By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), General Manager
I was a bit giddy inside when approaching the section of the my.com booth dedicated to Skyforge. That’s something I don’t get to feel too often anymore, having done MMO convention coverage as long as I have. But after viewing the recent World Story trailer and seeing the general concept and graphical superiority present, I crossed my fingers that the gameplay would live up to the hype. Luckily I was fast to jump at the opportunity to go hands-on with the game for the demo and see just how everything plays out.
SkyForge bills itself as an action MMORPG throwing the player into the head of an Immortal. Now the billing "action MMO" gets thrown around quite a bit these days. Honestly it tends to be hard to define without comparing it to a previous title using the same motif. SkyForge’s take seems to be more of a point (without click) to target option that still requires skill and reaction to properly use, but blocks out the player from wasting their skills on a total missed shot by greying them out when it’s not a good time to use them. Meanwhile players have a three dash system akin to WildStar’s dashing for clearing distance, dodging attacks, or quickly catching up to a fleeing target. There is no run option outside of these dashes though, making them more valuable and strategic in their use. As one of the devs stated, “They’re always running!”
I was a bit intimidated when first taking the controls as one, the UI is just so different from most any MMO I’ve played prior, and two, almost every monster had the imposing appearance of a normal MMORPG’s boss monster. I suppose it’s a waste of time throwing trash mobs against an immortal so this does a great job of building that sense of power as you devastate massive horrific foes in rapid succession. The Mare Sacro temple in particular was a piece of artwork as waterfalls cascaded down the sides of corridors and battle animations reflected in the stream of water beneath our feet.
The actual boss fight held plenty of suspenseful moments (or would if my character wasn’t overly buffed to ensure unskilled members of the press didn’t fail too hard). Facing an Undine Goddess attempting to steal a holy water artifact from our planet, my ally and I were constantly on our toes to keep out of range of constant erupting spouts of water. The goddess shot plenty of spread shots of water magic at us as well, forcing us to keep our eyes both above and below us at all times to stay clear of danger. At last she formed an impenetrable water shield around herself, and boy was it ever gorgeous. The refractions of light shining through the shield and ever so slightly distorting her image left me dazed long enough for her two summoned mirage clones to get the drop on me from behind.
The class system and Ascension Atlus were also quite intriguing. SkyForge operates on a multi-class system, allowing you to choose from one of three classes at the start and eventually branch out into all 10 classes should you choose to spend the time necessary to master them all. Currently on display were the Berserker, Lightbinder, Cryomancer (ice mage), Paladin, and Gunner. Berserkers and Paladins offered interesting combo systems that forced players to quickly chain skills together on the fly in the proper order to keep damage maximized. The Cryomancer essentially painted a picture of destruction across the battlefield by placing markers before allowing waves of ice to entrap and impale enemies. Or throw a giant snowball that grows larger the further it travels. Whatever floats your boat. I spent a good deal of time on the Gunner, which will need further explanation to understand.
You see the skillbar system in SkyForge is as free flowing as the waters of Maro Sacro. Certain skills will buff your damage or defenses as expected while the left and right mouse click buttons make up the majority of your offensive assault. However many skills will actually change the mode of your weapon, completely rearranging your skill bar from how it stands. Rather than color coding, they choose to use an interesting circle size code to help differentiate the different types of skills on the bar, which leads to some truly unique looking skill bars that at times almost look like DNA strands winding across the bottom of your UI. The side weapon options on the gunner were limited by an ammo system as well, forcing me to balance both mana use as well as ammo. The ammo seemed to replenish overtime though, making it ideal to constantly dance between modes of my gun to keep maximize damage output going. This involved occasionally standing still balancing a heat seeking mortar launcher in the general direction of enemies. Other times it involved walking around with a Gatling Gun strapped to my arm mowing down foes like some sort of Rambo wet dream.
Though I never noticed if there was some sort of bonus for doing so (other than watching epic rag doll physics), each character has special finishing attacks available on the fly if you hit E while facing a low hp mob. It honestly seemed more trouble than it was worth but perhaps if my character was on the proper balanced strength level, it may have been a useful option to quickly finish low hp foes. Also ultimate skills are available occasionally to set off some truly epic AoE explosions, in the Gunner’s case launching a barrage of 15 or so heat seeking mortars. Sexy is about the only way I can describe the ensuing destruction.
Completing these dungeons quickly and stylishly awards you higher rankings and more of one of three crystals as well. These three crystals are used as currency within the newly revealed Ascension Atlus. Imagine some kind of hybrid between Skyrim’s leveling system and Path of Exile’s endless expanding circular system, and you have somewhat of an idea of what you’ll be looking at.
Each starting class has a large circular orb with various passives, skills, and other bonuses available to them. Different parts of these orbs require different colors of crystal and ever increasing quantity of crystal to advance through them. Some orbs also have the prerequisite of earlier orbs before they can be unlocked. As you travel from one side of the orb to the other, you’ll gain the opportunity to expand to branch orbs that sometimes connect to two different new sets of large orbs. These paths you take can differentiate your style of play within a class, or even lead to unlocking new classes entirely. And once unlocked, you can switch classes at any time within the dungeon. Convenient.
SkyForge’s science fantasy setting also leads to some interesting looking avatars. I saw everything from techy Saint Seya type Paladins to blue jeans wearing skater dudes. Apparently your gear is all about looks and allows you to customize your appearance despite which class you currently have equipped (which is only represented by graphically by your weapon and perhaps active auras). I’m sure gamers will have mixed feelings about this but with how awesomely crafted the visuals in SkyForge are, I have a feeling most players will be able to accept it.
If you’re curious what this means for power upgrades though, we didn’t get too straight of an answer. The terms ‘followers’ and ‘amps’ were mentioned as stat boosters. Apparently the more epic you become, the more people worship you, and the more power you’ll pack in each punch! As for amps, your guess is as good as mine but I’m just going to throw out the hunch that it’s some kind of rune system for powering up individual skills. Time will certainly tell.
One last piece of info that I’m sure could be a make or break feature for potential players is that there are open world regions to explore. While the vast majority of epic challenges will take place in instanced zones visited via the Justice League style “World Plea Hotline,” you can still find plenty of fights and regions to explore with other players in open zones. Better yet, SkyForge has plans for both 10+ man raid content and an end-game crafted around PvP, so get ready to button mash later this year in some of the most retina damaging arenas ever crafted for the free to play MMORPGs realm.