While we love the more advanced strategy titles like Total War and Europa Universalis, we long for the occasional release of the classic straightforward fun of a Command & Conquer-style RTS. You can play Settlers of Canan or the Game of Thrones board game for days, but now and again you just fancy a round of Ker-Plunk.
Petroglyph Games if you didn’t know are a bunch of ex-Westwood developers that helped created Command & Conquer, and more recently developed the likes of Star Wars: Empire At War, Grey Goo, Universe At War: Earth Assault, and 8-Bit Armies. Forged Battalion is their latest game, and we’ve got an early look at the game with the interesting hook: you can create your own faction. You can check out gameplay of the Faction Creator and the first two missions right here or embedded at the end of the preview.
Within a second of loading a Forged Battalion mission I knew instantly what I had and what I needed to do. Build Refinery. Gather Resources. Build Power Plant. Build Barracks. Get some troopers out. Build a Light Factory. Build a Command Centre for better units. Build a Heavy Factory. Build Turrets. Build an Air Factory. Repel enemy attacks and spew out units until they die. It’s the same as in 1995’s Command & Conquer and we wouldn’t have our comfort food any other way.
The trick is, of course, to take this comfortable setup to new places, whether it’s just an excellent series of exciting missions or something altogether unique. This is where 8-Bit Armies faltered – it was predictable in its setup and failed to do anything exciting or new with it. If Petroglyph simply handed us a Command & Conquer-style RTS but with better missions and units than 8-Bit Armies we wouldn’t give it a high score, but we’d enjoy playing it. Fortunately Petroglyph have another trick up their sleeve.
The main draw of Forged Battalion is the ‘Faction Creator’. Instead of set factions with set units, like in every other RTS ever, Petroglyph’s latest allows players to name, create, and completely customize their own faction – soldiers, jeeps, tanks, aircraft, and turrets. It’s really quite simple to do, too. You go to the Tech Tree, pick out and buy an upgrade or two, then head to the Customize page to forge new units or edit old ones. You can even customize your own Superweapon!
There are, of course, catches to all this. For starters you can only have a certain amount of unit types per faction, or upgrades per unit. Improved units cost more to build, and often take longer too. These are the “fair enough” catches, but some may be a bit more surprising. For starters I’m worried the Creator doesn’t get crazy enough, at least as it currently exists. Most importantly though despite Faction Creator being, generally, the main way the game stands out from the rest of the RTS genre and basically the whole reason for Forged Alliance to exist, unlocking all of the Tech Tree is very slow going.
You unlock Tech Points by playing the game, and once you finish a mission you can buy another upgrade – if you can afford it. And the way the Tech Tree branches out means that if you want, say, to turn your Superweapon into a Nuclear Missile there are 8 other upgrades you have to buy first. Consequently players are not so much “creating their own faction” as, well, upgrading their faction like an RPG. Yes, once you’ve unlocked everything you’ll have the ability to mix and match to your heart’s content, but by then you’ll have finished the single-player game several times over.
Which is hard enough as it is. We only played a small part of the single-player campaign, but it was incredibly tough – and we’re not sure for the right reasons. Mission 1, which you can see us play below, was straightforward enough, but beyond that we struggled in anything but Easy. It wasn’t the AI, the speed they made contact or the rate they pumped out units, it was the objectives. They were just physically impossible.
Mission 2 had us tasked with defending a Comm Tower on the other side of the map. We had to build up our base and forces, make it through enemy territory, and get to the Tower before it fell. Now, we had to attack a small enemy outpost to get there, but the second we did that the enemy sent in a load of aircraft to attack the Tower. The Tower is so flimsy, and undefended, by the time my units got there it was destroyed. Something similar happened in Mission 3, where we had to defend an outpost in the centre of the map and destroy 2 enemy factions in under 20 minutes. By the time we’d built up our forces enough we’d managed to destroy 1 faction before the timer ticked down – even on Easy we barely completed it with 20 seconds to spare.
Forged Battalion launches on Steam Early Access on January 16. It will presumably be the same game we’ve played, and Petroglyph will build on it and, especially, expand the campaign.
Let’s be fair to both Petroglyph and Forged Battalion – what we played was a very early version and undoubtedly the team will be tweaking the campaign and the Tech Tree a lot based on player feedback. If they can make some of the mission objectives a little less unforgiving, and make the Faction Creator more open early on, when you actually want to customize units, there could definitely be an entertaining RTS here.
However, we can honestly say that what’s here is already a great deal more entertaining than 8-Bit Armies. That had a similar sort of idea – a throwback retro Command & Conquer-style RTS – but didn’t have much personality or any interesting missions. Forged Battalion already does. While the missions are, currently, still quite basic and obviously based on Skirmish maps, at least there is enemy mocking and unit chatter which makes the game a great deal more playable.
There’s potentially a long way to go with Forged Battalion before its final release, or at least a lot more content to come (there’s only five missions in the build we played), so there’s plenty of time for the talented team at Petroglyph to build up and brush up the campaign and expand the Factor Creator. If they do that, well, Forged Battalion could be a neat little slice of RTS comfort food.
Most Anticipated Feature
The full campaign, with less frustrating mission objectives. Oh, and seeing what mad creations people come up with in the Faction Creator.