Forge looks like it was made for a person like me. Don't get me wrong, I love everything about MMOs, from adventuring and questing in PvE content to exploring persistent locations and meeting new people. But sometimes I just want to log in, jump in a battleground, and get some good, old-fashioned face punching on without concerning myself with rat infestations bothering local NPCs.
Dark Vale Games' new title looks poised to scratch that player-vs-player itch with an interesting proposition: offer players the pickup group and raid battleground experience, including some persistent features and RPG elements, but without the requisite PvE leveling that's a barrier of entry for some games' PvP content. I got to chat with Tim Alvis, Co-Founder, COO, and CTO of Dark Vale about Forge, and he's of the mind that players should be able to jump into the kind of action that their game is ready to offer, without having to "play 12 weeks" just to get in on the fun.
In Forge, you'll be able to participate in battleground-style matches of sizes ranging from 8v8 to 24v24. Dark Vale has announced five different classes so far that will be available at launch, and the game features skill-based, third-person shooter gameplay, with no dice rolls behind the combat system. From my brief hands-on with the game's alpha build, I can tell you that while Forge may be difficult to describe to the uninitiated, its gameplay will be instantly comfortable to aficionados of the MMO and FPS/TPS genres. The game has a clean, functional user interface with an integrated HUD that gives you contextual feedback about damage you're taking, skill cooldowns, and the like - so much so that if you know what you're doing, you can play without the normally indispensable hotbar at the bottom of the screen.
This hotbar houses a number of class-based skills that can be unlocked by playing the game and are at once familiar in their design and innovative in their execution. The Assassin class, for example, focuses on disorienting opponents while moving quickly, utilizing escapes and doing a lot of damage. Sounds like pretty standard stuff for an MMO or RPG stealth class, right? Well, while Forge's Assassin can enter stealth interminably, it doesn't find its strength in dealing a ton of damage through a stealth "opener;" it's a bit more creative. Using a skill like Shadow Shift, the class can drag an opponent into the shadow realm, which is like a dusky private phase of the instance with only two people in it: the Assassin and his/her mark. Better yet, the Shadow Shift lasts for 5 seconds, and the enemy receives a 50% movement debuff. Yowza.
Another class, the Pathfinder, also uses a stealth-like ability called Camouflage, to a very different effect. The Pathfinder is a medium-range, movement-based class that focuses on pinning and blinding foes. When Pathfinders hit Camouflage, they can stealth and attack turret-style from their position, or swap locations with nearby opponents and allies to influence the lay of the battlefield. And that blinding attack? It'll cause the screen to go dark on whomever it hits.
The Pyromancer class plays a bit differently from these two, but will feel familiar to people used to playing ranged mages. The Pyromancer has several flame-like abilities and some escapes, but really shines with Flame Burst, a rocket jump ability. It's easy to imagine the disorientation caused by rushing a seemingly vulnerable glass cannon only to have it soar cleanly past and away from you.
Conversely, the Warden class is built to wade right into the thick of the action as a team tank. Basing its skills on a shout system, the Warden is tougher to bring down in a mix of a group of enemies. The class' iconic ability is Shield Storm, in which the Warden swings its shield overhead and can fly for 3 seconds. Yes, that's correct: FLYING TANKS.
Rounding out Forge's launch classes is the Shaman, which is a healer equipped with skills that will keep the party in good shape. One of the Shaman's standout skills is Spiritual Burden, which debuffs all of the opponents within range to move more slowly and jump half as high. The Shaman, however, receives a boost to jump twice as high. Being an incessant jumper in online games, I will most certainly misuse this skill.
As part of my demo, I got to play the Assassin, Pyromancer, and Warden classes, and was delighted to find that the controls came very naturally even as the potential for complexity and synergy between class skills was readily apparent. Furthermore, I alternated between using a mouse and keyboard and a 360 gamepad, and both worked equally fine, although official controller support will have to wait until a month or so after launch. We checked out a few different arenas in various stages of development, and each one had me marveling at its scale, graphical detail, and design. I was particularly impressed by the verticality of the arenas, like stone walkways in an open temple area or rope bridges twining through a forest. Tim explained some of the more detail-oriented aspects of Forge's gameplay, like the ability to do running wall jumps (awesome), and a stun immunity bar that fills up every time you get stunned, which - true to its name - makes you immune to stuns for a time, encouraging the use of stun attacks as interrupts rather than locks.
Additionally, Forge tracks your progress and ranks you among all kinds of quantifiable in-game actions. Its current build tracks your experience gain and allows you to unlock alternate abilities and skins, and while you'll be able to achieve different ranks with pickup groups come launch, there will be a fixed team vs. team ranking feature in the future. As for eSports, Tim and his team are presently focusing on polishing the game itself, but may be open to positioning Forge for competitive play in the future.
At launch, Forge will offer the five basic classes, several maps, and the three game modes of Team Deathmatch, Capture the Relic - which is a variation on Capture the Flag, with higher-scoring matches and towers that can help your team, and King of the Hill. Soon after release, the developers plan to introduce two new classes, new maps, and gameplay modes. These new modes include Labyrinth, which will bring a raid PvP experience to the table with player-controlled bosses, and Diabolical, which is kind of a Diablo-style loot grind that can be played in 15 minutes. Furthermore, while the launch version will allow players to access matches from a straightforward menu, the plan is already in motion to build out a persistent central hub, like a major city in other MMOs, which will offer specific non-combat activities. A meta-map conquest mode and other updates and DLC are on their way as well, and although the game doesn't have a solo mode, Tim's team is currently considering how to best present an in-game tutorial.
Dark Vale Games has said that they want to offer Forge at an "indie" price point, and the game will be yours to play after paying the box price, without a subscription fee. They also have a Kickstarter project in progress to allow them to work on post-launch content while the game's in development. Forge is currently in friends and family alpha testing, with a closed beta soon and launch planned for 2012.
Thanks again Tim Alvis and Dark Vale Games for showing us around Forge!
Are you excited for Forge's PvP action? Let us know in the comments below!