I can safely say that what I got when I first fired up Skyforge was not, in fact, what I had been hoping I would get. At the same time, I can’t say that I’m necessarily upset about that. My expectations for the game went from complete disinterest to genuine curiosity to something even resembling enthusiasm over time, and on some level I expected it to end up disappointing me. I was always going to get less than I hoped for, albeit perhaps more than I expected.
Ultimately, Skyforge is a bit like what I would expect from throwing parts of Guild Wars, City of Heroes, and Neverwinter into a blender. Sadly, the result tends a little more toward the shallower end of those games. But it succeeds at its primary goals – offering more depth than is immediately visible, being pretty, and being fun – and while I’d be a bit miffed if I had my heart set on playing only this forever and ever, I’m quite pleased with it.
To the game’s credit, it wastes no time throwing you into the deep end: Within moments you are informed that your character is immortal, followed by an introduction to the concept by a character I like to think of as Exposition Quakeboobs. (The slightest motion of female characters wearing any sort of cloth top sends them a-quivering like a bag of water in an earthquake.) You then flash backward to the incident that… made you an immortal? Confirmed your immortal status? It’s not altogether clear.
What is clear is that you should have died and did not die, and now you get to join the swelling ranks of immortality with an eye toward becoming a full-fledged deity. This is the point when the game lets you jump into character creation, the implication being that your new appearance and name are all about discarding whomever you used to be. It’s a cool idea, though one not explored as thoroughly as I would have liked; the game isn’t at its best when it comes to narrative or storyline.
But none of that much matters fairly early on. It’s a construct in place to give you excuses for running around in a sci-fi fantasy fusion, hacking at monsters with vigor, swapping classes, and so forth. The game’s structure really does remind me of Guild Wars, what with a variety of areas that you head off into for adventuring off a central hub; the main difference is that there are open-world areas that will allow you to run into other players along with more instanced escapades. The available missions cycle through on a regular basis as well; it’s a bit like a world filled with nothing but City of Heroes radio missions.
As a result, the game is going to rely heavily upon its actual combat. Fortunately, this is also where the game shines. I spent most of my playtime as a Berserker, although I also played around with some of the ranged classes; being at range means less fiddling around with combos and a bit more focus on shooting things from afar, which is… largely what you’d expect based on that class selection.
In melee, your primary attacks are tied to the left and right mouse buttons, with the right button serving as an all-purpose finishing stroke. It’s basic, but also satisfying; remembering your combos and their utility is important for producing rather specific results. Single-target damage on Berserker, for example, relied heavily on opening with the right, then spamming out the left-left-left-right combo as long as I had the resources to fuel it, swapping in left-right as necessary to stun my enemy.
Players also have specific abilities, most of which need to be unlocked via the game’s leveling system. As in Guild Wars 2, only certain abilities can go in certain slots; unlike Guild Wars 2, Skyforge ensures you generally have one of two options for a given slot along with a variety of talent selections for passive effects.
I’m of mixed minds on this approach. On the one hand, this is a lot more narrow than what you can do in other games; on the other hand, it means that you wind up choosing the ability you find more fun to use than just overloading on AoE abilities or the like. Since you can swap between classes at pretty much any time, it feels less limiting than it might otherwise.
And make no mistake: You will want to swap between classes. Every individual class has its own Ascension Atlas, which serves as a simpler version of Final Fantasy X‘s Sphere Grid. Abilities and talents are limited to individual classes, but the various stat boosts you unlock on a given grid are universal. Since the game uses a very simple set of stats that are universal to every class, the result is that boosting your Might is a benefit to every class you might play rather than a fast-track back down to level 1 when you swap from your highly advanced Berserker to a Kinetic.
You do have to do a little work to unlock the upper level of the Atlas and open up the more advanced classes, but I consider that more of an extended tutorial than anything. And you don’t need to ever stop being any of the classes. Sure, you’re eventually going to max out your Lightbinder trees, but most of the sparks used to advance your character classes are universal, so you can unlock things on other class trees without actually swapping. (You do get class-specific sparks for killing mobs on a given class to provide some extra motivation. You’ll have fewer abilities starting on a new class, for instance, but you’ll also be advancing faster.)
Other nice touches include the game’s costuming system, which allows you to select from a variety of locks (with more unlockable) or the class look. It solves a pet peeve I have with always depicting a class in a given set of armor. The game’s actual equipment largely takes the form of accessories, and while everything can be upgraded, it’s slots you upgrade rather than the equipment itself, thus freeing you from the tyranny of “but I’ll replace this, so I don’t want to upgrade it!” It’s all very straightforward and satisfying.
That actually describes Skyforge as a whole fairly well, though. The game is very straightforward in its story, in its combat, in everything. In some ways the sprawling leveling system is there just to ensure that people have plenty to do over an extended period of time, making that little Prestige score in the lower left climb ever higher. And yet it’s satisfying. Combat animations are occasionally a bit weird, but the actual combat feels satisfying and impactful, and it’s hard to me not to love the idea of jumping on someone and slicing him in half with a chainsaw sword. Complete with sound effects and a bit of blood even when I’m slicing a robot in half, for the record.
I’d be a bit disappointed if I wanted Skyforge to serve as my only game forever or if I had wanted something a bit closer to the experience that Allods Team had with its last outing. But it’s a game that celebrates class-swapping, fun combat, and dropping in or out as it suits the player. Weird design choices aside, it’s an enjoyable game to play, and it’s well worth the time to check out when the open beta goes live.