BattleForge (PC) review
"EA Phenomic's latest effort could have served as a glorious marriage between the familiar and the exotic, like fusion cuisine for gamers. Instead it ended up tasting like two types of leftovers tossed together in the same take-out box."
Touted before its release as a mash up between real-time strategy and collectible card games, BattleForge had my attention from day one. I was never much of a CCG player, but some of my closest friends were Magic tournament champs and I always had fun on the periphery of their hobby. Every once in a while my interest would peak and I'd participate in a few drafts or friendly games here and there, but that was it. RTS games, on the other hand, have always been a staple of my gaming diet. As such, EA Phenomic's latest effort could have served as a glorious marriage between the familiar and the exotic, like fusion cuisine for gamers. Instead it ended up tasting like two types of leftovers tossed together in the same take-out box.
Part of the blame lies with the game's graphical engine, which is a throwback to Warcraft 3 but sorely lacks any of the earlier RTS masterpiece's charms. Also, the UI is archaic to say the least, with tooltips on top of tooltips and headache-inducing font mismatching. Shockingly good voice acting salvages some of BattleForge's presentation, but doesn't do enough to make a lasting impact.
Any other problems come down to bad design, plain and simple. Very few of the hallmarks of good RTS or CCG games are present here. Controlling your units is an important part of any RTS, for example, but units in BattleForge are so far removed from your control that they might as well be automated. Each has a move, attack-move and stop command, as well as a special attack if you're lucky. Stances, patrols, and other RTS standards that give a greater sense of control and involvement with your units are notably absent.
As a CCG, BattleForge simply fails to deliver. The card art is a mixed bag of average and awful, especially compared to Magic, Vampire, or even the WoW decks. I can't help but wonder if the decision to keep the cards minimized at the bottom of the UI is a result of the low art quality. Cards design and wording is also poor, with a unit's spells or special abilities listed in a one-word summary on the card itself and then explained in yet another pop-up tooltip.
Sadly, the cards also fail to function the way you might expect. Though the screen can get pretty chaotic sometimes, there is no genuinely random element. All of your cards will be available to you whenever you want, so long as you have the resources to pay for them. Though decks are limited to no more than 20 cards, there is no "hand size" limitation. Cards may be played an infinite number of times, though only a certain amount before they activate a recast timer. If you're thinking that this doesn't sound much like a CCG, you're not alone. Aside from the fact that units and spells are represented by two-dimensional art and assembled in decks, BattleForge is an RTS title through and through.
Maps certainly fall within the parameters you would expect from that genre, though the lack of base-building and inclusion of co-operative missions are both distinctions worth noting. Since BattleForge is always online, you'll have a pool of players to help you complete challenges or to compete against. The game uses the MMO terms of "PVE" and "PVP" to distinguish between modes. To facilitate this, the traditional campaign is played through a series of linked maps accessible from a world map rather than in a separate game mode. Bosses wait at the ends of these special levels, but they're nothing more than uninspired and inflated versions of other units that require careful choosing of a proper deck. Failing prescient capabilities, throwing a ton of units at them until they die will work just fine, even if it gets tedious.
BattleForge does have some unique features that should help fans of either genre to help battle through that tedium, though. The Forge is a single-player testing ground that lets you spawn waves of enemies to try your units and spells out on. The game also has one of those virtual tomes that seem to be all the rage these days. Even though the included lore is silly and trite, at least it's there if you want to invest in it. My favorite Magic: The Gathering format, draft, even gets a little representation here in the form of Tome Decks. These are built only out of six booster packs and then played against other decks with the same origin. The mode places a bigger emphasis on deck-building skills than sheer unit selection, and I applaud EA Phenomic for its inclusion.
Unfortunately, none of those fancy cards and Tomes come cheap. BattleForge is a unique beast in this respect, a full-priced game with a microtransaction model. Your armies, composed of units and spells on virtual cards, are supplemented by six card "booster packs" that you buy for 250 points ($2.50) from the slick in-game marketplace. You can either auction off your cards or purchase them from other players. Points can also be applied towards the purchase of more boosters, which means that if you get a valuable card, you can either keep it or sell it off to fund your armies.
The pre-release claims that spending more money on cards would only give you more options, not just more powerful ones, seem laughable now. Certain individual cards sell for upwards of 1500 points on average and none of them are available in the starting set. That fact would seem to indicate that at least some people think there's a difference between standard and premium content. Make no mistake: to be competitive in BattleForge, you're going to have to spend some money. Clever marketplace manipulation can be rewarding, but it requires an awful lot of effort for a game-within-a-sub-par-game.
Try as hard as the Marketplace mode might, it simply can't prop up the house of cards that is BattleForge. All in all, it's very difficult to recommend the game to fans of either of the genres from which it draws its inspiration. There are better CCGs and a plethora of superior RTS games to play that do their respective genres more justice. BattleForge does at least have a demo, though, so you might want to give that a shot. You may just find something to like.
Freelance review by Frank Austin (April 28, 2009)
A bio for this contributor is currently unavailable, but check back soon to see if that changes. If you are the author of this review, you can update your bio from the Settings page.
If you enjoyed this BattleForge review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!