BattleForge Beta Review

bforgereview

Every so often a game comes along and does something that catches my eye.   This time it’s a RTS/Persistent Online Card Game called BattleForge.  I was almost completely unaware of the game’s existence until I was directed to the Beta signups by a friend (Bartlebe!) and shortly thereafter admitted into the testing program.  I want to share with you all why Battleforge is not only on the top of my current favorites, but why the game is different from any other currently available and brings with it the potential to not only last a long time in this market but spawn future RTS/Card games just like it.

I like to start my reviews and impressions off by quoting official sites.  It’s a great way to gauge how well the developers deliver on their promises and how well the features live up to their hype and potential expectations from a prospectivel player/customer.  Right from their ‘About the Game’ section:

“Experience real-time strategy in a whole new dimension! Every battle is different, every army unique. Create your own fighting force from mighty creatures and powerful soldiers. Lead your army in epic online battles – together with your friends or against them!”

“Fight alone in single-player missions or in a team with up to twelve participants. In addition to 1on1 duels, various tournament modes and a fiercely contested ranking list await you in PvP.”

“The cards represent your tools of war: units, buildings and spells that are conjured directly onto the battlefield. Assemble the perfect fighting force before the battle, choosing from your ever-increasing collection, and lead it into the battle. Rare cards open up completely new tactics for you and are highly sought after for swapping at the in-game market place!”

BattleForge is far more than a RTS game.  It’s a collectible card game, strategy game, and persistent multiplayer experience all in one.   BattleForge is ONLINE ONLY and allows players to collect cards (both from winning games and buying them [more on this later]), creating decks, making friends, and then fighting with or against them online in a persistent lobby/world experience.

The Cards

bfcardsPlayers start off with a large assortment of cards from all of ‘The Powers’ (Shadow, Frost, Nature, and Fire) and can begin customizing their decks immediately, or play around with the pre-made decks.   Deck building is a huge part of BattleForge because everything you do when playing the game hinges upon the cards in your deck – you’re allowed 20 different cards.  This is where buying, trading, and winning cards comes into play.  The game uses an in-game auction house that MMORPG players will be very familiar with to allow players to trade cards directly from the lobby.  Players can also do direct trades with each other, which is facilitated through a trade channel.   Now here’s where the most interesting part comes in with these cards… you can also buy Booster Packs with real-life currency.  You do so by purchasing what I’ve come to call “BF Points” and then spending those points at the in-game store to buy cards.  Every player in the beta started off with 2000 points to buy booster packs with (250 per pack) and rumor has it that in release you’ll start with 3000 points.

Opening Booster Packs in-game has that same feeling that is does in real life.  You’re excited to open the pack and find rare cards but also scared to find nothing but the cards you own already.  It’s a gamble – exactly like it is in RL when you buy booster packs for your favorite card games like WoW TCG and MTG.  The cards come in common, uncommon, rare, and ultra rare and come in create, spell, construct, and building form.   Creature cards have health/damage and spells have special effects which are listed.  All cards have a power cost to summon them and a prerequisite cost for how many Orbs you must have of that type (think Magic the Gathering’s mana) which you can see in the image to the right.  Orbs requirements can call for specific orb colors or “any orb color” like a colorless mana.

Customizing your deck is done entirely through the lobby with a very easy to use graphical interface.  You can also upgrade your cards from this feature as well.  Upgrading your cards is done when you earn upgrades through PvP (playing against other players) or through PvE (doing the campaigns with friends).  Cards drop as loot from winning campaigns and against other players.  When you win cards you are able to roll “Need/Greed/Pass” just likea MMORPG and divy out the loot – this is a great feature since your friends may be using a Nature deck and you’re playing Shadow, so splitting the cards how you guys want is a great feature.

The Gameplay

BattleForge plays like an RTS game when you get right down to it.  However, your cards are the key.  Displayed at the bottom of your screen you can see all 20 of your cards and you will be able to summon them if you have enough power (think resources) and Orbs (again, think MTG).  You are able to summon your cards at any time as long as you meet the costs and in any quantity you are able to, depending on how many charges you have left of that card (they recharge during the battle).    Power is gathered by capturing nodes on the map like you would in many other RTS games.  Orbs are obtained in a similar way by capturing and building orbs on the orb points.  When you capture an Orb location you get to choose which type of Orb you wish to build, which is key for multiple color decks.

bfspelleffects
A nature heal spell effect

When you summon a card, it’s like building in a RTS game.  Units are summoned instantly with a brief ‘dazed’ period and buildings take only a few seconds to contruct.  Spells are cast instantly and many times affect friendly units as well.  Creatures/units control exactly like they do in most RTS games and can be micromanaged to be used to max efficiency.   Creates, buildings, and constructs many times will have abilities that you can use.  Some creatures can even change forms like a StarCraft siege tank or cast spells like a Warcraft 3 Sorceress.

The goal of the game in a duel/PvP game is to destroy your enemy.   Each game that I have played so far has played out entirely different.  What deck type you use and what your enemy uses will often decide the strategy you use.  The Powers each have their own inherent strengths; nature is very balanced and supportive whereas Frost is very defensive.  The basics of the game are all the same though, and controlling the map is key.  Turtling and not being aggressive will get you overrun very, very quickly because your enemy will gain access to more power and more orbs which allow him to summon bigger and more powerful cards.   Upgrading walls found throughout the map and making sure to corral your enemy is the key to victory in a PvP game.

PvE games are quite different.   They play out in the form of campaigns with pre-scripted win requirements and triggers.  Each campaign so far has been different and interesting, although the story has been truly abysmal (I can’t even remember what it’s about and they force feed it to you during the load screens).  The battles against the computer opponents are quite difficult at times – especially for a newbie.    Perhaps one of the best parts about the campaign mode is playing with friends.  From what I have seen, it’s a requirement for some of these campaigns to have another person playing with you to complete objectives.

Graphics and Performance

BattleForge is a beautiful game.   It has some of the best animations, spell effects, and scenery of any RTS game out there.  You’re allowed to scale your graphics quite a bit to get the best bang for your buck which should allow a lot of people to play.  I’m playing everything maxed out and I get about 40 frames with it taking a dip every so often in big battles with the spell effects.   The spell effects, again, are well done and you really get a sense of stylized enjoyment with rounded edges and a pleasant-to-look-at game.

Lag has not been an issue for me yet, aside from the usual beta issues with hangs, hitching, and stalls.  Given that the client says “Alpha” on it though, I’m not worried.  There are a few issues though which still need to be ironed out.  The game has a few bugs and issues with desync’ing the player.   One bug in particular that has latched onto my friend and I is the “waiting for players” bug where people get stuck at the load screen while some people can get in but get the error message of being out of sync.  From there, those stuck at the load screen have to alt+f4 to get out.  These are, however, usual issues with beta and I can’t imagine them not being fixed.

Overall Impressions

This is one of the finest experiences I’ve had with a new RTS game and the fact that it’s so different compounds my enjoyment.  I really enjoy the customization and dynamic battles that play out.  Not knowing what cards your enemy might have in his deck makes each battle truly unique and exhilarating.   Collecting cards, tokens, and points from winning to upgrade your current cards makes the incentive for playing strong.  Trading cards with other players creates, in a unique way for a RTS game, a persistent economy and social experience.   While I’m not sure if I would ever spend money on something like buying virtual cards for a game, I can’t deny the itch I’ve had to want more boosters to collect more cards so that I can strengthen my deck.  MTG Online and other online card games would easily translate into a game like this, and for BattleForge to start up without any prior card game makes it feel entirely new.

The RTS aspect of the game feels fairly balanced and polished.  There are obvious strategies and ones you’ll need to experiment with to find.   The game is fast paced and the lobby system allows for players to get in and get out quickly for a fast game here and there, or delve deep into the collecting and competing for cards for a more involved experience.  A clan system, if not already planned, would be a very nice addition to the game because it would fit right in with the persistent feel.  Perhaps one of the greatest feats BattleForge has been able to pull off thus far is a lobby system that rivals Battle.net – and that’s saying a lot.   At this point my only concern is whether or not you can remain competitive without buying booster packs.  Winning can get you some cards, but so far I believe they’re only upgrades to cards.  If all new cards have to come from spending money then the game will definitely become a full time hobby for anyone wishing to take it seriously.  If cards can be obtained by playing the game, then it will be a fantastic purchase.  If not, it’ll be a fantastic game for the rich.

BattleForge delivers.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJR8u1lg4X8[/youtube]

  • &^%@! the bourbon & gingers have gotten to me! I inadvertently deleted my beta key 🙁 There is a work around however! Yessss the beta key will be mine ^^

  • I’m also in the beta for this, and love the game so far. But I am also concerned about how the cards will be obtained. I mean if the boosters are cheap enough(say…3 bucks for 1 booster?), it may work. What’s your name in the game? I’d love to get a team going and work through the campaign.

  • I tried out the Beta, and thought it was a pretty revolutionary and cool idea – but I also kinda felt like everything was to big and uber in the game. Huge explosions and stuff like that. I guess that’s part of the strategic difficulty in the game though. It is kinda hard to tell what’s going on when everything is blowing up lol

    It is definitely an innovative game idea.

  • For an interesting counterpoint, you can check my article on my blog (http://blog.morbific.com/2009/01/battleforge-fail.html). I agree the game looks like it has potential, but it has spectacular amounts of fail when trying to actually play it.

    I’m not in the US timezones, so the developers seem to think it’s ok to yank the servers up and down like a dog’s hind leg – and when they’re not down, my guess is the netcode is not resilient enough to handle 300ms pings or so, it just. Breaks. All. The. Time.

    It’s no joke – in over two weeks of being in the beta, trying three ISPs from different locations, and two different machines, I couldn’t once finish THE TUTORIAL. Fail.

  • Interesting idea for a game. I’ve never been into trading card games (or console/PC versions), but mixing in rts elements makes this a bit different. I’ll keep an eye on this game, though I admit I most likely won’t try it unless I hear lots of good things once it has released.

  • I’m playing BattleForge Beta too – it really feels fresh and so far I like the PvE and PvP. I just hope it won’t be necessary to buy cards upon release in order to compete with other players.

    I think BF creates a new sub-genre – the MMORTSTCG: Massively Multiplayer Real Time Strategy Trading Card Game! *g*

    so far
    tom

    *I’m off tweaking my frost/nature deck*

  • Sounds pretty neat. I enjoyed MTG back in its early years and liked the look of the online game with the adventure aspect of it even though I never did end up trying it out. This BattleForge game sounds pretty cool and adds some neat features by combining two separate genres. Almost like the Magic xbox game but RTS style and adding the online trading/buying aspect. Saddly that aspect is where I would probably have to stop myself as I kinda made an oath to not get into another TCG due to the money sinks they end up becoming. I can see a micro-transaction model that could explode if done right, however, and is again why I probably won’t try it out lol. The concept sounds cool though I’ll give it that much.

  • Signed up for beta… I guess we’ll see if I get in. I should have registered through Fileplanet when I had the chance in December! 😛

    This definitely sounds cool. I’ve been interested in trying a new RTS game for a while but I want something different from the normal Warcraft/Starcraft features and gameplay. Seems like Battleforge is it!

  • This game definitely falls under the ‘different’ category. I like that sub-genre, Tom! “MMORTSTCG” it is.

    I’ve been getting owned a lot lately. Some people are really, really good at the game and I need a lot more practice. One thing that I have definitely noticed is that the matching system can pair you with people far above your skill level. Perhaps this will be toned down when more people play at launch. Going against a level 26 PvP skill at level 2 PvP skill is rough.

  • I wonder if that is intentional. I remember in WC3 Battle.net there you would always have a bunch of level 1-10 tools rolling new accounts to torture the newbies. Very rarely did you actually find rank 25+ accounts.

    The highest I ever got was rank 28 (I think) and rank 5s would sometimes kick my ass because they weren’t really at the skill level of a rank 5.

    Anoter reason people did this is that they would want to try out new macro/micro strats or races but they didn’t want to get losses on their main accounts, so they rolled new ones. That’s another lame thing I hope they don’t allow for too much.

  • The thing with this game is, as you win more you get to upgrade cards more. If you remake a character then your cards will be weaker. That is, unless your upgrades carry over to a new character. The level 26’s I’m playing probably have multiple upgrades for their cards whereas a level 5 would only have a few upgrades.

    It’s possible that it’s intentional though. I’m learning a ton by facing people who are way better than me and I never fall for the same tactics they pull twice.

  • Aha, I guess that definitely makes a lot of sense. Seems like they’ve kind of fixed my biggest issue with Battle.net with their inherent “upgrade” design. Awesome!

    Yeah, I agree with you then. Hopefully, they don’t mismatch too often as things could get lopsided quickly. There will be a point where someone has so many upgrades he’d have to be an idiot to actually lose to a lowbie. 😛

  • Sounds like a better graphics version of Pox Nora. Same upgrade cards / boosters deal, only Pox was time limit turn based rather than real time.

    And while Pox was really fun, if you do actually get into it and want to compete you have to drop tons of money on the rare cards. I don’t see how this game will avoid that, as no other competitive card game has been able to do so before. Sadly that’s reason enough for me to pass, just not into spending tons of money on one game anymore, no matter how fun.

  • Thanks for the info yall.

    A few questions…

    once you use a card is it bound to you? Or can you still trade/sell it?

    And did I understand correctly that your cards level also? This is by playing them I assume?

    thanks.

  • You can take and put cards into your decks (you can have multiple decks) as much and as often as you want (aside from in a battle). You can trade cards after using them. Your cards can level up if you apply upgrades to them. This costs gold, which you earn from winning battles and such, and the upgrades themselves come from winning PvE and (i think) PvP as well. You can get better upgrades by spending battle tokens, but I’m sure not how to get those yet.

  • This game sounds like such a nice change.
    Also reminds me a lot of Kingdom Under Fire on the old xbox. An RTS game that had your squads persist and grow stronger.

    Thanks for the info.

    Oh and one more question. Please, Please, Please tell me that you can zoom in and out of the battle field like Supreme Commander? Can I zoom all the way out to the map?

    Thanks guys, might be pre ordering it tonight to get in the beta.

  • You can zoom in and out, but not as far as Supreme Commander. I’ll take some video of the gameplay this afternoon and post a video to show you.

  • Couple more questions.

    I can’t tell from your video, but do you buy cards in the AH using gold, or the same currency you use to buy booster packs? Meaning will Mr. Rich be able to spend a ton of cash to buy the best stuff in the AH?

    When you upgrade a card and you trade/sell it, do the upgrades stay with the card?

    Ah hell I ought to just buy the damn game! lol.

  • You buy cards in the AH using BF Points from what I’ve seen. I think I misspoke in the video and said “gold” -and- “Bf points” but it’s just Bf points from what I remember (Servers are down so I can’t verify). Gold is used to upgrade cards and things like that, but gold is obtained from playing games and it’s not too tough to come by, whereas BF Points cost RL money.

    From what it looks like, the people willing to spend money will have the advantage on finding better cards.

    I’ll check when the servers are up to see if cards keep their upgrades when you trade or sell.

    I also wish Youtube would put the HD version of the video up so that it’s easier to read everything.

  • thanks again…Yea YouTube sometimes takes a while for the HD I have learned.

    I do appreciate that info…that makes the game a must wait, instead of a must buy.

    I don’t know yet.

    Thanks again for letting me bother you with so many questions. much appreciated.

  • I just finished playing a couple games of Battleforge. I am not a huge RTS fan, but I must say that I had a lot of fun playing this game. It is visually stunning and plays very well.

    I do, however, see that the game could be a huge money sink in order to compete against other players. Will the skill of the player be the deciding factor for success; or will the key to victory be more about the player that dropped the most coin to build his/her deck with the rarest cards? I doubt that I will purchase this game if it revolves around the latter. And I believe that it will. Fun game none the less.

  • Yea wickidd thats what has be holding off for right now.

    But the more I think about it maybe this model is BETTER. Meaning…

    If you can only buy stuff in the AH with the points you have to buy with real cashola, then maybe the economy will be more stable. Gold farmers can’t do anything in this game. If you have to play the game to earn gold to upgrade your cards, and their is no way to trade gold with other players, then maybe using real money to buy the base cards isn’t that bad.

    You will always have the extreme case of folks with lots of expendable cash, but if the majority don’t then maybe cards won’t get to be that crazy expensive.

    I guess I’d be more worried if you could buy with real money the gold that could be used to upgrade the cards.

    Again, not sure, but with only 200 cards to start, maybe it’s not that big a deal.

    And if you consider the game is only 40 bucks, and currently I’m spending 15 a month to WAR, then I guess spending 15 bucks a month on other cards isn’t out of reason.

  • @keen: So you get new cards buy either RMT/bosster packs or using BF points? Can BF points buy booster packs? Do you get BF points from PvE victories too? It does sound interesting.

  • From what I’ve heard, people registering are usually getting in 24-48 hours later.

    You get boosters from spending RL money on BF points which you spend on cards from either the in-game store or the auction house. Right now it’s only speculation, but someone thinks $20 will buy 3000 BF points. That translates to 12 Booster packs.

  • From what I’ve heard, people registering are usually getting in 24-48 hours later.

    Good to know. I almost pre ordered it on Direct2Drive to get a beta key.

    Also FYI. Direct2Drive has it for 39.99. Eb it’s 49.99.

  • Such a fantastic game, but the more I play the more I see that people who get the better cards to put in their decks have an enormous advantage. I’m going against people with truly epic rare cards and nothing I have competes. For example, there’s this card called a Harvester that is uber and rare and once it’s summoned the game is over because nothing I have can kill it.

    When the game comes out there will be a huge gap between the haves and the have nots – those who spend money for booster packs and those who do not – and it might taint the fun.

    Truly fantastic game though that I love more every time I play. I just wish there was a way to get better cards without spending real money.

  • Just got into the beta. Only played it a bit and I like it so far.

    Thanks for that Info Keen, but I thought there were other ways to earn the points to buy cards then use money?

    Also I can see where I may but $20 worth of points just to buy cards ata the AH.

    But I don’t know yet.

    Game so far is a LOT of fun and looks amazing with all the detail turned up. I hope to get online with some friends tonight and see how this game is in a 3v3 type scenario.

    Keep up the info.

    Doody

  • Any idea if this will be available on Steam at launch? The game looks great, but with the whole EA DRM thing (and me planning on building a new pc soon) having a limit on the amount of times I can install the game blows. Steam fixes this, so if they have it available there at launch it would be a definite purchase.

  • I know it’s on Direct2Drive (10 bucks cheaper then EB). But I can’t recall any game that’s been on Direct2Drive and Steam…usually one or the other, but I’m not sure.

  • Went to play last night and they had a 2.1 GIG PATCH. damn that’s the biggest Patch I have ever seen. Had to play WAR instead. Oh well maybe tonight.

  • It’s already looking to be a huge money sink. The best rewards are going to come from “Tome” matches. To do these you need to get a “Tome Deck.”

    A tome deck is a deck made from a random assortment of 6 packs of cards with 8 random rares. So you are probably looking at having to spend 15-20 bucks (1200 points whatever that is going to cost) and hope the RNG doesn’t screw you over.

    I can see dedicated players really dropping some cash on it.

  • Nice review and vids. The game looks interesting and for the cost of buying cards…its like paying for a monthly fee for mmorpg. If they cost $2.50 per deck…you could buy like 4-5 packs and that would be equivalent to a monthly cost of paying for an mmorpg like >>> WoW. So…its not too bad.

    I don’t know if thats worth it or not, but the collecting cards + rts is interesting. I don’t know if that would keep me playing for a year but its possible.

  • Yea I don’t fully understand the “tome deck” concept. Is this a card game term that has been around and I just don’t know it, or is this something new to the game.

    Conceptually it seems kinda crazy since your army is based off of luck of the draw.

  • @mikesaysno:
    This title will not include any DRM like SecuRom or such as it’s an online-based game and you need a fully valid account to play it. Has also been posted and verified by the developers on their forum.

  • Tome mode is a mode in which you play with a random selection of cards created from 6 boosters + 8 common card, and you create your battle deck from those 56 cards.

    Tome mode battles give out more rewards, but it only speeds up what you can achieve in normal collection mode. If you win a Tome battle, you might get 2-3 victory tokens, while collection mode will give you only one.

    Card upgrades have a fixed token cost, so not playing tome mode just means it will take you couple more battles to upgrade a card.

    Unless you are in a hurry, you are really not forced to buy anything to play Tome mode.

    Also, just to confirm, Rare and Ultra-Rare cards are more gimmicks than “must have” to be competitive. They are nice, but not needed in any way.

  • Would just like to thank keen for his impressions of the game. I had never heard of this game until your post on it. And it perked my interest… was released a few days ago and I picked it up and I’m having a lot of fun. I convinced a friend to play the trial and that won him over as well. Good stuff.

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