|System: PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Phenomic||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 25, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-12||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
January 29, 2009 - Though Starcraft 2 may still be a long ways off, fans of real-time strategy (RTS) are in for a treat this year with EA's BattleForge. Set in a Warcraft-like/Tolkien-esque universe, BattleForge takes traditional RTS gameplay and throws in a card-battling twist. With our curiosity fully piqued, we take a closer look at this promising new IP.
BattleForge is based on four elemental alignments, or The Powers - Frost, Fire, Nature, and Shadow - and each represents what is essentially its own race. Each element is made up (currently) of seven different unit/structure types, and each offers unique advantages. Frost, for instance, is labeled as a defensive type, though when perusing its units, it's clear they are the more balanced of the bunch. Nature, on the other hand, offers units that seem to be masters of status effects and healing, and really, each of The Powers offers a unique foundation for which players can build a custom battle style around.
Where things really get interesting is how the game cards play into the equation. Though you'll play through battles much in the same way as any other PC RTS, players won't have to first hassle with gathering resources and erecting structures. The cards represent units, structures, and casting abilities, and by simply selecting a card, you can then place a unit group or structure onto the battlefield. Control of your units, thereafter, is similar to that of Warcraft, though cutting out the middleman (building of structures), so to speak, allows players to get right down to the heart of the matter - battling. You'll also use cards (again, in real-time) to cast spells, either to heal your units or attack the enemy. It's our understanding that players can mix and match cards as they like, and as the BattleForge universe expands, we expect to see some really clever and creative strategies online.
Although EA has only yet revealed seven cards for each of The Powers, an online marketplace, regular card updates, and trading with friends promise to really open up the variety of gameplay and extend the life of the experience. Considering Warcraft III is still alive and kicking six years after its release, there's potential for any quality RTS to make a distinct mark upon the online-gaming scene.
Even though there will be many cards unveiled in the future, the ones we've seen so far already have us pretty excited for the gameplay. The Tremor, for example, can pound the ground with its stone fists and create a massive shockwave to whip through surrounding units and buildings. But then you have cards like the Mark of the Keeper, a unit that can create an aura around itself to silence (prevent the use of magic) nearby enemies. In addition to regular units, there will be spell cards and structure cards (such as guard towers that can attack enemies within a certain range), and with the promise of new cards continuously streaming into the BattleForge marketplace, players will eventually have the opportunity to create completely unique decks each time they enter a battlefield.
Players can opt to approach BattleForge as a single-player experience or play with up to 12 other folks. There will be player-versus-player battles, but there also seems to be a heavy focus on cooperative missions. Additionally, EA plans on offering new campaigns at regular intervals. There will, indeed, be a ranking system, as well as special bounty that can only be acquired by winning multiplayer matches. There is one caveat, however: an Internet connection is absolutely a requisite to play, regardless of whether you do single-player or multiplayer campaigns. All of your cards will be saved to the BattleForge server, and you'll need to go online any time you want access to your deck(s).
That said, EA's service for the game will be completely free - no MMO-type subscription necessary. There will be multiple difficulties for each of the various campaigns, and a full story mode is in place. Special rewards will be given to players who play in the harder difficulties or select random card decks before entering battle. There will be maps set up for single-player, two-player, four-player, and 12-player, with the largest campaigns reportedly taking up to an hour to complete.
From what we've seen of the game so far, BattleForge is visually impressive. There definitely seems to be some scaling back with respect to next-gen enhancements, but considering the number of units that promise to crowd the screen during a given skirmish, the game isn't poised to disappoint. Unit models are very detailed and animate fluidly, and though we've only seen short snippets of various battlefields, environments appear to be lush and fully realized. There are lots of great lighting effects that complement the aesthetic the game is going for, and the framerate seems to run smoothly, though it's still too early, of course, to tell how the game will run under the load of 12 players with varying Internet connections. Overall, though, EA Phenomic (the game's developer) really seems to have created a great-looking product.
Though Blizzard has pretty much cornered the market for real-time-strategy gaming, it usually takes years for them to get their products out there (and with good reason, of course). So, it's nice when something like BattleForge comes along and offers not only a similar value, but also a nice, new twist on the formula. The game appears to be set for release in late March. In the meantime, however, the publisher is offering free beta participation for those who pre-order the game, and you can jump into the action right now by heading over to their official game site.
CCC Freelance Writer