BattleForge – Review
After being assigned to play EA Phenomic’s MMORTS Game BattleForge, I was instantly reminded of two things, Magic: The Gathering the popular trading card game and Blizzards famous Warcraft 3. An unlikely blend but one I was intrigued by since I was a fan of both games. This also meant I had to judge its core game-play against RTS games, rather than more traditional MMOs.
So then, what sets BattleForge apart from the traditional RTS template is that instead of building a base and then producing an army you instead summon units from your customizable deck of 20 virtual cards. Aside from units you can also cast spells such as unit buffs/debuffs and AoE attacks. Cards are broken down into four groups Frost (blue), Shadow (purple), Fire (red) and Nature (Green). This will all sound very familiar to anyone who has played M:TG.
This trading card game type mechanic is what makes this more of an MMO rather than a normal RTS. It’s also the source of revenue for EA as to get more cards you need to buy BattleForge Points. These are then used in game to buy virtual booster packs and bid in card auctions, which in turn means you can auction off cards you don’t want and use those points to buy another card.. Although EA’s play4free account allows you to access the whole game without purchasing anything. But the free cards you are given will only realistically get you through the campaigns on easy and will make being competitive in PvP extremely difficult. Even without buying the cards there is still a grind for gold, tokens and card upgrades, earned in PvP and especially PvE where repeating campaign maps is necessary to obtain card upgrades.
But what really matters is does this hybrid RTS card game work? Surprisingly it does. The game is easy to pick up, the UI is simple but clear and the card summoning system feels like its belongs rather than being tacked on as a gimmick as I had previously feared. From playing the PvE side of the game I found I couldn’t just win by spamming unit summons and clicking attack. The art style and general combat between units invoked my previous comparison of Warcraft 3. As you can see from the screenshots the graphics are of a decent level and the ingame effects look cool.
The resource system uses power and the previously mentioned orbs. Power is the resource you spend to summon units and cast spells as well as build on nodes. A nice mechanic of power is you never actually lose it when you use it, instead it returns to the “void” when a unit is destroyed or a spell cast, from there it slowly trickles back into your pool of power. Orbs allow you to actually use cards in the first place, as to summon a basic Fire unit you need to control at least a Fire Orb on the map, higher tier units call for you to control additional nodes. Also orbs are very limited on the map so as in M:TG its not practical to build a deck made with cards from all four groups. Units also get special abilities to use which cost power, adding some tactical depth. Another mechanic I like is that the units are all categorized into four sizes, Small, Medium, Large, and X-Large. But bigger is not always better as some units also get a 50% bonus to damage against certain sizes. Such as a Small unit being good against Large units. Overall from exploring the game-play I got the impression the developers had put a good deal of thought into the design and not just made a copy paste Command & Conquer clone.
Because this reviewer only played with the cards given with the play4free account I stayed away from PvP after one terribly lopsided match. Though through asking other players and reading the forums I gathered that the game is fairly balanced at the expert level of play. So instead I concentrated on the PvE content. This consists of RTS style campaigns where you progress through a series of missions. There are several of these campaigns and each has three levels of difficulty with the endgame content as it were being centred on the expert level, where good strategy in deck building and game playing is needed. The main reward for doing the campaigns is earning free card upgrades, which enable you to improve existing cards you already own, a nice touch. This wouldn’t be much of an MMO Game if you couldn’t fight the good fight with others and so there are dedicated 2, 4 and 12 player campaigns with missions designed around the added players. When trying these myself I found people would communicate and plan loose strategies with me. I’ll also give a small mention to the community being very forgiving of my noobness.
Naturally there is a backstory to give you some semblance of meaning to your battles. You take on the role of a Skylord, a sort of demigod who resides on a recovering post apocalyptic fantasy world. As a Skylord you help the mortal humans reclaim their world from the evil twilight hordes using your special ability to summon magical monsters etc. All standard fantasy fare but the campaigns feature nicely narrated lore throughout which helps add some flavour. Content wise there has been two expansions so far both adding more campaigns and 240 new cards bringing the number of cards available to purchase to over 400. There are also community made maps available, which gives something extra once you’ve exhausted the main content.
The game does have its problems though. I found how looting was handled in the co-op PvE to be poorly done. The host can choose either to use Need or Greed, Assign or Random (which isn’t quite). Without going into too much detail each is flawed by trust issues. This is amplified by the surprising lack of clan support despite having a robust friends system. I also feel the PvE content is just not large enough in the same way as other MMORPG Games to justify spending money to make a good deck.
In summary I found myself enjoying the game more than I thought I would since personally becoming jaded by the RTS genre. In fact just the prospect of building my own decks for use in PvP gave me appetite for this game. But and this is a big but, I’m really not a fan of micro-payments! Western audiences in general aren’t either or though they are warming up to the idea. But this is really just a personal preference so if you don’t mind this kind of payment system this won’t be a problem for you.
Right now though the game is obviously PvP focused and like EVE-online the PvE content serves to get you equipped for PvP and in BattleForge this comes in the form of card upgrades. This may change though with the PvE content being expanded as the game is still being well supported by EA.
So if you like to try an MMORTS Game free with a difference or how a trading card game would work in real time its a worth download of the game. But only stay if you enjoy the PvP.
by Zac Dai