Early Access Editorial ✎ Featured

Forged Battalion: Customize & Falter

Forged Battalion hearkens back to an age of early real-time strategy games like Command & Conquer and Age of Empires. It’s all about building a massive army as quickly as possible and overwhelming your opponent. The strategy comes in learning the maps and exploiting the opposing faction’s weaknesses. While the game manages to successfully recreate some of this experience, Petroglyph has added a wrinkle to this formula by allowing you to customize your own army and lead it into battle. This mechanic may sound like a breath of fresh air for the genre, but in practice it may break the very foundation these games are built on.

It feeds into the nature of the game: Build as fast as you can and dominate the other players, then move onto the next match.

It’s this customization aspect that’s at the heart of the game from the very beginning. You earn credits for winning just about any match type. The five-mission campaign is a good way to get started before you head into multiplayer, but the points you can earn there are finite. Eventually you’ll have to jump into skirmishes with painfully predictable AI or brave it against real players in the ranked and unranked multiplayer modes.

It’s easy to get into a multiplayer match, which can sometimes be difficult for early access games with low player counts. It helps that matches are usually pretty short, lasting about 20 to 30 minutes. It feeds into the nature of the game: Build as fast as you can and dominate the other players, then move onto the next match. It’s like if the 4x genre only had the exterminate phase. It’s exciting to figure out how to build things in the most efficient way possible and shave off a few minutes or seconds here and there. You learn each of the built-in maps, where resources are, and how to take advantage of the terrain. With a little practice you can master each map and begin to outplay your opponents. “Ah, we’re playing on Gridlock, I got this!”

That all works because you know what your opponent’s arsenal looks like. You know the Terrans have Marines, and you have to watch out for the Zerg rush. Better counter those Nod Scorpion Tanks because you know they’re coming. And FUCK those Conquistadors, the Spanish are off limits as a rule. That’s the strategy: Learn how to counter your opponent. After you’ve mastered the maps the next step is figuring out how to exploit each faction’s or civilization’s weakness. I guess we have 2xes after after all.

This where Forged Battalion falls apart because you have no idea what you’re going to be up against when starting a match. Because of the bring-your-own-faction mechanic, you may end up dealing with super fast fire tanks that do nothing but harass you. You could counter those with fast moving air units, but you’d have to know ahead of time that you needed to focus on those. It works both ways though, as Mr. Amazon Firestick just got lucky because you made nothing but slow moving heavy artillery that his fire melts through like butter. It’s certainly possible to create a faction that could conceivably counter anything thrown at it, but it would require you to unlock the entire tech tree, making the your early games a coin toss. And there’s still the problem of not knowing what type of units to build once the match starts. If you spend the early game building the slow tanks and your opponent builds fast anti-tank units, you’re screwed. And more often than not in these games, losing that first big battle means you lose the match. This isn’t strategy, this is luck.

The first page of the tech tree.

There are small tweaks that could help eliminate some of these problems. For instance, you only have one build queue per building type regardless of how many of that type you have. In other words, if you have five light vehicle factories, you can only pump out one light vehicle at a time. This means you can’t efficiently put your eggs into multiple baskets. If you’re committing to fast fire tanks, you’re building fast fire tanks. You can conceivably build fire tanks and artillery tanks, but you’d have to wait for one queue to finish before starting the next one, losing valuable time. And if your opponent lucks out and makes the right unit first, then again we’ve boiled it down to a coin toss.

It would also help if all the weapons and upgrades were balanced, but some of them are not. If you’re just starting out you’re going to get destroyed bringing machine guns to a plasma fight. If you invest your tech points erroneously, you can prolong the problem even further because you can’t “unspend” tech points once you’ve committed.

I very much enjoy the graphical presentation and it looks great when two huge armies duke it out.

I suppose some of these may issues be mitigated in time with updates, as the game is in early access. However, It’s hard for me to see how they can be completely solved, as they are primarily rooted in the faction customization feature which is at the core of the game. Making the early grind shorter and being able to unspend tech points may help. But even then the underlying issue of most games boiling down to a coin toss is hard to overlook. There are good things here. I very much enjoy the graphical presentation and it looks great when two huge armies duke it out. However, I can only marvel at those fire effects melting my poor artillery before I get red in the face.

I remember playing Super Mario Bros. and Metroid on the NES with my older brother, and never being able to land on the aircraft carrier in Top Gun. I faked being sick so I could stay home from school and play Quake II once, but now I request days off from work instead of lying. Age of Empires II is still the best RTS, Half-Life is still the best FPS, and I still think the end of Mass Effect 3 was great!