We’re three months into the year now and the strategy games still show no sign of slowing. They just keep coming and coming, relentless and unstoppable like a cheap tank rush or a trike swarm in Dune II. If you ask us, the market is starting to get almost painfully crowded and we’re starting to get worried that there’s precious little innovation in the genre.
Thankfully though, Battleforge has managed to allay those fears a little and has swept in like a breath of fresh air to help show that new things can still be done with the RTS genre.
To boil it down to the most basic and pointlessly banal level, EA Phenomic’s Battleforge is an attempt to take the card-based strategy of games like Magic: The Gathering and apply it to a computer game model. It’s actually a lot deeper and more involved than that, but if you keep that card-based concept in mind then it’ll hold you in good stead – and we think that’s important as it’s actually taken us a while to try and understand what Battleforge really is.
You see, Battleforge doesn’t try to be like most other computer-based strategy games, at all. There’s no simple story (there is a plot, but it’s so hideously over-involved and over-wordy that we really couldn’t stomach it, if we’re frank), there’s no base-building or build-queues and there’s not even a singleplayer campaign in the conventional sense.
What there is is a series of well-rounded replacements. The story in Battleforge is now a huge mythology of giants, skylords, dying suns and an infectious darkness that’s corrupting the world. The units and bases of other RTS games have been replaced by cards that represent spells and counters, all of which can be instantly applied. The campaign jumps around between singleplayer, multiplayer and co-op as it needs to, with players mostly able to jump around and choose what they want.
When you take the online-only focus and upgradeable armies into account too then the lines start to blur; Battleforge is part RTS, part MMO, part RPG and part boardgame. That’s why it’s important to keep the card-game basis in mind, because otherwise it’s easy to get lost in an apparently incompatible list of features and you end up assuming that Battleforge is something it isn’t.
Let’s not mince words though, there are two things that Battleforge definitely is; enjoyable and an identifiable threat to your bank account. Like any other card-based game, Battleforge works to upgrade their armies by buying new units and spells, so the temptation is always there to just spooge all your savings on a bunch of booster packs to try and get some epic-rare summons.
Buying new cards is by no means required to make Battleforge fun. With the retail version of the game you get a fairly big deck of standard cards, including a bunch of really cool monsters and you get the chance to uncover certain new cards by playing through levels or trading with other players. Battleforge never goes out of the way to hide the fact that you can buy booster packs to quickly bulk up your forces though, which can be done either through player auctions or through an official store.
What’s especially dangerous though is that, unlike in a conventional card game, you can buy new cards without ever leaving the game, which makes booster packs an especially alluring acquisition if you’ve just suffered a rather humiliating defeat. The responsibility is obviously firmly on the individual player, but its definitely something you want to be forewarned about.