
Right off the bat, I was required to create an EA Origin account and download the game’s client; no browser option here. If you’re a seasoned OSG1’er, your eyebrow may have risen already, as these genre-bending titles, while ambitious and potentially screaming, can often miss the mark (as has been the story with my past several reviews – particularly Oil Rush). Whereas Oil Rush didn’t execute properly, BattleForge is just trying to be too many things at once, and leaves out a lot of interesting would-be story that the game opened up with. Deck games and online strategy just don’t blend for me! After I figured out that I wouldn’t be setting foot on Earth – that the entire game takes place in the Forge – I was dropped into the practice arena to hone my strategy skills (AKA card skills) with the deck I started with. The deck you have is what you use for your offensive and defensive strategies for battle, and each deck is made up of four categories of cards (Nature, Fire, Frost and Shadow), fairly straightforward with plusses and minuses for each card used. For example, the Shadow cards will deal devastating offensive damage in return for lowering your lineman numbers.
If not for the awkward booster pack system, I would be smitten with the card backbone of the game, which is essentially how you spend most of your time. The battle card deck system isn’t a favorite of mine, particularly because it forgoes a defined system of ‘leveling up’ – and instead tasks players with using a cumbersome marketplace to buy upgrades to your deck. Sure you get to customize your own deck however you want, but most cards of the same type can’t be combined (different cards can be, though) – it’s an extra step that put me off, and contributed to the fragmented nature of the game. Cards can also be bought and sold between players, not just within the store, which was never something I wanted to spend my time doing. It took me about two days to get used to heading into the ‘store’ to acquire these packs. Certain cards can also be combined for strengthened healing or damaging moves, which is actually the one saving grace for BattleForge, after mana and power is collected throughout the game. Different combinations of cards make the possibilities endless of what you can actually do to your own troops or your enemies. After about fourteen hours of gameplay I had a list of ‘receipes’ on a notepad by my computer of favorite combinations I’d concocted.
The saving grace of BattleForge is most certainly the graphical prowess of the game. 2D and 3D renders look gorgeous and nearly as fluid as Oil Rush. Playing on a Windows partition with my new Retina Macbook Pro, the fluid motion looked positively jaw-dropping when using the discreet Nvidia GT 650M card. The game score is pretty vivid, and voice acting is nearly on par with the flawlessly-VO’d Final Fantasy X. Now sure, some gamers see these elements as an aside, but I’m a firm believer in audio and video prowess lending a huge hand in overall game enjoyment and long-term playability. The graphics and audio offerings however weren’t enough to keep me interested past fifteen hours of gameplay. The epic story of BattleForge, the giants and Skylords and the Forge only enter into the game in the opening exposition. Once you’re greeted with the story of who you are and how you got there, EA makes very little effort in explaining or even offering any type of world within the card-battle-system. Again, this may be personal preference, but I enjoy a fair amount of fictional storyboarding to be put in throughout the game to make actual battles a bit more significant and meaningful. True TCG fans will probably love BattleForge – but OSG veterans should probably look elsewhere.