Citadel: Forged with Fire is a massive online sandbox RPG with survival elements in the vein of ARK: Survival Evolved and Conan Exiles. Developed by Blue Isle Studios, creators of Valley and Slender: The Arrival, the elevator-pitch for Citadel seems like it was “ARK meets Harry Potter” but without as many of the ‘survival’ aspects. Now, after two years in early-access on Steam, Citadel: Forge with Fire is finally out. So does this new sandbox hold some magic? Or does its spell fizzle out? Here’s our review of Citadel: Forged with Fire.
Upon starting Citadel it’s pretty striking the resemblance it has towards similar titles in the same genre, most notably ARK: Survival Evolved. The server selection menu for example navigates almost the exact same way, with similar selectable options to filter out certain servers and even favorites and history tabs to save which servers you use most. Even the character creation is very noticeably inspired from ARK, offering the same ridiculous proportions in character models so as to make stubby, short characters with a stocky waist and scrawny arms, or gigantic twig-like figure with bulbous upper-arms and comically-disproportionate legs. It’s almost hard to not make a monstrous-looking character.
Beginnings of a Wizard
After creating my character, I was able to select between three starting points - again, giving me ARK vibes. But those initial surface-level comparisons to ARK really start to melt away as you actually start playing through Citadel. When my character awoke, emerging aflame atop some molten rocks, I was greeted by a tutorial quest-giver that helped introduce me to some of the basic mechanics and to also provide me with some starting equipment.
I feel like these tutorial quests didn’t really do a great job in helping me understand the different systems in place, or how to navigate the menus. They start off as basic fetch quests, like go gather 5 berries and 1 mushroom, but when I was tasked with building a campfire I was completely lost. I tried exploring through the menus, I spent some of my skill points I had earned from leveling up towards learning how to make the campfire, but I couldn’t figure out how to actually build it. There’s a crafting section in the inventory, but I couldn’t actually craft the campfire. It wasn’t until hours later when I was messing around with building a house that I stumbled upon the sub-menu within the building menu that had the campfire in it.
At least there was some kind of tutorial system in Citadel though, unlike its contemporaries. Playing through the beginnings of a new open-world sandbox survival game always makes me feel like I’m supposed to just figure everything out as I go - or die trying. I appreciate that Citadel tries to make these beginning steps a little easier, but I don’t think it really helps out all that much. I hope they can develop this tutorial further and maybe add on additional quests that help explain some of the more convoluted aspects in Citadel.
I had a more enjoyable time just setting out immediately and starting crafting my own gear however. Exploring the areas around the starting zones are strikingly beautiful, reminding me a lot of how I first felt playing Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The colors are vividly eye-popping with bright hues of green foliage and orange brush giving an impression that I was hiking the Appalachian mountains in Autumn.
Building, Crafting, Makes Us Stronger
One of my goals in any sandbox is to make as elaborate and intricate a house as possible, replete with winding staircases and overly-complicated layouts. Luckily, Citadel takes the building and crafting to a new level. I had a lot of fun in making a wizard tower in Citadel. At first, I designed a pretty basic house with just enough room to fit in some crafting stations. But as I gathered more resources, I started expanding upwards. Gathering resources is a time-consuming and grueling process however, but resources can be acquired not only from chopping down trees but looting enemies and chests that contain resources as well.
What I appreciate most about Citadel’s building options is that I didn’t have to invest additional points into learning different cosmetic variations. For example, when I spent a point into learning Stone Floors, I unlocked several variations of stone foundations, including curved floors, semi-circular floors, and diagonal triangular floors. I was used to other sandbox games demanding another point for each design, and so I rarely invested my precious skill points into learning aesthetic differences but now I can freely design complex structures even at low levels.
There are also house decorations that I invested points into. Decorations include paintings, lamps, taxidermied trophies, and more. This let me give my wizard-home a more personal touch where I could make it feel more immersive as a home instead of just having blank walls. Although I personally wouldn’t have taxidermied animal heads mounted on my wall in real life, I felt that my wizard would be proud of his conquests - so I made a trophy-room just to appease his bloodlust.
I did have a problem with the snap-targeting of building pieces, though. It often took a lot of moving around and re-positioning myself to find the sweet spot to lay down floors or set up a wall. I wish there was a way to more easily specify where I wanted structures to go. I also wish there was a way to just hold down the button and drag across to build multiple things across the same plane. For example, just holding down the mouse button to build a floor and dragging across to continue building more floors. Having to set down each individual floor - and get in the correct position to lay it down - was an investment of time, to say the least.
Crafting in Citadel has a nice quality of life timer that pops up above the station that is currently crafting something. You don’t have to babysit anything you craft, you just queue it up and the station starts work. There’s a green circular-timer that will show you about how much longer the crafting will take. This freed me up to go queue up other items at other stations, or manage my inventory, and not have to just stare at a progress bar while I was crafting.
I also really like the randomly generated attributes that gear can get when you craft. It reminded me a lot of Diablo III’s crafting system in how you can see the base damage, but you know there will be 2 additional magical modifiers that could be anything from extra health to increasing your luck. There are also rarities to gear, so if you craft a green Uncommon staff you can make another one that might be a blue Rare staff with better stats.
Spellcrafting and Spellcasting - An Art
Without peer, I think the combat in Citadel is vastly superior and more fun than any other sandbox survival game I’ve played. It took me a while to figure out the spellcrafting system - and I think it could be improved - but I think that this is an extremely fun way to offer dynamic and interesting combat right from the start.
In Citadel, you can acquire essences - from gathering, looting chests, or enemies - that can be used as base materials for crafting new spells. Different weapon types can offer different schools of magic on top of this. For example, I was using a wand which specializes in ranged attacks in conjunction with a staff, that offers area-of-attack type spells.
By default, there is always Arcane magic to craft spells with, but you can use essences that you find to change the element of whatever spell you make - which creates a completely different spell from one element to another. In just using Arcane, I could create a magical beam spell on my wand, but with a Fire essence that beam instead becomes a flamethrower - with a much shorter range but dealing more damage.
Items gathered or found can also be used when crafting new spells, and can have effects like increasing the spell’s damage or range. Early on there were berries I used to increase the damage by 1%, but when I started hunting dragons down I could use their scales to get up to 14% extra damage each. With 5 scales - and some good luck, I could make spells up to 70% more powerful than normal!
One of the spells you can craft is the Tame spell, that uses a Light essence and the Utility school of magic. I only figured this out when I started experimenting with each essence, but I knew there was taming in Citadel because several items like craftable food recipes, offer increased tame duration on monsters. You can keep several tamed pets - including dragons! - and even put a saddle on them to ride them around.
Hunting, Gathering, Looting
Gathering resources in Citadel is pretty simplistic compared to other survival games. There’s only one tool for chopping wood or mining stone or anything else you need to do. Just whack away with an axe (or, at higher levels, a sword) and you gain resources. There’s no need to constantly switch between several tools - like pickaxes, or bare hands - in order to gather different resources.
Unfortunately, the repetitious nature of this can be grating after a while. What’s worse, I had to click for every time I wanted to swing with the axe. While I was cutting down trees, I couldn’t just hold down the button to continuously chop away at it. Because of this, I hesitated gathering resources at all since it was so monotonous. A nice quality of life improvement would be this one simple addition to just hold a button down to cut.
Luckily, hunting animals and bandit camps can be pretty lucrative for finding resources as well. Some monsters, like tree protectors, even drop lots of wood to use! Enemy camps are easily displayed on the map, and the respawn rate was really short, so you can find a good spot to camp and get some decent gear. Most camps also house treasure chests with loot as well, although these take considerably longer to respawn.
Around the map are also locations of daily quest-givers. These quests appear randomized and could range from simple kill quests like “Kill 3 Bears” to slightly more in-depth crafting requests, like “Craft and turn in 2 Bear Gloves”. Rewards can also include resources, or items like potions and consumables but overall it doesn’t feel worth it to take on these quests. If I passed by one, I’d stop in and see what they were giving, but most of the time I didn’t feel like it was worth going out of my way.
Due to the fun nature of combat in Citadel as opposed to the boring task of chopping wood, I often found myself going hunting instead of gathering raw resources. This made my experience slightly more like that of an open-world RPG rather than a survival-sandbox style game. Even the simplification of looting enemy corpses by pressing a single button is in direct contrast to how arduous it is in gathering resources.
Some Final Thoughts
I initially didn’t like my time playing Citadel at all, thinking it was nothing more than an ARK ripoff. But the more I discovered the different systems in place that differentiate it from the rest, I started having more fun. I think there are some annoying quality of life improvements that are in drastic need of getting addressed, but there are some areas that Citadel addresses already to reduce the tediousness involved, like the fact that there’s no thirst or hunger systems in place.
The world opened up to me even more after I unlocked my first broomstick and could fly around the world. Although flying consumes mana so it can’t be used indefinitely, it came in handy more than once in retreating from sticky situations or in needing to scale over a cliff. There’s even a Harry Potter like Quidditch game you can play in Citadel, although I didn’t get an opportunity to play it. But I anticipate a lot more creative people will enjoy designing their own Quidditch pitches.
In summary, I think Citadel: Forged with Fire has a lot of things going for it. At first glance, one might assume it’s nothing more than a blatant rip-off but Citadel really does stand apart from other games like Conan Exiles, ARK Survival Evolved, and even Fallout 76. If you’re a fan of Harry Potter and enjoy games like Minecraft then I think Citadel: Forged with Fire is a definite buy. However, if you’re a fan of more traditional survival sandbox games, it might be worth holding off until some quality of life improvements are made first. In the meantime, I have a Wizard Tower to finish constructing.
- Deep spellcrafting system
- It's like ARK, for Harry Potter fans
- No Food or Water Management!
- Lack of quality of life aspects
- Unhelpful Tutorial
- Lackluster questing system