Early Access Preview: Forged Battalion31 Jan 2018 0
I was very young when I first got to play Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, and I have great memories of it. That said, I believe that the old model of base-building and resource extraction RTS is mostly out-modded and not really relevant in the post-Company of Heroes 1 era. Forged Battalion, however, still has a few aces up its sleeve.
In the near future, Earth is devastated by all sorts of environmental disasters of the sort that we're in no hurry to prevent. Things were looking pretty grim, until one guy came out with plans for easy-to-build, modular underground settlements, factories and so on. Said guy soon started ruling over the people he rescued, giving those that didn't want to join him ten years to change their minds. Well, the decade has passed and you're now controlling the forces of one gruff survivalist settlement that doesn't want to be absorbed into the new world order.
If you have ever played a Command & Conquer game, you will know how to play Forged Battalion. You start with an HQ building and you have to construct refineries and power plants before you unlock infantry barracks and so on. You can only build one building at a time and those slowly rise out of the ground (a la Soviets in RA3). There's only one typo of resource for your harvesters can gather on the map while the base has to maintain its power levels. The greatest change here is that additional recruitment buildings – barracks, factories and so on – only work to increase the build rate at the first building and not add additional ques.
In combat, the game hearkens back to Red Alert 2 rather than its unit-ability obsessed sequel. You build units individually and one at a time. They only have one weapon and no abilities that you could trigger. There are no leaders, no formations, no cover and you can't even garrison buildings. A meeting engagement is basically two blobs of fearless troops grinding each other down. Unless you want to play with hotkeys and focus fire, it will be a mess. Also, in this game, artillery is definitely in the building busting department, since it’s high arc of fire and long flight time doesn’t make for the best of weapon against an enemy that moves.
Forged Battalion, however, has a lot more to offer in the meta game. There are no factions as you would understand in the game; every new player of the game starts out with the same basic units. However, as you gain experience through playing matches you can unlock technologies that can be slotted into units to change them – it's a build your-own-faction game! And while you can have up to four designs each of infantry, light vehicles, heavy vehicles and flying drones per faction at a time, the production facilities consume less electricity if you have less. So your faction doesn't necessarily need to have 16 units (though you will want to always have all of the turret designs).
When you start building a unit, you start with a chassis, with each unit category only having one. A standard exosuit infantryman has machine gun. However, you will soon unlock armor (increasing its HP – the guns have a damage multiplier depending on what type of you unit you're attacking), new weapons and even modes of movement. Of course, the changes aren't free: each mod increases price and build time, as well as having the chance of bumping up the unit tier (meaning that you need a more extensive base to get access to them). Sure, it would be nice to have a force of heavily armored, plasma-armed hover buggies, but if you go heavy on tier 5 technologies, you won't have units to build until your base develops – as well as paying more and waiting longer for them to build. This means that the player using more low tech technologies will certainly outnumber you and will probably crush you in the early stages of the game.
So you can easily plug and play with upgrades and unit combos in creating factions, which you will then use in both single and multiplayer games. I have two at the moment. First armored focuses on, well, armored units, and depends on specialist infantry and turrets for repair. The Immortal Horde foregoes armor to give units regeneration, which means that they need less maintenance after a scuffle – but the units are weaker than First Armored’s. Both of them can be used in the single player campaign, too!
Forged Battalion is not an ugly game. The graphics are a far cry from AAA fare, but they work. What’s especially interesting is that map and environments use a cell shaded art style whereas the units and bases look more conventional. This approach gives the developers a wider variety of tools when it comes to making effects and building atmosphere. The explosions are great, too, especially the big one that follows the destruction of an HQ. At this point, the weakest part of the game’s art comes from single player character portraits, which uses photos of real people in silly costumes.
To touch upon the audio side, I can say the music draws deliberate influences from Red Alert 2 sound track. It is a nice touch without reeking of outright nostalgia manipulation. One other thing is that voice actors for the units change depending on the configuration of the unit. The barks themselves aren’t memorable, but nor are they irritating. And again, the weakest bit comes from the campaign character bits.
Forged Battalion is looking to be an old-school game that still tries something new. It seems it has learned from some of the mistakes in the past. It also is trying to give us an interesting twist that will provide match ups much different than one would expect in an RTS game, where factions can be ultimately completely knowable. Only time will tell if Forged Battalion will be balanced enough for people to not just fall onto a few “right” choices.
Forged Battalion entered in Steam's Early Access program on January 16th, 2018. At the time of writing, it was due to release into 1.0 roughly six months after this date.