Forge is definitely an intriguing game that invites exploration. The upcoming MMO-brawler hybrid from indie developer Dark Vale Games is emblematic of what I see as a trend in multiplayer gaming: The era of the niche game is well upon us. Forge isn't a game that will appeal to everyone; its tendency toward "all PvP, all the time" might be enough to scare away a hefty segment of the MMO crowd already. And the game has a nonexistent grind and gear system. For some gamers, that might be a deal-breaker.
But there's a lot to love about Forge, and I think that anyone who gives the game a fighting chance will find something about it to keep him around.
Forge is a competitive third-person shooter with MMO elements. It's a lobby MMO; it's impossible to ignore that, and it's clear that the game draws more from the Global Agenda school of thought than the EverQuest. You play as one of five fantasy classes (more are slated to be patched in post-launch), each with unique abilities. There's no gear, and the leveling system is much more reminiscent of a game like Call of Duty (think perks) than a traditional MMO. By competing in instanced PvP, players level up their characters and gain the ability to swap out some of their abilities for other equally powerful but different options. As in PlanetSide 2, the word "side-grade" dominates the game design here; instead of swapping transports, your Pathfinder might choose a knockback arrow over a blinding arrow. You'll customize your class, load into an instanced multiplayer objective-based arena, and unload on the enemy team. It sounds simple, but the classes are well-designed and allow for a fairly deep PvP experience that hinges heavily on reflexes and teamwork.
The classes are fairly standard fantasy fare, but I was drawn in by a few unique mechanics. First off is the Assassin, your typical melee DPS with stealth. Forge's Assassin places more of a focus on crowd control; one of the Assassin's abilities pulls an enemy into stealth with you, essentially allowing you to have a one-on-one duel with your victim for a few precious seconds. Additionally, the Assassin can wall-jump. I almost cackled when I found that I could leap from wall to wall as in Assassin's Creed. From what I could gather, the Assassin will excel at avoiding the hectic team fights that will characterize the game once it launches. Stealth plus the ability to climb on top of most buildings goes a long way toward keeping you undetected.
The rest of the classes are a little more cookie-cutter, but there are definitely some fun tools sprinkled into their move sets. The Pyromancer, for example, can launch himself into the air with an explosion. And you go really, really high -- high enough to see almost the entire map you're playing on. It's an amusing way to scout, and it's a fun way to find the perfect place to put your wall of fire. The other ranged DPS is the Pathfinder, an analogue to the standard hunter or ranger class found in most MMOS. I found this class to be the biggest beneficiary of Forge's third-person-shooter aesthetic. It was incredibly satisfying to spot an opponent from across the map and successfully land a blinding arrow that blacks out his screen for a few seconds. It's a system that provides more of an ego boost than tab-targeting (which isn't in the game at all).
The last two classes are the closest to your standard healer and tank options in most MMOS. The Shaman is the healer, providing buffs and limited direct healing. Additionally, the Shaman can drop a bubble that covers allies and absorbs damage. As a Shaman, you have very limited offensive capability, and your defenses aren't so hot either; you can support your team very well, but if you're caught alone, you won't last long. That's where the Warden comes in. The Warden is a bruiser that can take and deal damage but can also buff its allies. As a Warden, you'll essentially be playing interference for your team members by doing your best to make sure that none of them gets hit. You'll do this by occupying contested alleyways, standing guard over bridges, and flying towards your enemies with a whirlwind charge. It's fun, and it's fairly intuitive.
These classes are the first of many planned for implementation post-launch; Ravager and Tinker classes are at the top of that list, so go ahead and commence with the wild speculation. More maps and game types are planned as well (beyond the current Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Capture the Relic options). Two of these planned game types were explained to me by Timothy Alvis, the COO and CTO of the game. First off is Labyrinth, which takes the standard MMO raid model and puts the players in control of the trash mobs and bosses. The second is Diabolical, which is a riff on a well-known gear-centric game, essentially team deathmatch, with the twist of RNG gear dropping from defeated players. You'll kill a player, snatch up the RNG gear, and rinse-repeat for the next 15 minutes. As far as I could tell, this is the only time gear pops up in the game, and I look forward to getting my hands on this abridged version of the MMO gear grind.
Finally, Forge is really pretty. Because the game is entirely instanced, the maps are detailed and gorgeous. Despite the game's lobby nature, I think that the high level of its art style will go a long way toward providing a sense of immersion. From Endor-esque forest maps replete with bridges and shafts of sunlight peeking through the darkened canopy to a vast cityscape that begs for chokepoint warfare in the view of stained-glass windows, Forge does a good job combating its vanilla fantasy setting with a well-planned and well-executed visual array.
It's important to note that Forge is a product of the Kickstarter generation. It's definitely got that "for gamers, by gamers" vibe to it, which is ultimately a good thing. My sole worry regarding Forge has to do with the game's ambition. There are talks of creating a vast persistent map in the style of PlanetSide 2 for players to conquer in addition to other nebulous MMO staples like hubs for players to congregate in when they don't feel like murdering each other. But I don't want to come off as a naysayer; Dark Vale could very well pull it off. Ultimately, it's a waiting game. Forge does MMO-flavored twitch PvP well, and it would be a shame for that to be diluted by a perceived need for post-launch genre staple add-ons. If you want to make it more likely that Dark Vale will be able to fully realize its lofty PvP ambitions, head on over to the Kickstarter page. I think Forge definitely deserves our attention.
Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?