BattleForge is a new game from developer EA Phenomic that takes a real-time approach to the complex deck-building and unit-balancing strategy of card battle games. Having previously developed the notable SpellForce series, EA Phenomic knows its way around the RTS battlefield and is aiming to mix things up a bit with BattleForge. You will derive your armies from cards you've collected through trades, purchases, or victories and deploy them at will, rather than spending time constructing buildings and harvesting resources. BattleForge will also support social interaction on a large scale, letting you trade, buy, and sell cards in an online marketplace, or take to the battlefield with up to 12 other players. We recently spent some time with EA Phenomic and sampled the unique flavor of this hybrid game.
The action in BattleForge plays out from a traditional RTS point of view, and the core gameplay stays true to these roots in many ways. Selecting and moving units, engaging in battle, and spellcasting will all be familiar to those who have played an RTS before. The real differences were first apparent when we fielded our first army. Our card deck was displayed along the bottom edge of the screen, and mousing over a card popped it out to reveal the unit name, description, attributes, and cost. In addition to unit cards, there were spell cards that could heal our units or damage our enemies. To deploy a unit, we clicked the card to select it, then clicked on the battlefield, and voila, our new units appeared in a colorful flourish of energy. It's a simple, smooth interface designed to keep the action flowing freely.
Despite this focus on fluid action, there are still restrictions on when and where you can deploy your armies. Units can be deployed in close proximity to your other units, or at any point in a territory you control. Claiming territories is a matter of wiping out any foes in the area and capturing a monument that will stake your claim. This structure can be aligned with one of the many elements, and controlling more elements will expand the range of cards you can play. There are only a few other structures in the game. Some are cards that you can play, like a defensive tower, and others, like the aforementioned monument, exist on the map to be captured and help increase your power.
Units come in one of four sizes, ranging from human size to massive house-wrecking monster size. Larger units are more robust and have special abilities. We watched one giant-horned juggernaut use its stampede power to plow right through a massive defensive wall, allowing the rest of the units to pour through and decimate the enemy. Defeating the most massive of units will earn you its card, and you'll be able to use them in future battles. The units, as well as the landscapes, are detailed and well designed, giving BattleForge a very crisp, appealing look.
One of the more intriguing elements of BattleForge is the stage it sets for social interaction. On the battlefield, players can launch co-op campaigns that actually require both teams to work together. In the live demo we saw, two teams moved across a map through parallel territories. At one juncture, one team had the high ground while the other was level with the enemy. As the latter lured the enemy into the pass and engaged them in melee combat, the other rained down arrows and healing spells from its elevated position. At another point, the teams took on a pair of two enemy shamans that needed to be taken out simultaneously lest they heal or revive each other. Though we saw only two teams, BattleForge will support up to twelve players in massive cooperative/competitive battles.
Another facet of the social side of BattleForge is the online marketplace and forums. Here players will be able to buy booster packs, sell their unwanted cards, and trade with other players, as well as participate in auctions. EA Phenomic is hoping this will attract a vibrant community of folks looking to tweak their decks and strategies before and after battle. The combination of in-game social interplay and strategic, cooperative battle has been wildly successful in the MMO market, and BattleForge looks to capture some of that magic when it is released later this year.