After seeming to languish for quite some time in various closed beta testings, Allods and Obsidian have finally placed their brand new, free-to-play MMO out for its open beta launch. Titled Skyforge, it’s been promising a different take to many tried and tested MMORPG formulas in the build-up to release, and we recently sat down with the game to see if it could truly take us along a brand new path.
For those of you that may be unfamiliar with the premise, Skyforge takes the skeleton of an MMORPG game to an exotic, earth-like planet called Aelion. This world, named after the god Aeli who once oversaw it, is now in turmoil as its namesake leader has disappeared and left his people directionless. In Aeli’s absence there are gods from other worlds marching their armies into conflict as they attempt to seize the vacant rulership and build their own immense power by converting the planet’s citizens into their own valuable followers. If left unopposed, these gods will wage their war over the lands of Aelion and decimate the planet and all its life until one claims it for their own.
It’s a bleak outlook for such a gorgeous planet, but fortunately Aelion is not entirely defenceless in this struggle. Player controlled characters, known as immortals, are rising up and building powers and armies of their own to fight back against the invading gods and save their home. While challenging gods may still sound a daunting or foolhardy task, the immortals have the strength within them to gather enough power and worship to ascend to godship in their own right. Doing so will level out the challenge, giving Aelion a real fighting chance.
The player’s path from immortal to god starts in familiar territory with character creation. While this may appear the same as nearly every other character creation setup RPG players have been through in the past, there is one pretty significant difference. Since Skyforge employs very flexible class and progression systems, there’s no decision to be made at this point on exactly how you want your immortal to play as the game progresses.
What this means for the creation is that this process is entirely aesthetic; you’ll literally just be choosing how you want your character to look. This theme will continue to run throughout the game as well, as its approach to gear and weapons means that there is very little material customization. Which, perhaps trivially, means that the timeless struggle between choosing the armour that looks good or the armour which gives the best stats is not an issue in Skyforge. Your immortal can look exactly how you want at all times!
Once the form of your immortal has been finalized, you’ll have the choice of three fairly typical classes for your early approach. The Cryomancer offers a ranged, magic-style approach with powerful icy blasts at their disposal. The Paladin is a melee-based warrior and the Lightbender is a more subtle, slightly effects-heavy type. Whereas many RPGs would force their players into choosing one of these classes and sticking to it through the game, Skyforge is far less restrictive on their player experience. It’s established at this point that players can freely switch between these classes with just a few simple clicks, so long as they aren’t in combat at that time. Players are even encouraged to do so regularly, and can get to know the subtleties of each in a training setup right after character creation.
Once released into the world, you’ll be sent out into a few basic tutorial missions to get to grips with the controls and mechanics of the game. In truth, however, its style is so brilliantly simple that the tutorial quickly gets forgotten and players will find a happy rhythm with their progress. The obvious WASD control setup is in place for movement, with the two mouse buttons dealing out regular attacks respectively. Additional attacks and abilities are hot-keyed, and further attributes can be added to other shortcuts as the immortal’s arsenal grows. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of stat buffs and bonuses come from these abilities and organic progression. The game does not rely heavily on gear bonuses, and a simple six slots – with four of these being rings – cover the whole of the attached inventory.
This lack of reliance on gear and treasure hauls accentuates Skyforge’s biggest strength massively, and character progression becomes the heart of the game. Not only does this suit the story and tone as it pushes your immortal closer and closer to godship by gathering prestige and power rather than levels, but it also adds to the fluidity of the experience. Switching between classes keeps the weapon buffs and rings that you have equipped, so that you don’t have to risk losing some power each time you take on a new approach. This means that the touted freedom players have with their character really does work, and the rewards are a game that keeps feeling fresh depending on how you approach it.
Far from being a one trick pony, Skyforge also does a great job of giving players an interesting world to take their immortal into. The varied landscape of Aelion is accessed through the capital’s Divine Observatory, where a virtual globe maps out all of the available missions and challenges players can jump into. These all appear in real time; refreshing every fifteen minutes to keep the challenges fresh and helping avoid the problem of certain players running out of well-matched objectives. The observatory also provides a full picture of the rewards to be gained from each challenge, as well as suggesting what missions would suit each player through the use of recommendations.
Out in the various regions, I found Aelion to be exactly what I’d expect from an MMORPG world. It’s locations and climates are suitably varied, and the planet’s hostile inhabitants range from the mythical to the mechanical. The game has a wonderful mix of magic and technology, with the advanced classes that become available as players progress taking remarkable advantage of this mixture. The resulting tone when this all comes together is one of a Star Wars-esque feel, and that’s a pretty good benchmark for creating an engaging, fantastical MMORPG atmosphere.
Within all this the missions and challenges themselves seem fairly unremarkable, but the innovation had to stop somewhere. Alongside such excellent character work, however, it seems like this was a good compromise to make. The typical mission types for both the PvE and PvP elements of the game still feel as (decently) strong and worthy as they ever did, but the added bonus of various character approaches does help to stop things from getting stale as players work their way through their ascension to godship.
As a free-to-play game, Skyforge is looking likely to be a triumph. Of course, as with any free game these days, it does have the option for paid elements, but the style of it makes it hard to see how paying players could exploit this to get unfair advantages. Instead, it seems that the game will offer a genuinely excellent free experience, with the paid packs simply adding a little extra content in the way that DLC does for so many console titles these days. Unlike its console brethren, however, Skyforge feels like a complete game from the off and is certainly going to be crying out for a big gaming community to embrace its fresh new experience.