Tossing fireballs and bashing shields: Hands-on with the Forge Beta

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Tossing fireballs and bashing shields: Hands-on with the Forge Beta
Forge Header
Dark Vale's upcoming PvP-centric title, Forge, is an MMO like no other. The game has no PvE content to speak of, instead demanding that players earn their progress by killing one another in timed arena-style deathmatches or objective-based games. It's built in the Unreal Engine, features an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective, and depends heavily on strategy and reflexes as opposed to gear and level. There are no quests to complete, no mobs to grind, and no resources to gather. When Dark Vale says Forge is "Pure PvP," that's exactly what it means.

While some may be skeptical of the appeal of a PvP-only MMO, others will note that there is vast potential here to fill a niche for gamers craving MMO-style combat without all the extra muss and fuss of grinding, gearing, and socializing. The only question is whether Forge will strike a chord with that pocket of players or will be just another "also-ran" in a sea of experimental MMOs.

I took a peek at the Forge beta over the weekend, and what I found was an intense title with a lot of promise, but one that clearly has a lot of ground to cover before being ready for mass consumption.%Gallery-162207%First, the basics: Forge offers three different match modes, all of which should be familiar to online gamers. There's Capture the Relic (Forge's version of Capture the Flag), Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill. The only game mode available at the moment is Capture the Relic, so my impressions will largely be drawn from my experiences in this game mode; Dark Vale has plenty of ambitious designs for Forge, but I can only talk about what I actually saw and experienced.

Forge Relic
Capture the Relic is fairly simple: Players must storm their way to one side of the map, snag the other team's Relic, make it back to the other side, and capture it. However, Dark Vale has done a couple of things that put a new spin on this now tried-and-true game mode and help make it a bit more interesting. For instance, players can capture the opposing team's Relic even while their own is being run by an enemy, making a stalemate impossible. Additionally, if a player is killed while running a Relic, the Relic stays behind for a few seconds and cannot be reclaimed by its team -- it has to be defended where it sits until it resets back to the base. This creates impromptu defense pile-ups in random spots all over the map and helps keep things fresh in long matches.

Perhaps most notable here is that capturing Relics is just one part of earning a victory, as there's no set number of caps to win. All matches in Forge are timed, and the team with the most points at the end of a match wins regardless of the number of Relics it managed to capture. Caps generate points, but so do kills. It would be hard to win without a few captures, of course, but a team could theoretically win a Capture the Relic match by playing pure defense and never sending anyone after the enemy's Relic.

Relic Capture
Capture the Relic certainly seems as if it would be fun, but some issues with the beta status of Forge make it hard to get a read on. Specifically, I haven't been able to find a match with more than seven or eight players total, making maps feel sort of empty and sparse. In many cases, I was able to pick up a Relic and run it back to my base without ever seeing an enemy player (or teammate), which sort of limits my ability to rate how the maps play out or whether the game requires any sort of strategy. The UI shows 16 slots for each team, so I'm imagining the actual release version of the game will be slightly more chaotic. In most cases during my play tests, teams were usually two players each. I'm told peak hours are a bit better in terms of on-server population.

Class-based combat

Forge uses classes like most MMOs, but its approach is slightly different. Instead of starting with one or two abilities and leveling up to earn more, Forge gives players nine different attacks in addition to a companion (although companions do not seem to have been implemented yet). This ensures that the playing field is level from the get-go, but it is also extremely confusing as it can be hard to learn all of a given class's abilities at once. I lost a few lives to reading tooltips and trying to figure out what I was supposed to be pressing and when, but chalked it up to the learning process.

Dead in Forge
There are five classes available, each one filling a basic MMO archetype:
  • Assassin – the sneaky, stabby type.
  • Pathfinder – the "fire arrows from a mile away" guy.
  • Shaman – the healer.
  • Warden – the tank.
  • Pyromancer – the fireball-tossing caster.
Class design is one of Forge's most obvious strengths. Every class feels completely different from the next and offers a collection of interesting abilities. Wardens don't just look like tanks; they feel like tanks -- powerful, heavy, and slow. Pyromancers are nimble and frail. Assassins are adequately agile and stealthy. Every class can sprint, but for different distances and at different speeds. Dark Vale has done an excellent job of building five unique classes from existing MMO templates and making each choice feel solid, exciting and useful (likely more so once people get a lock on that whole "teamwork" thing). More impressively, Dark Vale has found a way to make utility functions like healing and tanking more active and skill-driven than pointing a shield at something or spamming a heal button. It's solid work, to be sure.

Warden Tanking
It's not perfect, though. Forge doesn't offer much in the way of customization. Players can choose one special ability with a long cooldown from a list of options, and that's about it. And class balance, at least at this point in the game, is still being tinkered with. Pathfinders and Pyromancers seemed to be mopping the floor with everyone, while the Warden and Shaman looked to be having difficulty staying on target. The Shaman especially suffers, as his abilities are clearly designed to support a team and the beta doesn't offer much in the way of coordinated team play.

Other than minor balance problems, combat in Forge is some of the fastest and most engaging of any MMO I've played. It takes a quick hand and a strong understanding of class mechanics to win a fight in Forge, along with a little luck and a mastery of line-of-sight trickery. There's no time for standing still, and once two or three players are in the fray, battles can get extremely hectic. I had several fun match-ups with each of the classes (one-on-one) as well as some group battles in which I could barely tell what was happening. In Forge, the player who reacts the most quickly will likely be the victor -- or the player whose friends come to his aid the fastest. It should also be mentioned that there's no targeting mechanic in Forge; projectiles will home in on their targets a bit, but mostly it comes down to your speed with a mouse.

Forge Kill
Of course, no beta would be complete without problems, and Forge definitely falls short in a few key areas. There is an overall lack of feedback in the game as to what abilities are doing (if anything), what other people are doing, what it means to kill someone or cap a relic, who's currently winning, or why exactly anyone should be doing anything. There are also points to capture, but I couldn't really sort out why they mattered, and most players ignored them. At the moment, Forge feels like a jumble of disembodied minigames removed from a much bigger, better MMO and pieced together, Frankenstein-style. It's a pile of good ideas with no underlying structure. Dark Vale has indicated that it would like to build a persistent world into Forge and keep expanding the game universe, but for now, the match-start-to-scoreboard gameplay seems disconnected and doesn't do much to draw players in.

There are other issues likely related to the game's beta status. Sound effects feel as if they're still works in progress, glitches and bugs occur frequently, and the lack of music (there's no music at all, yet) gives it a weird, hollow vibe. The game's timing feels a little off, too; matches are too long, and having to fight two in a row in the same environment left me bored and disinterested. However, there's one important point to be made about all these beta issues: Most of the problems I encountered fell under the "this feels weird and needs a tweak" category rather than the "this is totally broken and a disaster" category. I'm sure the launch version of the game could fix everything I've mentioned and then some.

Making a Run in Forge
Overall, Forge is an intriguing entry in the world of MMOs, one that could very well be exactly what PvP fanatics are looking for. Dark Vale is toying with some exciting ideas that may ring true with people tired of slogging through PvE just to get to the good stuff, but it's also unclear whether PvP is alluring without the world that usually surrounds it. Regardless, if Dark Vale can punch up the pace, balance out the classes, and generally add more polish to the game, Forge will certainly be a game worth playing.

Forge has officially been chosen as a Steam Greenlight title and should be coming your way soon.

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