By Michael Sagoe (mikedot)
As we settle into the halfway point of Summer, this season is perfect time for developers to release their hottest games for the mass market to consume. Along with Cabal 2 from ESTSoft, this month’s other big blockbuster MMORPG comes from the Allods Team, creators of the popular Allods Online. Their newest title is called SkyForge, and it’s all about living the life of an immortal warrior whose job is to serve and protect citizens all over the world. With the promise of action-based combat, beautiful visuals, a griping storyline of a cursed god, swanky perks such as having your own group of worshipers and more, Skyforge sounds like the perfect choice for anyone’s next MMO destination.
However, Skyforge is a game that insists on setting limits and goals for every player.
Skyforge is a game that comes with several quirks and hitches that will either keep players occupied for various reasons that may or may not be fun.
Skyforge is a game that plays on the average person’s love for watching numbers go up.
Whether or not these details are good or bad will depend on preferences, but for me, personally, it left me feeling conflicted.
SkyForge uses a limited action set control scheme similar to games like Guild Wars 2 or Wildstar: WASD for movement, LMB/RMB for basic/branching combo attacks and alternate attacks, and various keys such as 1-4 or ZXCV used to perform various skills that are unlocked as the player progresses through the game.
Skyforge’s action is a strange hybrid between action-based and traditional tab-targeting MMORPG combat where enemies can be targeted and focused using crosshair aiming, but it doesn’t require precise aiming and targets can also be focused using the T/Tab key. Dodging is also possible by double tapping the movement keys or holding Shift + any movement key in any direction. This reminds me of the soft-targeting combat system found in Blade & Soul with the active dodging in TERA: Rising.
As simple as it seems, there are times when the controls will refuse to cooperate, especially when dealing with multiple enemies at a time. As the targeting window for each enemy is quite large, it’s very easy to aim your attack towards another enemy which the player may not be focused on. The result is an unwanted cancellation of your combo attack or charged shot in process. As mentioned before, the only way for players to make sure they never switch from their targets is to lock their target using the T/Tab key, but this takes away from some of the action-based premise of the game.
It’s honestly hard for me to further explain how awkward the controls can be at times. The only thing I can say about the controls is to try them for yourself.
Gameplay and Features
Unlike most other MMORPGs, Skyforge does not focus on the traditional holy trinity of Tank, DPS and Healer, as the Healer role is completely absent from the game. Instead, Skyforge focuses almost entirely on offensive combat while dodging heavy attacks or using defensive skills to mitigate damage for every fight. In order for players to stay active without a healer, enemies while occasionally drop health orbs whenever they take damage. This helps to keep most battles against regular mobs from being dull as white damage attacks cannot be avoided, so players will actively be moving around during a battle in order to stay alive. There are also few support-based classes such as the Lightbinder that can assist with buffing and de-buffing, but for the most part, fights come down to quick wits, quick reaction times and a whole lot of button mashing.
Whenever the controls aren’t being finicky, the combat feels fast-paced and satisfying, as players can perform all sorts of active and context sensitive attacks, including breathtaking finishers using the E key that will also restore your character’s skill resources. The mechanics found in certain dungeons will also put reaction and twitch skills to the test, such as avoid falling rocks or exploding missiles. Although, there are times where these extra mechanics can feel a bit… cheap (such as the falling rocks while fighting a mantis queen boss during a particular story quest instance… Anyone playing Skyforge will know the one I’m talking about: The Lamber Catacombs).
Also unlike other MMORPGs that focus on traveling from area to area looking for the next quest hub, Skyforge chooses to streamline everything with various zones and instances that can be visited through a global map, which players will access very early on in the game. From this map, players can search for squad missions that can be done either solo or in 3-man parties, group missions for 5-man parties, region missions that are open hunting/quest zones and battles missions for some PvP action. As convenient as this system can be, this makes the world of Skyforge feel small and disconnected. With everything broken up into lobbies and instances, it’s really hard to address this game as an MMORPG in the strictest sense. If anything, it’s more comparable to MOARPGs such as Vindictus, PSO2 and other similar titles.
Rather than focusing on gaining levels, Skyforge uses a ranking system called prestige which is determined by multiple factors including your equipment, the rank of your order, your progression on the Ascension Atlas and more. It’s one of the more unique aspects presented in Skyforge, but this could also be one of the game’s biggest flaws. Not only does this serve as the player’s level, but also the player’s gearscore, which also determines what kind of content you can and cannot access. While this system sounds nice on paper, this creates disconnect between the player’s freedom to personalize their stats and their freedom to progress in a non-complicated fashion.
Because prestige levels are so important, there may be times where players will tweak their equipment in order to have the highest level of prestige possible, rather than tweaking their character to have a specific stat build in mind for their chosen class. For instance, there were times where I wanted to keep my strength and valor stat as high as possible while playing as a Cyromancer, but there would be times where I would end up equipping items that would increase my character’s luck and stamina instead, simply because it would raise my prestige level just enough for me to proceed to the next story quest or to unlock care packages. As much as it would be nice to just hold onto old equipment and switch them at leisure, inventory space fills up quite fast and often, so players will constantly be choosing which old equipment to dismantle to make room for more. When it comes down to it, most players will want to keep their prestige number as their #1 priority, so the choice to dismantle or not is fairly obvious.
Skyforge is a game that plays on the average human’s love for watching numbers go up, more so than any other MMORPGs I’ve ever played. For one thing: there’s so many different currencies that you have to keep track of: Sparks of Insight, Class Sparks, Sparks of Evolution, Supplies, Ammo, Particles of Mastery… Players are going to need ALL of these currencies to keep up, and at times it makes the adventures in Skyforge feel like a chore. There’s also a limit on how many currencies you can earn each week, with Sparks of Insight being the major currency in the game that most players will exhaust the fastest. Once that limit is hit, players will have to look to other currency types to raise their prestige. Considerations like progression and fun often play second fiddle to the never ending quest to collect as much of every currency possible allotted.
Another flaw with the prestige system is the ability to group up with other players for various forms of instanced content, whether it be squad parties, PvP groups or raids, or whatever else, as the game will not allow players to group up together within a certain prestige threshold. Simply put: If one player wishes to group up with a bunch of friends, but their prestige level is either too high or too low, that player will be plum out of luck. It has been mentioned at one point from the developers that a mentor system will be added at some point. But until then, friends of other friends will either have to play catch up while the others halt their own progression with other meager activities.
Speaking of meager: The order system allows players to start a worshiping group (or cult, if that’s your sort of thing) by bringing in followers that will help to spread the good word of your heroic/evil deeds. This could have been an interesting side-activity for Skyforge, but the order system amounts to little more than a glorified Facebook game, or the Garrison system in World of Warcraft where players will select various NPCs with different skill sets to be sent off towards different missions. At its core, its a waiting game to see if you profit or not from assignable progress bars, complete with the ability to pay credits to speed up the process. Sure they can build non-existent temples in order to increase your stats and prestige more, but it isn’t very fun or engaging. Personally speaking, I wish this system could be ignored. Unfortunately again: players need to min-max their stats and prestige, so I’m pretty much forced to interact with my order on a regular basis.
A player that simply wants to partake in only certain aspects of the game will not be able to keep up with players that do every bit of content available, which would be fine in any other MMORPG. For some reason, perhaps the similarity to stamina systems, or its harsh limitations on grouping with others, the prestige system just feels so much more in you face at every turn of gameplay. This may not seem like an issue for the game in its current state, as there are many players of various prestige levels playing around, but if this game doesn’t maintain a heavily active playerbase several months down the line, then finding appropriately ranked players will become difficult. Hell, during the first week, I’ve seen players complain on region chat about how long their queue times were simply because their prestige levels were too high. It seems impossible in its current state that the game won’t receive comprehensive changes to prestige at some point in the near future.
While the instanced content in Skyforge can be very enjoyable at times, repetition will set in quickly as the game forces players to revisit various zones and areas multiple times in order to earn rewards that are rotated every 40 minutes. Whether it be kill quests or fetch quests, the game will make most players feel less like an almighty god and more like an errand runner. Sure, the same could be said about many MMORPGs as of late, but the repetition here is done to such a mind-numbing degree that gaining any access to a brand new zone or squad mission will feel like a breath of fresh air. As for the PvP aspect of the game: battles seem to be focused on whoever can pull off their CC ability first, abuse defensive skills and rush down opponents one at a time. While I cannot give much of a yay or nay towards Skyforge’s PvP with the few rounds I managed to get into, take from this what you will.
It is pretty fun to eliminate opponents using finisher moves, though…
With all things considered, I feel that the biggest problem with Skyforge is how the game seems to insist on players having to partake in every aspect of the game if they want max out their potential, due to the prestige system and weekly currency limit caps that are set in place. It has been mentioned before that cap limits will be increased for every individual player depending on how old their account is, and that unused currencies will roll over to the next week, but this just begs me ask why the game has such weekly limits in the first place. The only logical explanation I could conjure from all this is that they’re using the weekly limits to artificially stretch out the content available, which will make the game seem like it has more content than it actually has.
While this is merely an assumption, the fact that players will have to repeat and revisit several instances at higher prestige levels while advancing makes the assumption fairly plausible.
The initial character creation is one of the weaker elements of Skyforge, because while it provides all the necessities and essentials of good character creation, the range at which players can raise or lower slider values for every face and body option available leaves a lot to be desired. While this may prevent player characters in Skyforge from looking like total freaks, this puts a huge damper on personalization as players will more or less look like clones of each other. Even more so, my character ended up looking like one of the NPCs in the game.
“Hello there, me. I should really lay off the donuts. I’m really letting myself go.”
However, there is a surprising amount of options available for starting outfits. While most MMOs will only allow players to try out certain outfits while creating their character, Skyforge offers a handful of shirts, jackets, hats, glasses and costume pieces along with various color schemes to work with. The best part is that certain outfit pieces can be mixed and matched, including class outfits that can be unlocked by completing training quests. You can also change your outfits at any time during the in-game style room.
As for the available class types: Skyforge starts each and every player off with three different beginner classes include the Paladin for defense, Lightbinder for support and Cyromancer for DPS. There’s no other classes that players can start out with (unless they purchase a founders pack from .the official website to unlock the berserker and gunner class) and will have to unlock the new classes one by one later on in the game. Any player that had their hearts set on playing a particular class besides the five classes mentioned here may initially be disappointed, but at the very least, the game will occasionally present training quests and class-based challenge quests that will allow players to temporarily play as various locked classes, just to give players a taste of whichever class they’re working towards.
The way stat customization works in Skyforge is unlike anything that most people have seen in an MMORPG, mainly due to the game’s Ascension Atlas system. Basically, the Ascension Atlas is sort of a maze-like skill tree where players can follow various paths on the atlas to unlock new skills, talents and classes. While the Ascension Atlas looks expansive and open-ended, it just makes stat customization look more complex than it really is. As most players will focus on unlocking a specific talent, skill or class, they have no choice but to unlock various nodes along the way that will increase bonus stats without giving the player any choice as to what kind of stat they would like to increase. The saving grace of the system is the ether nodes that can be activated voluntarily and customized with various cores to raise stats by player preference. If the Ascension Atlas could be utilized in the same fashion as ether nodes could, there would be a much greater deal of stat customization. But sadly, players will have to follow the same paths as everyone else, thus increasing the same stats as everyone that’s aiming to unlock the same talents, skills and perks as another player.
Visuals and Presentation
Despite the world of Skyforge being separated into small and large chunks, the visual splendor of the environments is very eye-catching, and reinforces the feeling of being in a heavenly universe. Regions have big and open areas that will make players stop and smell the HD roses for a bit. It’s just a damn shame that other areas such as the capital city of Aelinar have the small zones in the game, but with glorious backdrops that will make players want to explore their surroundings further.
“An amazing world to behold. Too bad you can’t (actually) explore it…
While most MMORPGs tend to stick with one familiar theme, such as western fantasy or sci-fi, Skyforge takes a bold step by having a mix between medieval, sci-fi and modern themes (although more leaning towards sci-fi the most, with modern themes close behind and medieval themes in the far back), and somehow it all works together perfectly, which makes Skyforge stand out amongst the crowd.
A high class sword and shield will do wonders for impressing the ladies at your next social gathering.
Visual effects really stand out, and they have done an excellent job to make the player feel like an all-powerful god; sparks fill the screen as Paladins shake their foes with the power of Thor, Berserkers cover the screen in squishy mounds of blood as they chainsaw their enemies into a play-doh, and so much more.
The sound quality seems to be about average, as the sounds of your hero’s attack swings against a monster’s skull all sound nice and appropriate. Musical quality leans more toward being above average as the emphasis on orchestral and heavenly vibes do their part to set the tone of the game quite nicely. While the music here may not be too memorable when compared to some AAA MMORPG titles out there, they certainly get the job done.
The worst aspect of Skyforge’s presentation lies within the story. While the premise of living the life of an immortal hero while tracking down a cursed god is very interesting, the voiceover work during most of the game’s cutscenes can only be categorized as absolutely atrocious: Some character voices sound too old when they should sound younger, others sound too young when they should sound older and the overall audio quality tends to diminish from time to time. The lack of quality voiceover work really hurts any interest that players may have in the story, or at least for players like me.
As the lifespan for Skyforge is quite young for the North American and European servers, the player community is new and fairly helpful, with a few rabble rousers here and there. It’s not too difficult to find players that are promoting their guilds, players looking to partake in daily missions and more, all with the exception of the PvP playerbase, as PvP matches don’t seem to be as active as they should be (or at least they weren’t as active during my head-start play session.)
Strangely enough, many of the players I ran into seemed to be somewhat anti-social when it comes to pick-up groups. During my early access week experiences, many players refused to speak up to mention if they needed pointers on how to run the dungeon or if they needed to take a time out before engaging a boss. I’m not sure if it was bad luck that I ran into such players, but they certainly convinced me that playing with friends is more or less a better option.
The overall community features are slightly above average due to the inclusion of Aelinet, an online community available for Skyforge that can be accessed within the game. Aelinet allows players to access discussion forums, player-made guides, guild pages and more.
Overall – Good
To be quite honest, my feelings on Skyforge are fairly mixed. While it does present unique ideas that have either never or rarely been attempted in MMORPGs, these ideas generally ask for a lot of the player’s time and patience in order to enjoy. Due to the constant repetition of instanced dungeons, the prestige system almost dictating what players should and should not focus their time and attention on, along the weekly limit caps, hardcore players will feel trapped in a progression bubble while more casual players will feel overwhelmed to keep up.
It’s a game that sways players to play the way that the developers intended, which can be seen as a big no-no for most modern MMORPG gamers out there. I can understand the developer’s concern of making sure their playerbase doesn’t consume all of the content that the game has to offer so quickly, but these sort of restraints would make stamina systems in your typical run-of-the-mill Korean MMORPG seem almost reasonable in comparison.
Despite these issues, the core combat may be enjoyable enough for some people to disregard some of the issues presented by Skyforge’s system designs. Overall, for anyone looking to try Skyforge, be they casual, avid or hardcore, their mileages on the game may vary.