When our team sat down to play Skyforge during E3 2014, we honestly didn’t know what to expect. We knew the basics of the accent notes of the project, but it wasn’t until we began playing that I got a proper feel for what Allods Team and Obsidian Entertainment were attempting to orchestrate. The result was impressive enough that Skyforge landed our Best of Show award from the event, and certainly deserved any praise we were able to heap on it.
Much has changed over the course of the past nine months, and based on our most recent hands-on time with Skyforge, the game has only improved during that time. While there are a few minor sticking points, those are mostly the types of things you could chalk up to being a Beta client, and there definitely weren’t any showstoppers in the mix.
First Steps in Skyforge
While our E3 demo session dropped our group into the thick of one of Skyforge’s plentiful instanced missions, this time around I was able to experience the game right from the start. This gave me not only a better sense of my character’s place in the world, but a chance to learn the revamped combat and deep character progression systems.
Right from the start, Skyforge feels both familiar yet highly distinctive in the grand space opera that is the MMO metaverse. While players are sure to get hints of previous titles – most notably Star Wars: The Old Republic – the overall structure of Skyforge is unlike anything else I’ve played. The SWTOR vibe is primarily due to the blending of fantasy and sci-fi elements, but truly does begin and end there.
For example, the combat system offers a distinctive progression and refinement to some of the more recent active combat systems we’ve seen in titles like Guild Wars 2 or Neverwinter. While you do still have a basic hotbar to house your skills in Skyforge, the way you use those skills represents a meaningful departure from the norm.
In most games, you activate a skill via hotkey or mouse click which serves as a very basic trigger mechanism. If you want to do direct damage, you have to trigger the appropriate skills. Likewise for Area-of-Effect (AoE) or Damage-over-Time (DoT) skills.
For the first 5-6 hours in Skyforge, I opted to focus on playing the Cryomancer – a damage-based class that will be one of your three basic starting class options along with the Paladin and Lightbringer. While combat does start out a bit slow during your initial training missions, it didn’t take long for me to see just how different the combat in Skyforge truly is.
Skills on my Cryomancer could be used in different ways based on my needs during combat. Both the left and right mouse buttons offer both a single-target direct attack, as well as a charged version that produces different results.
Shattered Storm (left click) does direct damage on a single target with a basic click. When charged by holding down the button, it instead does area damage which can be very useful versus groups of enemies.
Icy Missile (right click) works in a similar way, offering two distinctive charge levels:
- Icy Thorn: does direct damage to an enemy
- Icy Dart (charged version): Does direct damage to your target, and also adds a 10 second DoT. Icy Dart also has secondary elements to consider, such as consuming Cryogen, and activating Impulse Charge
Out of the box, combat in Skyforge is very fluid and kinetic, but the deeper you go into the Ascension Atlas you begin to discover a combat system that is highly intuitive, flexible, and far deeper than what you might expect given the relatively few hotkeys involved.
Missions and Character Progression
Skyforge offers players a core storyline that helps guide you through the earliest stages of the game. I would encourage most people to follow the path provided by these missions to get a feel for all of the various moving parts that constitute one of the more complex progression systems in any MMO to date.
Once I got a feel for the basics of combat, I did capitalize on the option to play through various missions accessible in the Divine Observatory (Skyforge’s answer to a centralized social hub). Each mission can be played multiple times, offering scaling rewards based on your performance and completion of secondary objectives.
As an example, the main storyline had me run through a short instance called Factory 501. At the end I was given a score for the mission and some currencies that could be used to progress my character in the Ascension Atlas and upgrade one of my equipment slots. I also noted that, towards the bottom of the screen, I was shown my overall progress for the instance was 1 of 4.
Above: Successful compltion of Factor 501 on my fourth run provided an additional Relic reward along with essential currencies
This indicated that I could run through Factory 501 a few more times, and resulted in earning some additional rewards following my fourth successful run through the map. Each run took me roughly 10-12 minutes to complete, though there will be plenty of other missions and maps that are much longer or will be best played with a small group.
Above: Along with shorter instanced areas, Skyforge also offers larger, more complex overland maps that have multiple objectives to complete
Soloing is certainly an option, but some of the missions I attempted as early as 900 Prestige contained some more complex boss fights that proved to be quite challenging. Prestige is essentially a summation of your character’s progression, and works a bit differently than most XP or level-based MMO systems.
The norm tends to be a very linear thing: do stuff, earn XP, and unlock news skills and the ability to go out and farm better gear.
Skyforge takes both skill and gear into account to provide an overarching numerical value represented by Prestige. So instead of needing X level to equip Y gear, equipping better gear adds to your overall Prestige. Likewise, spending currency to advance through the Ascension Atlas for a class also adds to Prestige. There are additional layers of depth involved, but even on the surface level, I already find the Prestige system to be a much needed overhaul to traditional MMO character progression.
Skyforge does have a few wrinkles to be ironed out with things like collision in some of the more complex environments, but on the whole the game is well on its way towards being one of the best MMOs I’ve had the pleasure to experience in years. It will definitely challenge what you’ve come to accept as the norm in the industry, and leave you wondering why this type of game has taken so darn long to finally materialize.
So far I’ve found the combat to be highly engaging and even invigorating, and am impressed with everything from the UI to the graphics, and everything in between. The developers also score high marks for the character customization system for the some of the additional includes you simply don’t see in other MMOs. Perhaps my favorite among them is the ability to adjust not only your character’s stance, but their running animation as well. How cool is that?
Stay tuned for more Skyforge preview coverage leading up to, and throughout the CBT kicking off on Wednesday, March 11th. If you’ve been on the fence about picking up one of the available Founder’s Packs, I would highly encourage you to dive on in. From what I’ve experienced of the game so far, Skyforge is going to be one beast of an MMO by the time it launches later this year.
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