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Matt Bassos
19 May, 2009

BattleForge Review

PC Review | Better than a Black Lotus?
If the thought of handing over cash for items that contain no real world value sits uncomfortably with you, despite what BattleForge does right, it’s probably not going to win over your next purchase. Based on a combination of real-time strategy and collectible card game, BF is modelled on the concept of microtransactions, developed by Electronic Art’s acquired German studio Phenomic. But wait; if you stop reading at the mention of microtransactions and EA you would be missing out on one of the better genre hybrids to hit the market in some time.

Okay, so yes as a game that employs collectable cards, most players will be using real money to buy booster packs like other contemporary card duellers, such as Magic: The Gathering Online. However, let’s leave the monetary aspect aside for one moment and look at what BF does differently. There’s no virtual table bench, desk, floor or any other playing space, because the game brings your deck to life in a rich fantasy world. This is where the real-time portion of the game kicks in as you directly control your summoned creatures and spells. In other words, think of it as a RTS with no base building, which allows players to custom assemble what units they will throw into battle based on the cards constructed in their deck.

So with that initial explanation out of the way, BF provides a great overall package for the most part. The first thing we noticed after logging into one of two game servers is the pseudo-MMO approach taken by EA Phenomic. Those without an internet connection are out of luck, because everything is conducted online. Once in, there are a number of things that can be done such as looking over your current cards, tinkering with your deck or talking with players in one of the many chat channels.

Continuing with MMO terminology, BF breaks gameplay into the familiar groups of player versus environment (PvE) or player versus player (PvP) maps which are spread visually over a world map. Essentially the PvE content boils down to single player and cooperative missions featured across multiple campaigns, where players engage with their current built deck.

Can you spot Australia?

Can you spot Australia?
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For those who enjoy a good narrative, EA Phenomic has gone to considerable effort fleshing out the world of BF with its own notable characters, lore and back-story which shows during the campaigns. It’s nothing ground breaking, but it does provide something for those who prefer the single player experience. As you complete these scenarios more become available, expanding the story in a novel-like fashion.

But even the least social of players will eventually have to team up with some allies, as a good deal of the maps require a cooperative effort for completion. They range from two or four players and even the occasional twelve player epic and are a great change of pace. Because everyone is online it’s quite easy jumping into your current scenario with strangers and most of these types of maps are quite varied in having everyone complete certain objectives. In all, there are around twenty PvE maps to conquer while working through the narrative, with the added bonus of having them replayable at harder difficulties once initially finished. It’s just enough content for those with no interest in the PvP side of things, with BF rewarding harder scenarios with card upgrades - but more on that later.

Despite how engaging the cards and the settings revolving around them are, it would mean nothing if the RTS interface of the game was poorly implemented. Thankfully, BF gets it right with all the basics you’d expect from a strategy game, like control groups, hotkeys and receptive controls. The engine is responsive and the units have good path finding. Again, all fundamental stuff, but the number of RTS games that fail to nail these basics is staggering. Having no base management is nothing new in a strategy game, but being able to potentially drop units anytime into the battle mixes things up a little.

And that’s what the card system allows you to do, as long as you can pay the ‘casting’ cost represented in required orbs and power price. The latter becomes the primary resource gathered during the course of a match, which is continually gained from building power wells in designated spots on every map. Likewise, orbs are built from specific monument areas and act as a player’s tech tree, allowing them to go up tiers granting the ability for stronger cards to be played.

Killer cards.

Killer cards.
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Every card featured in BF belongs to one of four elements; fire, frost, nature and shadow, which are then further broken into creatures, spells and support buildings. At launch there are 200 cards in total to collect, but there are definitely more on the way that for those who want to spend the cash. Coming back to the issue of buying cards, there really is no way around it, as it’s the only way to get them. Real money is used for the in-game currency dubbed BattleForge Points, that lets you buy booster packs containing eight cards, or for those a bit savvier, scrounge around on the in game auction house for new cards.

With boosters costing 250 BF Points and 500 worth of points sitting at a price of AU D$9.99, it can quickly add up. Although in saying this, the game does initially come with starter decks in all four colours and 3000 points. This alone should be more than enough to complete all of the PvE content and stand a chance in PvP as well.

Of course those who are willing to spend the extra money to get those ultra rare cards will probably have an edge in player dueling matches, so all those competitive players better start pulling their wallets out. It becomes a shame because the best part of BF is the PvP combat, taking on real players with your deck versus theirs - just as it in all other established card games. And just like those games, the player with a few more rare cards in his deck will always have the slight upper hand, but it’s hard to fault BF for that as it’s nothing new to the CCG genre.

It's actually quite better in BF with a fewer total number of cards that seem relatively balanced all things considered. A new 'flavour of the week' in terms of card combos and synergies sees its way into the metagame. This means it may be frustrating seeing the same few cards bashing their way to victory, until someone formulates a counter and the process repeats itself. Mind you, this is going into high level competitive play, so those looking for the odd casual match shouldn’t have any of these worries and will have a blast seeing different cards and strategies being utilised. Card advantage can also be offset with good micromanagement, strategic unit control, and knowledge of RTS mechanics, a variable not present in other traditional card games.

There’s an auto match system which tries to place duelling players at similar rankings, but for now is only available in the 1v1 format. Actually, one of the disappointing aspects of BF is while it’s fast and furious in multiplayer, only 1v1 and 2v2 maps exist. The lack of bigger multiplayer games or even a free for all match option is oddly omitted at the present time.

Once you get some cards, making a deck is painless and it’s easy to filter your total collection to find the ones you want. Building a deck however takes a bit of thought, as having the right combination of cards between the possible four colours can take some planning. Every card can also be upgraded improving an aspect of it. Upgrades are awarded after completing missions or bought with victory tokens won in player duels. It makes the balance a little more dubious, but gives an incentive to collect something that doesn’t cost BattleForge Points.

Clash of the titans.

Clash of the titans.
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The visuals are stunning and sharp, with a combination of great fantasy art, creature animation and bright colours. Creatures come in multiple sizes and some of the end game units are huge and menacing, making an awesome visual impact. BF’s art style in general, while a little generic at times, hits the right notes, becoming a graphical masterpiece when armies clash with steel and magic. Another nifty feature that helps showcase the visual beauty of BF is The Forge, an arena where you can drop units into battle to run simulations on strengths and weaknesses. It's a great addition that could be included in any RTS. How many times have you wanted to test out unit combinations against a specific strategy? The Forge makes it an easy reality.

Not everything is roses and the one of BF’s biggest faults is some of the interface options outside of a match. While everything feels great in game, the outside chat channels are a pain to use. MMOs use different types of chat to help distinguish and separate messages into appropriate areas like /global or /trade. BF uses a similar approach but there are far too many that you have to change around; it just becomes a mixture of confusing and annoying. Interface woes continue with the auction house which lets you search for cards listed by other players. It’s easy to find a card, but hard sorting through all the different offers and current bids. Furthermore, bid times are either listed as long, medium or short with no other indication of when a sale is finalised, making it difficult to gauge on what you should actually bid on. We don't want to overplay it but we did encounter a few crashes and random slowdown at times playing BF, which was a minor annoyance. Perhaps more annoying is the lack of a computer controlled AI for skirmish battles. Those who want to train in PvP are going to have to do it live.

Mixing competent RTS gameplay with the appeal of a CCG, BattleForge provides a new take on both genres. While you can get away without spending any extra money on additional cards, those who do will get the most out of the game. Understandably, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who do take the plunge will find a fun, responsive hybrid game with a lot to offer. Even more so for those who enjoy the competitive side of things.
The Score
The genre mixture that gels well together. Good RTS elements and responsiveness compliment the CCG aspects. Just be prepared to potentially get your wallet out for those microtransactions. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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5 Comments
4 years ago
I love MTG so I was very interested in this game but I just won't pay for intangible valueless items like digital cards so I'll have to give this a miss icon_sad.gif.

At least with MTG if I really needed cash or just completely lost interest in it I could sell off my cards for real money so at the end of the day my entire MTG addiction would cost only a fraction of what I paid for it or possibly even make me a profit. With BF what you pay into it is lost forever, you'll never be able to get your money back. Not to mention at any time the BF servers could be closed and your money would be wasted.

I wish someone would bring out a CCG type game where you just use in game money earned by participating in matches to buy the boosters, and if the publisher really wanted an ongoing cash flow just release expansions which you need to buy to access the new cards. The best so far have been the Yu-Gi-Oh games, but I find that yu-gi-oh has a few flaws in the game stemming from the fact that some cards are just WAY too powerfull.
4 years ago
Yeah Yu-Gi-Oh games has been the best imo but i think it needs a ps3 or xbox 360 release. Can you imagine how good would it be with online and downloadable content arghhh. One can dream icon_sad.gif
4 years ago
I enjoyed the marvel trading DS game - and its fairly cheap now-a-days and wi-fi compatible so worth a look. Yugi-oh world championship DS games are OK too.
4 years ago
I know EA is a business that has to make a profit but I think its extremely cynical for a mulitplayer game to give an advantage to players who spend more money and it shows a lack of respect for gamers.
4 years ago
Just a FYI game is now free to play, as you can just download the client that comes with a few started cards and play indefinitely.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  26/03/2009 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Electronic Arts
Genre:
  Real-Time Strategy
Year Made:
  2009
Players:
  4
System Requirements:
Windows XP/Vista
DVD-Drive (not needed if you purchase the game as a digital download)
Internet connection: 512 kb (DSL oder Cable)
CPU: 1,8GHz AMD64 or Intel Core (or comparable)
512 MB (XP), 1 GB (Vista)
Graphics card with 128 MB, NVidia GeForce 6000-Series or better, ATI Radeon 9500 or better
Minimum 10 GB hard drive space for Installation
Display: minimum 1024x768

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