New games have their work cut out for them when trying to carve out a niche in the crowded realm of competitive multiplayer. Should the newcomer try to expand upon previously established conventions, or attempt to find its own identity as it travels down the tumultuous road so many others have walked before? Dark Vale Games' Forge finds middle ground, offering up an intriguing mixture of third-person shooting and fantasy role-playing, where armaments and spells are always darting right past you. You either acclimate quickly or leave in a fit of frustration, but for those who excel in frenetic environments, Forge provides an engaging explosion of frantic combat meant for mega-multitaskers.
Forge is an online-only third-person shooter lightly decorated with role-playing elements and the bedlam injected into games such as Team Fortress 2 and Natural Selection. The game is rife with cut-and-paste fantasy elements, and the pandemonium plays out among real-world players (no bots allowed) and feels quite unhinged for those unfamiliar with its more complex elements. It confuses for the first hour or so, and for this reason, new players will flock to the series of tutorials available for first-timers.
You must at least explore the tutorials available to you in order to unlock the other modes of play, but completing the tutorials is a slog. Once you jump into the action, you find yourself annihilated by veteran players, but you learn more in this school of hard knocks than you do in the clumsy tutorial lessons. If you never explore the tutorials beyond what is required, advanced tooltips and optional educational bubbles aid you in deciphering which abilities are appropriate in different situations and how to use them. With that said, there's still a learning curve to contend with.
Once you've jumped off the deep end straight into a real match, it's quickly obvious that there's no time for practice--you either step in line with the twitch-based encounters, or you meet a swift end. Once you've battled enough, you slowly become a competent player. There are five classes to master: assassin, pathfinder, pyromancer, shaman, and warden, each with nine specific abilities. Standard fantasy skills are exhibited among these specializations, including healing magic, stuns, slowing, and other tropes. Fortunately, standout abilities, such as swapping places with a player or trapping an enemy in place by way of an arrow, give Forge an identity of its own. These varied attacks contribute to the chaotic nature of the game, and lend a fresh lilt to what could have easily stagnated as the same played-out skill trees of other fantasy games.
Each class's base attack is sufficient to secure the errant kill, but most solo efforts give way to group attacks and combined assaults to do massive amounts of damage. Long story short, simply spamming your main melee attack won't get you far in Forge. Coordinating lethal strikes with teammates is key. For this it's imperative that you communicate in both the rapid-fire 10-on-10 team battles and the face-offs that shatter into smaller scuffles here and there across the four available maps. Flipping between coordinated raids and solo altercations is satisfying, especially once you've had ample time to grow and learn with your favorite class.
Luckily, it's simple to become accustomed to the class of your choice. Forge takes a page out of the single-player shooter rule book, forgoing the familiar convention of number-keyed abilities for a clever mapping of class-specific attacks, curses, and buffs to the WASD keys. Should you require your warden to buff allies while gallivanting around the map dodging bullets, or if your shaman is called upon to heal himself or others in an immediate area, movement is not restricted to how fast your hand is able to swap between the number and WASD keys. Nimble fighters will find themselves rewarded in Forge, as the controls allow you to juggle movement and abilities with a minimum of physical fuss.
In fact, movement is paramount to success. The whole of Forge is built on this very idea, with varied terrain allowing for surprise strikes and dynamic sprints to your enemy to surprise and scare the wits out of them. There's no map to reveal your enemies' location and no indicators to keep you focusing on where your opponents might be; you simply need to stay alert and keep abreast of your enemies' attack patterns to stay alive. Sometimes you won't, and an assassin will swiftly take you out from the shadows. That's part of what makes Forge the interesting beast it can be and is one of the reasons it's a pleasant change from standard fantasy battlegrounds. This lack of situational awareness doesn't put you at a disadvantage, however, but rather enhances the experience in a way that evens the playing field.
Attaining experience points nets you new, predictable upgrades: armor, speed, health, and new abilities to slot into the gaping hole on your overlay. Putting your hard-earned experience points to proper use is a great way to blow through the ranks from rookie to seasoned Forge player, and you will notice a significant change in the way you play once standard health points have risen, or when you're unleashing that brand-new ability on an unsuspecting enemy. It feels good, and it's a great reason to keep pushing forward to get better. If you're skilled enough, you will flourish.
Forge is intriguing in many ways, breaking many stalwart conventions and remaining firmly cemented in others. The mayhem of shooters crisscrossed with magical derring-do ensure the game is nothing short of chaotic at all times. A few grayed-out modes listed in the match-type list are still unavailable, and the paucity of maps currently diminish its appeal, but Forge is already a riotous competitive experience that deserves your attention. Sometimes all you need is a little discord.