Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: EA Phenomic
Release Date: March 24, 2009
Since the title has absolutely no base building and only one real resource, it's initially difficult to grasp how a real-time strategy game such as BattleForge could have any depth. Rather than revolving around tech trees and build orders, the game relies upon a card-based system to cast spells, build defensive structures, and summon new units to battle. Careful resource management is still key, but being a successful BattleForge player also means really knowing your cards and building a strong deck.
Cards have a variety of attributes and all belong to one of the four elements: fire, frost, nature and shadow. To use a card in battle, you must have two things: enough power to use the card and its elemental orb requirements. Elemental orbs are gained by capturing monuments, which can then be dedicated to any one of the four elements. Orbs are not "spent" but just need to be controlled, so if a card needs one frost orb and you play it, you don't actually use up the orb. Power, however, is a resource that is expended for nearly anything you do and is gained by building generators on power nodes found throughout the map. Each one nets you a steady stream of power income, though it will eventually deplete the node completely so as to not let games last forever.
Cards are broken down into buildings, spells and units. Buildings are all some sort of defensive structure, such as towers that rain down hell onto the advancing enemy or tunnels that allow for your units to instantly teleport from a tunnel's entrance to its exit. Spell cards cast a short-term spell into the specified area, such as cold snaps that freeze all enemies in place or healing spells that heal all friendly units over a period of time. Unit cards are the most complex and range from small squads of basic infantry to massive behemoths capable of killing such squads with a single blast.
There is a massive variety of units in BattleForge, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. On each unit's card are their damage output, health, size class (from small to extra large), squad size and special attributes. Defender bowmen found in the frost deck, for instance, have a special stance that immobilizes them but makes them impervious to knockdown attacks and lets them take 40 percent less damage. Looter orcs found in the fire deck have a passive ability that gives you power every time they strike an enemy building. While the most basic units generally have no abilities, most units do, and picking the right ones and knowing when to use them can have a big impact on your strategies.
Found near most starting positions and throughout the map are wall ruins, which, for a small power fee, can be raised with a working gate. Archer and other ranged units can be stationed on top of each section of the wall, and if reinforced by artillery units and towers, they can form an incredibly powerful defense. Attacking an enemy base and breaching their walls is usually a very large fight for both sides of the bricks, and walls staffed at choke points in a remote area of the map can help funnel enemies or guard key locations, such as power nodes or elemental monuments.
All players start with a large selection of cards, which they can use to build their own deck. Deck building doesn't have too many limitations except for size, and given that you always have access to the entire contents of your deck during gameplay, it really comes down to selecting cards that suit your strategy. Building a deck completely around one element can be limiting, but it means that you only need to concentrate on one element type, whereas mixing two or more elements means that you have a wider array of tactics but must find and protect at least one elemental monument for each type before you can use your whole deck. This is important, as each element has a distinct purpose. Fire is primarily based on offensive abilities and rushing, while frost is more geared toward defensive play. Nature is the only element that has healing units and spells, while shadow lends itself to indirect damage.
To gain more cards, players spend BattleForge points, 250 for a single booster deck or 1,250 for a set of eight booster decks, with each booster deck containing a random selection of eight cards. Accounts start off with 2,000 BF points, and to get more points, players must spend actual money. However, at the end of every scenario, players earn or win cards; you can get a couple for single-player scenarios or randomly win up to four cards at the end of multiplayer matches. This makes it so that booster packs definitely hasten the process, but getting the same cards can be done by simply winning scenarios. A card type that can only be won and not traded or purchased is the upgrade card, which permanently upgrades the stats of a specific card at no increase to the unit's power or orb cost.
BattleForge is primarily a multiplayer game, as evidenced by the online-only gameplay and heavy emphasis on what can only be described as cooperative play. While the game does have campaign levels that must be completed solo, the majority of the missions found online consist of a handful of players working together in a scenario to complete objectives against a much larger computer-controlled force. However, the objectives are usually scattered about the map to the point that while some crossover happens, players are generally tasked with handling their own set of goals. One such scenario has players breaching and destroying artillery camps while another player defends a wayward gold truck from frequent attack and the fourth does his best to defend the starting area. Versus and duel scenarios exist for players to get in some one-on-one or team-based competitive multiplayer, but the objective-based players-versus-computer scenarios are quite compelling and are presented in such a way that it feels completely natural.
The graphics in BattleForge are bright and colorful, with imaginative units that all follow the color palette of their parent element. Spell effects happen about as frequently as popcorn spills out of a movie popper, covering the battlefield. Archers let loose their arrows at distant shaman, and brave footmen get crushed under a massive behemoth whose form takes up one-quarter of the screen. The musical score is noteworthy in that it fits quite well and avoids being overbearingly fantasy-themed, but it also does a good job of setting the tone for the conflict ahead. Sound effects pepper the audio spectrum, though when many spell effects are going off at once, they can become disproportionately loud.
Ultimately, while BattleForge is not the strongest in the genre when it comes to its core RTS gameplay mechanics, it more than makes up for it in how well it meshes with its many other systems. Its strategy starts with building and tweaking your deck to suit your play style or role in the upcoming scenario; it continues in the gameplay with how you manage your resources, units, and utilize their special abilities while using spells to support them. It is an addicting mix, made more so due to the relatively friendly nature of the community and emphasis on players working together in a cooperative fashion to tackle large scenarios. BattleForge simply has a gameplay style that fills a hole in the real-time strategy genre, coming across as fresh and yet comfortably recognizable at the same time.
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