Since seeing Forge early in its development, I've been intrigued by the game's premise, which is to offer team-based, instanced PvP battlegrounds without the massive PvE component that has become the hallmark of MMORPGs. With Forge, Dark Vale Games' idea is to focus wholly on presenting their own version of MMO player-vs-player combat based on third-person controls, without requiring players to grind through the PvE content that can sometimes be a barrier of entry to PvP modes in MMORPGs.
Forge's gameplay model is a pretty neat one in theory, particularly for fans of MMO-style PvP, and its core experience can be quite fun, but the game itself feels largely unfinished. Dark Vale Games has created a solid gameplay system with Forge, and while the developers have been steadily adding modes and tweaks since launch, the overall experience feels as though the game is still in its beta phase. Forge has a lot of potential, but needs to make good on several of its gameplay promises to become a front-runner in arena-based combat.
There are a handful of battlegrounds in Forge, which feature environments that range from pleasing to unremarkable. These battlegrounds, which include scenes like fortress battle areas, forests with woodbridge walkways, a town center, and a tutorial arena, have generally interesting and detailed architecture, with just enough personality to make them stand out from traditional fantasy tropes. Some of the game's textures can be drab, but Forge's nice lighting effects can somewhat mask the lack of color depth.
Forge's menus are functional, yet uninspiring, and in-game music, played on a loop, is inoffensive. The game's user interface and combat sounds, however, add to the fun of the game. The UI, while looking similar to what you'll find in most MMOs, displays small icons that travel from the outside to the center of your screen after you use an ability, letting you keep track of the progress of your cooldowns. It's a subtle touch that allows you to keep your eyes on the action instead of your hotbar. Similarly, combat sounds aren't vastly dissimilar to what you'll find in other games, but there's enough of a cacophony of battle clamor in matches that lends to the game's engaging combat.
Forge's strongest feature is in its core gameplay experience, which is essentially comprised of MMO PvP battlegrounds, without the PvE and open world that make up the traditional forefront of MMORPGs. In the game, you'll engage in team battles based on different game modes like Deathmatch, Capture the Relic, and Arena, all the while earning experience to spend on your characters. These characters, which are cosmetically uncustomizable, are based on Forge's five classes of Assassin, Pathfinder, Pyromancer, Shaman, and Warden. Each of the classes is distinct from the others in abilities and team roles, and this variety provides for a great deal of Forge's depth of gameplay.
Learning to play one of Forge's classes will require some work, but it's worth the effort. The game employs third-person controls with cooldown-based abilities that are mapped around your WASD movement keys (which can all be re-mapped). This design choice encourages fast-paced combat that requires aiming, skill, and very little resource management. It's easy enough to jump in with a new class and cause some mayhem, but to really understand your character's abilities, ideal positioning, and team role, you'll have to spend some time experimenting with different scenarios.
Beyond the boon of getting your teammates to like you more, it'll behoove you to learn to play your class better because the amount of experience that you earn in a match is directly proportional to your effectiveness in combat. You'll get XP and badges for kills, assists, staying alive in a match, doing damage, and that sort of thing, and the competition is pretty fierce. You can then spend this XP to level up your classes and earn titles, customization points, and armor points, although this system is not yet fully fleshed out and presumably awaits an upcoming patch.
In terms of game modes, Forge offers a quick tutorial that gives you a brief overview of the game's movement and abilities, and is required to be completed before you can jump into live matches. The Quick Play menu will allow you to join Team Deathmatch, Capture the Relic, and Arena matchups, or select a scenario at random. You can then choose between two open teams or spectate a match. In the Quick Play menu, there are also King of the Hill and Relic Assault battlegrounds, which are currently grayed out, and the other aforementioned scenarios were not available at launch either and have since been patched into the game. Additionally, another Play menu lists the options of being able to browse the server, create a group, and join a player, but only the ability to join another player is available at the time of this writing.
Even with its current dearth of game options, Forge's gameplay is a lot of fun, and allows for some hectic moments in combat. The game allows you to wall-jump, for example, which makes for a lot of daring escapes from melee combat and Jackie Chan-style vertical climbs between structures. Similarly, each class has its own unique approach and abilities that lend to the craziness, which you can read more about in my preview of the game. It's not uncommon as an Assassin to think you've got the drop on a Pyromancer by trying to snatch them into the stealth world, only to have them blast away from you like a fiery rocket while their Warden friend spins a shield and flies around the battlefield.
Forge is innovative in its ability to distill what's fun about MMO PvP combat and present a unique representation of it that features its own personality. I especially like what Dark Vale Games has done with third-person controls, wall jumping, and unique class abilities, which all make the gameplay feel exciting and fresh.
The parts that are available in Forge feel mostly polished, but there are some obvious omissions in game features that need to be addressed. The aforementioned unavailable match modes and browse/group features comprise one issue, alongside the unfinished leveling system that lacks any sort of tutorial. The game also has a Community menu that teases guild and friend functionality without implementation.
Furthermore, a splash screen that appears upon exiting Forge lists the game's upcoming features, including ability customization, additional social functionality, guilds, new maps, skill-based matchmaking, Steam achievements, and the Ravager class. It's great that Dark Vale Games is working on these features, and I trust them to make good on their promises. It's nonetheless disappointing that such items were left for post-release patches, and that several of them exist within the game's menus and are as yet unavailable.
Additionally, in beta and at launch, Pyromancers and Wardens seemed to have distinct damage dealing and damage absorbing potentials, respectively, in relation to the other classes, but since release, more and more groups have been filling up with Rogues. This may be due to the Rogue's stealth ability and powerful damage capabilities, but it's anyone's guess whether the influx of Rogues is due to a game imbalance or if the class is simply easier to play. In any case, class balancing is a well-known battle in the world of MMO PvP, and in Forge, the best thing I can say about balance is that each class feels effective and is fun to play,
Forge's gameplay is fun and addictive, and can definitely support repeated play sessions, although the game modes need to feel like they have more weight to encourage a dedicated player base. Right now, the Team Deathmatch and Capture the Relic maps are fun enough, but I continually find myself gravitating towards Arena matches to get that quick fix of combat, especially because at the moment there's no long-term reward for engaging in the longer scenarios. Forge is purportedly tracking everything you do in the game, but there aren't any leaderboards to speak of, or persistence outside of the incomplete leveling system. If Dark Vale Games can improve on these aspects of Forge, I can see it having some strong legs among the hardcore PvP community, but as the game currently stands, there's not a lot to do other than play matches for fun and to learn your class better.
There seems to be a steady amount of people playing Forge during the waking hours of the day, and it's generally easy to get a match of any type going. People are nice enough over chat, although there's very little talk about anything other than match-related events. There's no global chat yet outside of matches, so if you're looking to communicate with a larger player base, you'll have to go to the forums.
A significant, dedicated community is what Forge needs to achieve its potential as a PvP powerhouse, and at this point, it's hard to tell if that community exists. I think the promised guild and social features will help a lot to foster an engaged player base, but again, these features aren't yet in the game.
Forge has an attractive price point of $19.99, with a 2-for-1 deal offered at launch that encouraged more people to get into the game. It's also buy-to-play, without requiring a subscription of any type, and the developers are clearly determined to keep adding to the game's features and content. As is, Forge is a little hard-pressed to demand 20 bucks for what feels more like an open beta version of a promising game, but it's possible that Forge will grow into that price point over time.
For all of the things that it does well, Forge feels like it needs more time in development and beta to achieve its potential. I really like the game's model of instanced PvP, and enjoy Forge's dynamic third-person combat. The overall features feel unfinished, however, and while it looks like Dark Vale Games is aware of Forge's missing - and necessary - elements and is working to include them, the game in its released state requires a bit of faith in the developers to make it what it should be. The core gameplay experience is fun and frantic, but Forge will need to attend to a more robust feature set to encourage the dedicated community it requires to succeed.