First Impressions: Forge

He just wants a hug.
When I first picked up Forge on Steam back in the day (when it first hit the Greenlight service), I was hesitant to say the least. The last time I played any sort of game billed as a class-based PvP arena, it was FURY (does anyone else remember that?) and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic before that. To say those games were less-than-stellar would be a bit of an understatement. Despite my trepidation, I still snagged the game since it was fairly cheap and I felt there was at least a good deal of potential for it to finally do justice to the concept.

Unfortunately, Forge ended up being released far too early because of (as I understand it) a lack of funds, so many of the advertised features (such as a ranking system, matchmaking, and so forth) were conspicuously absent. So I figured I'd put it on the backburner and check it out once it had received some much-needed polish. So of course I was pretty pleased when Dark Vale Games announced that Forge had been "re-released" with many of the missing features in tow, but my initial worries about the game were far from assuaged, and I figured it would just be FURY 2: Electric Boogaloo.

But man, do I love being proven wrong.

Let's start off with a quick overview of how to Forge. You boot it up, you join a server, you choose a team and a class, and you proceed to kill everyone who looks at you sideways. It's really that simple. There are quickmatch options for players who just want to get in on the action and a server browser for those with more discriminating tastes. Forge includes three different gametypes: King of the Hill, Capture the Relic, and Team Deathmatch, each of which should be pretty self-explanatory. There's also a Ranked Arena gametype for players who really want to test their skills; that takes place in the form of matches of five rounds with three players per team. More on that later.

Screenshot -- Forge (Pathfinder)There are six classes to choose from, each with its own unique playstyle and abilities. You've got the Pyromancer, master of making things go boom. Expect lots of fire and lots of damage, with a bit of crowd control thrown in the mix. Then there's the Pathfinder, the game's archer class. Camouflage, traps, and an almost maddening number of movement-impeding abilities are all part of his repertoire. Rounding out the ranged classes is the Shaman, who fills the healer role. With only one (incredibly weak) damaging ability, the Shaman relies on his teammates for protection, while they rely on him to keep them from being turned into a Jackson Pollock on the arena walls.

For those who like to get up close and personal, there are a few choices as well. There's the Assassin, who is exactly what it says on the tin. Stealth, shadowstep, stabby-stabby: You know the drill. The Warden is the tank of the game, and most of his abilities focus on mitigating damage done to himself and to his teammates. And courtesy of the recently released (and free!) DLC, melee players have a third option in the form of the Ravager. This angry little fellow can fight with either sword or chain and has the ability to use said chain to zipline to his target or go all Scorpion on them and bring them to him.

Now that we've introduced the leading cast, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. How does it play? Rather well, actually. The game advertises that it features "MMO-style combat," but that's not really the case, thank the stars. There are similarities, of course: classes, experience points, abilities, etc. But that's about it. At its core, Forge is 100% pure, unbridled action, and it bears much more resemblance to a frenetic third-person shooter in its gameplay. Each match is full of players wall-jumping all over the place, spells and arrows flying, and pushing and pulling in a tug-of-war for control of the map. And let me tell you, it's a load of fun. If there were an MMO that utilized Forge-style combat, I don't think I'd ever log out; frankly, I've found it hard enough to log out of Forge as it is.

Screenshot -- Forge
One game mechanic that I've found to be rather polarizing amongst the community, though, is the method of aiming. In Forge, there's generally no need to lead your shots. There are exceptions, but for the most part, if you have your reticle on your target when you execute an ability, it will hit unless you turn your back to the target, the target takes cover, or something of that nature. So yes, arrows are magical heat-seeking devices that curve in mid-air. Some people apparently believe that this lowers the amount of skill required to play the game, but I respectfully disagree.

All it means is that the game requires less "twitch" skill, which some people -- understandably -- don't like. But as someone who tried his damnedest to play Tribes Ascend and couldn't hit anything that wasn't near point-blank range, I have absolutely no problem with it. But enough about how much I suck. More importantly, I think that the lowered emphasis on twitch-based skill actually heightens the importance of tactics and teamwork. Like Team Fortress 2, Forge is very much a game where teamwork is absolutely essential to victory. This isn't Halo; lone-wolfing it up will only get you turned into a fine paste by a coordinated group, no matter how fast your mouse can twitch. In a way, it levels the playing field. Yes, some people will vehemently disagree with that philosophy, but there are plenty of twitch shooters out there already. Forge caters to a different crowd.

As is essential in a multiplayer-only PvP game, Forge does a Screenshot -- Forge (Ravager)fairly good job of keeping the balance. There is a progression system in which players can earn experience, gain levels, and so forth, but even leveling up is not a flat-out power boost. Instead, players earn points that they can use to remove points from a certain type of damage resistance (such as physical, spiritual, magical, etc.) and move them to another. As players level up, they'll also be able to move points around amongst their speed, armor, and energy attributes, thereby customizing their class as they see fit.

The real draw to leveling up, though, is unlocking focus abilities. Focus abilities are essentially alternate versions of a class's default abilities. The Shaman, for instance, has a default ability that casts a heal in an AoE around the Shaman. One of the alternate versions, however, allows the Shaman to cast the same heal in an AoE around any friendly target, allowing more substantial area healing without having to be in the thick of things. While there are some outliers where the focus versions seem to be direct upgrades over the base ability, they're fairly well balanced for the most part.

There's a little more of a balance disparity in the realm of classes, but anyone who's ever played an MMO or MOBA knows that class balance is an ongoing struggle, so I'm not about to raise hell over it. The Warden seems to be a bit on the underpowered end of things, and Ravagers are absolute steamrollers on public servers where proper countering strategies aren't well known, but it could be much worse.

I also said earlier that I'd talk a bit about the game's Ranked Arenas, so if you're the super-competitive, gotta-be-the-best type, here's what you'll want to know. In addition to the general public servers, players can play on ranked servers, which have two fundamental differences from the standard public servers. For one, the gametype setup is unique to ranked servers: Instead of your standard one-round-then-new-map rotation, ranked games are played in matches, with each match consisting of five rounds. The gametype is a 3v3 deathmatch, and if there are more than six players in a server, then three players will be (randomly, as far as I can tell) for each team, and the rest will be spectators until new players rotate in at the end of the round. Even if there are exactly six players, teams are still shuffled at the end of each round.

Screenshot -- Forge (Forest Ambush map)
It's a passable setup but still lacking in some regards. For starters, ranked matches don't seem to have any kind of intelligent matchmaking yet (if I'm wrong about that, please scream at me in the comments), so you're not guaranteed to get matched up with players of similar skill levels, which in my opinion is half the point of having ranked matches in the first place. On top of that, if you have a three-man-team already organized, there's no way to ensure that you stay with them throughout the entire match due to the rotation of players after each round. Both of these features are known to be in the works, but speaking as someone who fought tirelessly to get rank 50 back in the days of Halo 2, I think a more robust ranked match system would be a welcome improvement.

Those of you who really care a lot about how a game looks are in luck. Forge is gorgeous and doesn't sacrifice performance for visuals. From the sunbeams filtering through the trees on Forest Ambush to the great stone fortresses of Ymil's Throne, Forge is full of magnificent vistas. There are only four maps in the game at the moment (aside from the tutorial and co-op vs. AI maps, which obviously aren't included in the usual rotation), but it's obvious that each map was lovingly crafted from both graphical and gameplay standpoints. The map layouts are intelligently designed and provide plenty of opportunities for unorthodox strategies, huge struggles for control, and clutch plays.

Screenshot -- Forge (Ymil's Throne map)
Last, but not least, I have to mention the game's community. I tend to avoid MOBAs because of their infamously toxic communities, but that doesn't seem to be the case with Forge. The vast majority of players I've come across so far have been incredibly helpful and more or less polite, if a bit gruff (but it's the internet -- what do you expect?). Just a couple of weeks ago, Forge had a free Steam weekend, resulting in a massive influx of players and not enough servers to support them all. I went to the forums to see what people were saying about it, and an overwhelming number of replies were not the expected "OMG WHY ARE THE SERVERS DOWN THIS SUCKS" but instead more to the tune of "Ohmigod look at all the new players! Forge is getting more attention! Yay!" That's not something you see too often in this line of work. On top of that, the Dark Vale team has been running regular weekend tournaments (though I've yet to be able to participate in one myself), and I am a huge, huge fan of developer-run events.

In short, I've been absolutely loving my time spent with Forge, and frankly it's some of the best 20 bucks I've spent in recent memory. I will be the first to admit that Forge is not for everyone (in case I didn't make it clear earlier, twitch-shooter fans will probably not find it altogether to their liking), but anyone who's looking for a bit of good-ol'-fashioned class-based team battles set in an interesting world with a strikingly fresh aesthetic will find plenty to love.

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This article was originally published on Massively.