Bloodforge Review

  • First Released Apr 25, 2012
  • X360

Bloodforge's striking brutality doesn't stand a chance of overcoming its crushingly dull gameplay.

Crom is angry. He has murdered his family, apparently tricked into the act by the god known as Arawn; and he wants vengeance. It's a familiar setup to put it mildly, and a certain other enraged hero has famously charted a brutal and satisfying course to revenge against the gods. Alas, though Crom's path to revenge is brutal, it is anything but satisfying. His journey is small in scope and tedious to endure, providing you with little reason to join him on his blood-soaked quest.

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Crom's existence is pitiable. The tormented soul can do nothing but run through forgettable environments, his progress stopped frequently by groups of enemies he must engage in repetitive battles. There's not much to Bloodforge but chopping off the heads and limbs of your foes, and that combat is far too frustrating to form a solid foundation for this adventure. Crom wields three types of melee weapons: swords, hammers, and claws. An in-game menu lists Crom's repertoire of skills with each weapon type, and they are numerous, which may lead you to believe that this is a game in which you must make skillful use of these techniques and combos to prevail. Sadly, this is not the case. When your enemies are vulnerable, simply mashing on the X and Y buttons is enough to make them gush comical amounts of blood.

The intensity of the game's violence makes mowing down enemies grimly satisfying at first. But such pleasure is short-lived. You fight the same few types of enemies over and over, and most groups of foes include a large enemy with enough health to make taking him out drag on for too long. Soon, it starts to feel as if the game is trying to beat you into submission with these battles, each one practically indistinguishable from the five or 10 that came before. You can use your abilities to change things up a bit, entering a berserk state to slow down the action and do more damage, or casting spells to call on the power of benevolent gods. These abilities are welcome, not because they bring any depth to the combat, but because anything that lets you finish these fights faster is a good thing.

Despite its shallowness, the combat isn't always easy. There's an evade button, but no block ability, and when you head into groups of enemies to do some damage, there's a very good chance you'll suffer some damage as well. In the early goings, health items are few and far between, so you may find yourself forced to survive battles with just a sliver of life remaining. At times like this, you can rely on a handy but incredibly boring method to progress. In addition to his melee weapons, Crom has a crossbow. Most of your enemies don't have ranged attacks, so you can simply keep your distance, taking potshots at them until you see the telltale swirls appear above their heads indicating that they are dazed, at which point you can run in and finish them off with brutal killing moves. You may find yourself relying on this method out of necessity, but it makes the game's already dull combat even more of a slog.

This boss has eyes in the back of his head. Well, one eye, anyway.
This boss has eyes in the back of his head. Well, one eye, anyway.

Though at times it feels as if you're not making any progress, each kill does bring Crom one step closer to his destiny. Unfortunately, that destiny involves slaying a small number of gods in boss battles that do nothing to alleviate the game's tedium. These foes, like the gargantuan goddess Cailleach, often look repulsive and terrifying. But they follow simple patterns and telegraph their attacks, making them far less threatening than they appear. They also have inflated health meters that you can only chip away at slowly. When one boss says "Beg, and I may spare your life," you'll wish there were a beg button, so you could bring a merciful end to the torment of slowly killing him.

The dreariness of Bloodforge is unrelenting; there are no puzzles or other activities to grant you respite from the slaughter, and Crom is such an underdeveloped and unlikable jerk that you won't give a damn how things turn out for him. The camera wobbles as if being wielded by an inebriated operator, and when it rotates, it jitters, giving the impression that you're watching a film with many frames of footage missing. Environments have so few distinguishing features that it's easy to get lost, and there's no map or waypoint to help you get your bearings. Swirling snow and pouring rain create the sense that Crom's world is a harsh and inhospitable one, but aside from the apparent fact that this is a place where people sport some unusual and intimidating headgear, you don't learn anything about this land to make you care about it or the people who live there.

A host of individually minor issues also conspire to make it even more difficult to invest yourself in Crom's quest. Invisible force fields abound that prevent you from exploring the environments freely. Killing animations sometimes don't trigger properly. Leaping during battle occasionally causes Crom to twitch wildly in midair as enemies scamper around underneath him. Even without these issues, there would be little reason to play Bloodforge, but these problems make gleaning a bit of bloody fun from this mess of a game even more challenging.

Crom's true motivation: to eliminate everyone who tries to outdo him in the crazy headgear department.
Crom's true motivation: to eliminate everyone who tries to outdo him in the crazy headgear department.

It might take you about six hours to finish Crom's quest, and that's six hours longer than this game ought to be. Bloodforge makes a laughable attempt to seduce you into spending even more time with it, with leaderboards for each level and the option to challenge your friends' scores in an arena mode. But there's no reason to suffer through a game this laborious even once, much less come back to it. Crom is angry, and if you make the mistake of stepping into his shoes, you might become angry, too.

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The Good

  • A few memorably hideous character designs

The Bad

  • Tedious combat
  • Terrible, protracted boss battles
  • Underdeveloped world and characters
  • Distractingly wobbly camera
  • A number of minor technical problems