The popularity of games like Fire Emblem, X-Com and Final Fantasy Tactics have paved the way for more real-time tactical RPGs. Fans of the genre often celebrate the colorful characters, in-depth mechanics and complex stat-tracking. All these aspects do the work to attract the hardest of hardcore fans. It is an endless debate as to how much mass appeal a tactical RPG can have in a mainstream gaming world. Still, the genre thrives today thanks to both handhelds and the indie market.
One such example is Forged of Blood, by Indonesian indie developer Critical Forge. A Kickstarter-backed project that promised to revamp the real-time tactics system, Forged of Blood is a game that is not afraid to be lofty in what it hopes to achieve, flying free as the next big indie title on the market. Ultimately though, it is a game that flew too close to the sun; its wings melting under the pressure of their own ambitions.
Forged of Blood Review | The Right Amount of Depth
Forged of Blood is a curious mix of turn-based tactics with grand strategy role-playing. These are all sub-genres that seem like a brilliant combination when squished together. Critical Forge notes this in their pitch on Steam. It states that Forged of Blood is “pushing the boundaries of depth and mechanical complexity for the modern turn-based tactical RPG”. This is a mandate that they arguably succeed in. The game is not without problems, some of which come down to design choices that simply don’t mesh together with the turn-based tactics system.
The best aspects of Forged of Blood are major tweaks to the standard expectations of real-time tactics. Movement, for example, us a tier system based on your character's statistics, equipment restrictions, and innate skills that you acquire as you level up. Move too far, and you won’t be able to attack on a given turn. Move slightly, and you can then utilize a special ability for your second move, and an attack for your third move. Some abilities also require all your move slots to pull off. This gives players strategic options when a character’s initiative comes up.
Maneuverability couples with good ideas that sort of pan out. All characters in Forged of Blood are classless, unlike most turn-based tactical games. You have nine weapon slots to choose from, from swords to bows to even magic, that you can customize your troops with. Surviving battles gives them points in their currently equipped weapons to spend on improving their skills, once again giving the player some creative freedom to customize their approach against enemy troops.
On paper, a classless system is a good addition but has a few flaws. The biggest of which stems from the rather lackluster options in the skill trees for both weapons and innate skills. Some passive abilities are almost indispensable, such as attacks that pump up accuracy, mobility, and attacks of opportunity, which complement some of the best weapons in the game. Due to build imbalance, other abilities simply become completely outclassed. There are plenty of options in-game, but each of the nine weapons only has a handful of abilities that can be used to turn the tide of battle- making options more limited than I think was intended due to the genres demand for perfection in character builds.
Forged of Blood Review | Depth vs Complexity
While most of the mechanics offer fresh twists that add to the depth of the experience, the magic system is quite the opposite. This system offers an extremely complex system of spell creation to the player. Spells have specific properties and come in magical 'paired' stones, meaning they have two spells in them at a time. The properties of the spells depend on the function, such as draining attributes, slowing enemies, or just doing straight-up damage, all of which can be enhanced with the addition of twelve status modifiers per spell.
In theory, there are hundreds of combinations for spells, allowing further customization for the player's army. In practice, learning to navigate the mechanics is a jarring experience in of itself on top of an already in-depth experience. Spell crafting in Forged of Blood is deep and complex, but heavily relies on experimentation to get right and overshadows the game completely by requiring much more attention to detail than any other mechanic in the game. In the case of their spell system, Critical Forge went too far. In creating a needlessly complex feature on purpose, it derails how the other mechanics synthesize in-game.
It is not the only system that does this either. The touted ‘Tri-Axis Personality Index’, designed to track the alignment and philosophies of every character in the game, also suffers from some serious design flaws. The idea, again, is a good one; injecting a sense of morally gray choices into the game to help shape the outcome of the conflict. Mechanically, it could be disastrous, especially if you don’t pay attention to every character’s morality on the scale.
One example that occurred for me was half of my army leaving in quick succession after a hard-fought battle, simply because I was too ‘altruistic’ for their tastes. The characters gave a standard warning but then seconds later left the army. It's unclear if that was a bug or intentional, but my teams were in shambles until I could afford reinforcements. The role morality plays is again baked into the coding of an unnecessarily complex system. One that tries to solve the problem of binary choice but instead forces illogical decisions on the player for the sake of unit cohesion.
Forged of Blood Review | Big Ideas, Small World
Forged of Blood has many big ideas that either work as intended or become too alienating by design. One aspect that works is the free-form of the game's map, a living tactical board where players must solve quests - sometimes on a time limit – to gain favor, followers, items or influence. Some quests give you total control of an entire province. Others allow you to complete jobs via subterfuge, bribery or even assassination. The player can only have three armies of five troops each in the field at once. This means that it's impossible to tackle every single side mission on offer.
So, the variety of missions is there, but what ruins the flow of the game is the overall pacing. Missions can sometimes pop up within seconds of each other. It leaves players scrambling to decide which course of action is best to follow. Characters also often interrupt the map screen to talk to each other, offering a chance to roleplay using the Personality Index system. This is an example of Forged of Blood trying to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time. It becomes unbearable to keep up with the right course of actions in the game’s world.
Of course, this may be the point. Like grand strategy games, everything on the map screen is in real-time. Planning three moves ahead becomes the key to dealing with the swings as they come. Unlike grand strategy games, the motivation behind your actions is more undefined. Your decisions don’t really hinge upon a solid plan of action as more side missions crop up to tackle. The world feels small because of this. The pacing simply kills your ability to soak in the world and enjoy the narrative.
Forged of Blood Review | Dull and Gray
It is a shame too, as the narrative of Forged of Blood is pretty good. You play the last surviving heir of an empire and fight to reclaim your birthright with your brother. As cliched as that is on the surface, the focus on relative philosophical ideas leads to a morally complex tale. The player grows up as one of a privileged race known as the Neshalan that treats humankind as second-class citizens. Overall, a strong set up that offers a ton of choices for the player. Are you ruthless or merciful in how you deal with humankind? Rational or emotional over your status as a prince? Despite the massive flaws mechanically baked into the Tri-Axis Personality Index, these choices really give the narrative significant bite to it.
While the games moral ambiguity is a strength, the overall presentation comes across as lifeless. Visually the game goes for a realistic, Romanesque aesthetic with a variety of simple arenas. Character models blend together without any real distinguishing features. Sometimes, that makes it hard to track which troop is which at a glance. The heavily pixelated character models on lower graphical settings on the PC don't help either. Animations are rote and most devastating of all, slow. Slow speed is the kiss of death to any tactical game. While Forged of Blood offers options to speed up the action, players will almost need them to get through the pacing of combat. Combine this with forgettable music, and you have a game that is not really winning much in the aesthetics department.
The biggest down factor, however, is game crashing bugs. The effect of in-game bugs and glitches lessens if you consider the patch culture we have now. Still, there are times where Forged of Blood simply stops working in the middle of combat. This can be very frustrating, especially if the player forgets to save beforehand. It seems to be random as well. Hopefully, Critical Forge can fine-tune the game so that such crashes become a rarer occurrence.
Forged of Blood Review | Final Thoughts
There is a lot to like in Forged of Blood, but it's not for everyone. It is clearly a game by tactical RPG fans, for tactical RPG fans. The desire to make the game more complex and free form shows great ambition on the part of Critical Forge, but ambition can only get you so far. Critical Forge put everything into Forged of Blood to try and make it synthesize into a coherent experience. Instead, it is a hodgepodge of good and bad ideas in terrible need of curation. For some, that may be enough the scratch that tactical itch in between sessions of Fire Emblem. For most, the wings have melted away, leaving a bloody mess in its wake.
TechRaptor reviewed Forged of Blood on the PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher
- A Fair Amount of Depth...
- An Excellent Narrative...
- Filled With Good Ideas...
- ...Sometimes it is Overly Complex.
- ...Poor Visual and Audio Presentation.
- ...That Are Held Back by Poor Implementation.