I played Skyforge briefly when it first launched on PC in 2015, but only put a few hours into it. My short stay there was not because I found anything wrong with it, but it had the unfortunate timing of launching around the same time as new content in some of my other favorite MMOs, and I just never got back to it.launched on the Nintendo Switch, and being the Nintendork that I am, I find it now back at the forefront of my mind. I spend most of my gaming time playing MMOs on PC, but I also sink a decent amount of time into Nintendo’s hybrid console, so when an MMO launches there, I am always interested, as you may recall from my review of DC Universe Online’s Switch port a while back.
Now, I may not have played Skyforge much, but I’ve always enjoyed its aesthetic. I’m a sci-fi fan at heart, but I also love MMORPGs, which are heavily dominated by fantasy settings, so I appreciate when an MMO tries to break the mold of the traditional D&D-style fantasy. Skyforge has a unique sci-fantasy blend that has all the fantasy trappings of magic, mysterious evil forces, and a pantheon of gods, but fuses it with missile-lobbing robots, sleek hoverbikes, and all manner of futuristic technology.
I’ve also always been impressed with the game’s class variety. Sure, you’ve got your standard archers, light mages, and warriors with absurdly large weapons like every other MMO, but you also have western-style gunslingers, synth bards, and Doctor Octopus wannabes running around in this world, and somehow it all fits together and feels cohesive. I’ve also been intrigued by the idea that characters can swap between any of the game’s 18 classes (provided that they have paid to unlock them – more on that later), even when in an instance, as long as they are out of combat. This means you get only one character, which saddens my altaholic side, but sharing one set of gear across all classes (aside from the class-specific weapon) certainly has its appeal.
Downloading and installing the game from the Nintendo eShop was painless. Being a free-to-play game, it does not require a Switch Online subscription, and account creation was automatic. Sadly, there is no crossplay with any of the other platforms that Skyforge is available on.
Character creation was pretty standard, with a decent number of sliders and customization options available. Interestingly, I don’t think I’ve ever had a slider that determined the way my character runs, with a range from light to heavy. The process was a little stressful because, as previously mentioned, this is a game where you only get one character. Players can change their appearance and name later, but they will need to fork over argents, the cash shop currency, for the privilege, though at least the first one is free if you realize you don’t like something about your character once you get to see them in action.
I was immediately turned off by the fact that the game’s lackluster voiceover didn’t always match the captions. This game was originally developed by the Moscow-based Allods Team, so undoubtedly these are issues with the translation from Russian to English. It wasn’t every line of dialogue or anything, but the voices of a lot of the random NPCs chatting with each other were clearly working from a different translation than the on-screen text. It’s not a dealbreaker on its own, but not a good start.
As for the graphics, well, let’s be blunt: They are sub-par at best on Switch. This game looks really pretty with high settings on PC and even the PlayStation or Xbox, but on Switch, it’s hard to look at. Sure, I expect the graphics to be downgraded a little for Nintendo’s tiny hybrid handheld, but this downgrade is worse than most. There is little to no anti-aliasing, the render resolution is bad, lighting is mostly flat, and there seems to be some kind of frame blending going on trying to hide the fact that it is running at some dismally low FPS. And that’s when it’s working well.
In many of the mission areas, the problems are even worse. The game intermittently hitches or freezes completely, both video and audio. This can lead to a painful, staticky sound, dropped inputs, and rubber banding that make the game difficult to play. It will be fine for a while, but then for no apparent reason these issues resurface. I’ve even had it crash to the home screen. This really makes me feel that this game was not ready for launch, and needs to be tuned better for the Switch hardware. And yes, I experienced these problems when the Switch was docked, when it is able to utilize its hardware at full power; it looks and performs even worse in handheld mode. Hopefully future updates will improve performance to at least make it playable.
And all of these problems are a real shame because I think there is a fun game in there. I enjoy the combat, which is a little bit button mashy, but feels good overall. The story is a bit thin, but what’s there is original and enough to hold my attention. This is a lobby MMO, so there is a central city hub where you can interact with other players, with a map screen takes you to various instances. These instances can be completed solo or with a pre-formed group. To my surprise, I found no way to have the game find a group for me, as I would have expected from an MMO like this. I have heard that the gameplay loop eventually turns into a lot of farming the same instances over and over again in order to progress (or paying money to bypass these bottlenecks), but I didn’t hit that point in the 10 or so hours I have put into the game so far. Still, I understand why this may be a deal breaker for some, but I think I could be OK with some grind if I had enough classes unlocked to swap between to keep things interesting.
Speaking of classes, messing with a variety of play types was my favorite part of the game. With 18 of them, I was wondering if they would feel redundant, but all of the ones I sampled each had a distinctive flavor. Starting out, free players get three classes: the tanky Paladin, the mage-like Cryomancer, and the supporting Lightbinder. My personal favorite was the Cryomancer, who can charge up and hurl icicle spears, toss area-effect icy comets (thank you, Allods Team, for knowing that comets are icy and not fiery like so many fantasy franchises seem to believe!), and put up a crystal shield bubble for survivability.
Publisher MY.GAMES was also kind enough to provide us with a founder’s pack so I could try out some of the premium classes. I picked up the Soundweaver, a bard-type class that supports and attacks with an electric guitar that shoots energy beams and drops totem-like amps. Soundweavers can even use smash enemies with their guitar, Pete Townshend-style. Their ultimate ability even has Guitar Hero-style minigame that cranks out massive damage and buffs.
Another favorite of mine was the Gunner, who wields a transforming minigun. In machine gun mode, it builds up heat as it fires, either aimed at a single target or sprayed in a wide arc, eventually overheating and causing its bullets to set enemies on fire. With the press of a button, the minigun becomes a plasma rifle, switching up its abilities and dealing increased damage to shields and using up heat. Pressing and holding the mode switch button transforms the gun into a missile launcher, immobilizing the Gunner, but dealing heavy AoE damage.
Classes can be unlocked with one of two currencies. There are Sparks of Transformation, which are rewarded the first time you complete a mission or for doing daily quests and some other activities. The second is the premium currency, argents. Class unlocks cost 12000-16000 argents a pop, which translates to somewhere around thirteen to fifteen US dollars.
Ever run into one of those systems in an MMO that just seems way too convoluted for what it’s doing? That’s Skyforge’s might system. Without getting too deep in the weeds, I’ll just say that class progression is pretty straightforward (kill stuff to level up and unlock new abilities) and gear works the way you would expect (items have stats, equip better, rarer items for better stats), but might comes from a number of sources, which are unlocked with a number of different currencies, which come from various daily quests. It’s basically a system for account-wide power progression, but it seems like the kind of thing I would ignore unless I wanted to become a hardcore endgamer.
This game does boast a premium subscription, which boosts players’ currency acquisitions and drop rates. Interestingly, it can be purchased in increments of as few as three days, perfect if your gaming time is sporadic. I think the subscription would be a lot more appealing if it would let me try access all of, or at least more of, the various classes before unlocking them permanently, but at least it reduces the time it takes to grind them out, if that’s what you’re looking to do.
Skyforge seems like a fun MMORPG with some neat ideas, but the technical problems on the Switch make it really hard to recommend on this platform. If you’re looking for a way to play this on the go, you’re probably better off bringing a laptop, even a wimpy one. I sincerely hope it gets some meaningful performance improvement patches because I want to like this version of the game – it’s just hard to get past the technical issues.