Card games? On my hard drive? Ew!
It was with some trepidation that I stepped into the world of BattleForge. Frankly, my initial feelings towards Electronic Art's latest foray is that this sort of thing should be left to Yugi-Oh and bubblegum packs. But it is a real-time strategy game as well, and I am partial to the odd RTS.
BattleForge is a Massively Multiplayer Online Real Time Strategy Collectible Card Game. With a fantasy storyline and a rather odd interface, BattleForge hopes to present a new style of gaming to the community.
It’s a tricky game to explain. The core action plays like a typical RTS, as you move various ranged and melee units around a map to attack the bad guys. You have small cannon fodder units, and larger units which can do lots of damage.
Where the game differs is with the card component. Instead of building a unit factory, or a base, you have a virtual 'deck' of cards. Each card represents a type of unit, and to create that unit you ‘play’ the card by clicking on it. It is quite similar to using a power in Red Alert or Company Of Heroes. Much like the ability to parachute troops onto the map from your menu in those games, the card icons simply present a way to generate units on-screen.
If that was the entire deal (sorry) it’d be a fairly lame duck for a genre hybrid. Luckily for those who like card games, there’s more depth to be found.
Your cards are limited for each mission. Your downtime in the lobby area can be spent building decks out of cards, and these cards are accumulated with in-game micropayments, or at the online auction house.
The cards function like items in an RPG, and better, rarer cards will eventually become available. This means you can customize your deck any way you like; if you favour ranged combat, you can build a deck which reflects this. If you favour a scattering of small units and just a whole bunch of epic spell attacks, you can build your deck to enhance your play style.
This leads to plenty of options in your approach, and also plenty of situations where you'll get schooled by someone with a different play style. You'll need to be cautious too, as it’s not often you have a deck which lets you deal to any situation without compromising the ability to hold off a strong attack.
Unfortunately there’s also the issue of the aforementioned micropayments. I am still against the concept that the kids with the richest parents get the best cards in the game, as this requires neither skill nor effort. I don’t mind micropayments if they are for items that make the game more fun, such as extra maps, or comical outfits for characters, but when you have to pay extra to actually compete with good units and spells? No thanks.
Graphically the game looks nice, although not exactly cutting edge. Following a fantasy theme, the game relies on the now common and slightly cartoon-inspired World of Warcraft look. The game view features a close zoom, but the effects of the spells are detailed, and the game is easy to play with the interface provided. Sound effects, whilst hardly remarkable, do an adequate job of conveying action scenes.
It's always difficult to review innovative or hybrid games. It’s far too easy to get lost in the new snazzy features that haven’t been seen before, and too often the basics are forgotten. Games like this tend to get artificially high scores upon release as the first few plays reveal unique themes. In reality though, when the novelty wears off, the games just aren’t as good as first thought. My suspicion here is that BattleForge falls into this category. The same attention to detail inherent in old favourites such as WarCraft III and Total Annihilation is singularly lacking from BattleForge. After a few plays, online and offline, I got the hang of it, won a few matches, and promptly moved on to the next game.
So, with that said, does this mix of RTS and card gaming actually work? Mostly. I still prefer the traditional RTS system; but I can see the appeal for those that like card games and RTS games. The actual RTS element is a bit average, the maps a bit unexciting and certainly not as complex (or frankly as good) as many other games. I’m sure many card enthusiasts will say the same of the card element too.
If you were to take either aspect individually they would both rate slightly better than average. Mix them together for some innovative yet imperfect game play, and you have a title that is greater than the sum of its components. Unfortunately, the RTS elements aren't strong enough to stand by themselves when the cards are removed, and the card game (whilst no doubt appealing to some) does nothing for me.
There’s plenty to enjoy however, and if you like card games and strategy themes BattleForge offers some welcome changes, and new ways to play. Certainly worth a look if your current game stock is looking dull.