It’s All in the Cards
Fantasy card gaming geeks and armchair generals beware: those crazy folks across the pond at EA Phenomic are trying to kill what precious little remains of your social life. Imagine a game that looks and plays very similarly to Warcraft III that also features a very deep, fantasy trading card game aspect akin to Magic: The Gathering. Take that, sprinkle in some massively multiplayer online elements, and you’ll have a dead-on approximation of what’s in store for you in BattleForge – EA’s new online fantasy RTS game. The German development team has cooked up an insidious brew that will have you hooked to the very last draught.
BattleForge features a convoluted, über-epic story about fallen gods, immortals, elemental factions, beasts, magic, etc. that is certainly satisfying in its complexity but hard to fully grasp without taking some extra time to really wade through the reams of optional text tucked away in the game’s menu. There are so many layers of story here that it’s initially tough to digest it all at once. Thankfully, it will suffice most players simply knowing a dark age of twilight has fallen upon the realm of Nyn, and as one of many immortal skylords, you’ll use your magic abilities to do battle and cut a swath through the evil hordes invading the land. You don’t really need to look far beyond that to be able to enjoy the game from the get-go.
The entire game is built around a very sturdy RTS foundation that completely ditches the need to tediously build out and constantly upgrade infrastructure to create your powerful armies. Rather than constructing units, you’ll summon them into battle based on the cards you have equipped in your current deck. The mojo needed to summon your troops and defensive structures is culled from power crystals located at different spots around each map. Firing up a few crystals sends energy flowing steadily into your overall magic pool, which can be used to trigger unit abilities or summon your forces anywhere within range of friendly units. Elemental orbs, a secondary resource, also play a crucial role in your unit summoning capabilities. The number and types of orbs you have under your control at any given time dictate which units and spells you can use on the battlefield. Low-level troops can be created easily with a single orb, but more powerful juggernauts and magic require multiple orbs.
Generally speaking, the RTS battles are straightforward, challenging, and varied. After some narrative setup and story prompts, you’ll typically get started by summoning a few units and trudge onward to complete multi-tiered objectives ranging from capturing and defending specific locations and protecting NPCs, to killing specific enemy units or whipping out the bulk of your foes. You’ll be able to grow your army in size and strength as you progress through each map and locate elemental orbs and power crystals. Aside from downplaying the resource management, this aspect of the game looks and plays much like Warcraft III and similar RTS titles. Though still quite good, the game would be entirely forgettable without the card game element, which drives the point home in terms of addictiveness.
You can construct a deck of up to 20 cards to bring into a given battle, including a mixture of units, spells, and defensive structures. There are four elemental affinities to choose from (fire, frost, nature, and shadow). Like other fantasy card games, every elemental color has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each card in your deck costs a certain amount of power to use and requires a set number of elemental orbs to be under your control. At the beginning of the game, you’ll receive a set amount of cards to work with, but you can obtain more through booster pack micro-transactions, winning cards in battle, and trading with other players – it’s not necessary to buy more cards to play. It’s important to continually tweak and hone your decks using new, more powerful cards and to switch up decks for different situations. You have the option to maintain numerous decks at a time, and it’s easy to switch them out. Initially, you’ll use single-color decks, though advanced players can make multicolored decks to crush opponents with. Collecting and trading the cards is tremendously addictive, and the way they’re worked into the RTS battles is ingenious. Such a simple combination results in some truly absorbing gameplay.
BattleForge’s pseudo-campaign unfolds by completing missions on the central map hub. There are many traditional solo-missions to plow through alongside map encounters that are designed for multiple players to dive into cooperatively. New maps unlock as you progress. Aside from the main game itself, a number of other important features can be accessed via the hub.
Social networking elements like in-game e-mail, chat, and trading auctions let you interact with other players who are logged in. This is great for locating folks to duel against in PvP maps or to play alongside in the campaign. You also sort through your cards and spend time creating various decks. Testing them out is easily done in the BattleForge itself – an arena area that lets you summon a few foes and test out your own creatures and spells against them without worrying about missions or power.
Because BattleForge is an online game, there are some problems with the RTS formula that occasionally arise. Namely, you can’t save progress on a particular map once you’ve begun, so if your connection times out in mid-battle or you find yourself on the verge of losing after a lengthy play session, you’re pretty much stuck going back to the hub and starting that mission over. During busy battles with lots of creatures on the screen, the framerate also tends to lag – even on a high-powered PC. This seemed to happen mainly during certain times of day and on weekends when player traffic is likely very high.
EA Phenomic has successfully pulled off a surprisingly natural convergence of two very different types of gameplay. The combination is wickedly addictive. BattleForge isn’t entirely a flawless victory, but it looks good, plays great, and gives card hoarders something new to obsess over.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.9 Graphics
The stylish in-game graphics have a cartoonish look that’s appealing. The artwork on the cards themselves is also impressively done. 4.2 Control
Camera controls are very limited, but the solid interface makes it easy to manage a lot at once. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Battle sounds are effective, and the voice work is good. 4.5 Play Value
Even without spending extra dough for booster packs, there’s a ton of game here and a lot of fun to be had. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.