Forge is proof that not earning your Kickstarter funding isn't the end of the line. The third-person multiplayer action game fell some way short of a $300,000 cash grab, but regrouping on Steam Greenlight gave it a boost and it managed to launch this week. Here's what a few hours on the servers has taught me.
This has been the year of multiplayer beatdowns. Chivalry, War of the Roses, Natural Selection, Ravaged, Orion: Dino Beatdown, Planetside 2, Primal Carnage, Air Buccaneers, and loads more have all hopped up and down begging for your attention. Despite the crowd, Forge manages to stand out. It's a class-based fantasy game, borrowing as much from WoW and Guild Wars 2 for the combat as it does from the likes of TF2 for the structure. In the group photo of all the games listed, it has the biggest hair.
Two teams are warring over some gravel-voiced fantasy frippery, dancing about the maps blasting and dodging spells. It is frantic, which is initially to its detriment. I joined a game and was lost in a UI stuffed with the effects: people were soaked in sigils and fires, and I was blinded by the buffs. There was a pile on of players in the middle of the map, and when five classes with eight abilities meets there's an effects logjam. So I did the smart thing and stepped back.
This meant selecting the Pathfinder class. He's the defacto sniper, a caster of magic arrows with various powers: the usual pin cushion blast can be augmented with poisons, or multiplied to spam; it can blind, or stick an opponent to the ground. There are additional traps and powers alongside that, where the sniper can be invisble, drop caltrops or set explosives. I won't go into vast descriptions of what the others are capable of, but there's an Assassin, Pyromancer, Shamen, and Warden, responsible for stealth, destruction, healing and defence, with some bleed between the roles.
But do the smart thing and grab the Pathfinder first time. The multi-level arenas are a nicely accommodating for all the classes: each has a shared base power of a wall-jump that can take you anywhere, so there's a lot of places to get a view of the fight without getting too involved.
I join a game, though the server browser currently seems to only allow a random selection, and I'm dropped into the middle of contested map with a couple of high walkways leading to each base. It's Two Fort with tattoos. Aiming is nicely forgiving: I fire down into a melee, and the arrows more often than not hit the targets, but it's a system that's balanced - all the powers are buff-based, so even the most basic arrow causes a tiny countdown. Experimenting with powers yields a few combos: pinning someone with an arrow allows me to follow up with a volley, and it feels pretty good. But he doesn't die. And then doesn't die some more. Forge's battlers are hardier than you'd expect, and eventually you realise that there's no guarantee that you'll kill someone. You're mostly doing damage and hoping that your team will manage to overwhelm the others. It does mean it feels a little bit spammy, but the counter to that is that there's a need to join in fights rather than just taking on people one on one. To that end, an addition of a mini-map would help matters out immensely. The UI does show you the position of friend and nearby or spotted enemies, but the omission of a higher-level view is really felt when you're all pushing to a goal.
The speed of the action doesn't mesh well with the buff system. It's as fast as any multiplayer shooter, but with the slow burn battles of an MMO. You can't select your powers with a mousewheel at all, instead you wrestle with a bizarre keyboard layout. All the keys are gathered around WASD, which is clearly to give your fingers a short travel distance, but it's an odd, non-standard layout that takes a lot of getting used to. I'd almost prefer the number keys. Yes, they can be reconfigured, but not to any great benefit. I wonder if a power wheel might be a better option, if there's not a mousewheel update in the future? But I'd rather speed through a list of selectable strengths than suffer the keyboard mangling it currently asks.
Even so, it is surprisingly fun. The swift sorties aren't particularly tactical as people find their feet, but there are moments of serendipity between classes, where a fleeing 'flag bearer, has his pursuers cut off by a perfectly timed wall of fire. There's definitely a fun game of traps and counters here that struggles a little with the UI and control layout.
Forge is out now on Steam, and if you buy before December 18th you get two for the price of one.