Last week I had the opportunity to test the upcoming action MMORPG Skyforge, developed by Allods Team and Obsidian Entertainment. Skyforge is marketed as a game for players who like action-combat console games, such as God of War or Devil May Cry, and it allows players to actively dodge enemy attacks while performing devastating combos. Players take on the role of Immortals who are on a path to becoming true Gods; followers will increase your power and the elite will join the Orders of Keepers to shape the world. Not only is the combat supposed to be fast-paced, but there are also no levels and players can change their class at will. Is Skyforge finally going to be the non-linear, action-oriented MMORPG that players have been looking for, or is it just another copy-cat clone trying to get some attention?
PSEUDO ACTION COMBAT
When you first log into Skyforge the game makes you relive the moment when your character first becomes an Immortal. I won’t spoil anything too crucial to the storyline, but if you’ve played any other game where your character starts off human and then becomes a demi-god, I think you know where this is going. Even in human form the player’s character takes on the role of the Knight class, which has two attacks available at the time: a combination of slashes and a spinning AOE attack that knocks enemies back. Obviously this lack of abilities is supposed to reflect the overall weakness of humans compared to Gods and Immortals who have tons of abilities and can change fighting styles at will.
The problem, however, has nothing to do with the lack of skills that the player has access to in the beginning of the game but instead how they’re executed. Instead of being a true action-RPG, Skyforge has decided to animation lock a large portion of the attacks. In my short time with the game I was able to test quite a few classes and almost every class had a fundamental problem. Now, it is possible to animation cancel by dodging, which refills charges every few seconds, but this definitely makes the game feel more clunky than it should for the audience it’s trying to reach.
There have been arguments that locked attack animations are implemented for balance, but if the point is to create a game based on skill and not stats then that argument is relatively invalid. Attack speed animations can be implemented to balance powerful attacks verses weaker ones instead of forcing players to sit stationary for a set amount of frames. Furthermore, the fighting system in Skyforge isn’t a free flowing action system where players can attack whenever they want. It’s set to only engage enemies when the targeting reticule is hovering over them, in similar fashion to Neverwinter but at the same time not feeling nearly as fluid. Instead, the game takes the targeting system from Neverwinter and combines it with the clunky animations from Tera; not being able to move while casting “instant” spells has always been a pet peeve of mine.
THE ASCENSION ATLAS
In an attempt to revolutionize the leveling system into a non-linear gameplay element, Skyforge uses the Ascension Atlas instead of typical levels and talent trees. Unfortunately, all they’ve really seemed to do is add in additional barriers to progression while minimizing the instant gratification that leveling grants. The Ascension Atlas, which follows nodes in a kind of Final Fantasy 10/13 mashup, has two levels, the lower level and upper level. While the lower level controls learning new class skills, talents, and stats, the upper level is designed for global development and unlocking new classes and perks.
What this really means is that instead of gaining +15 stamina, +10 attack and +5 health every level, players have to slowly unlock each stat along the node system. Moreover, players have to earn rubies, sapphires and emeralds to unlock the different nodes on certain paths. This means that each unlock feels less significant and even if you have 1000 rubies you could be blocked from progressing due to not having enough sapphires. There are some branching paths that do provide opportunities for customization, but this isn’t any different than making choices in a trait system in other games; instead of taking an extra 20% slow in one ability, players get 10% extra damage in another.
Another thing this does is force players into certain classes at the beginning of the game. These aren’t tiered classes like in Aion or Echo of Soul, but instead players are simply forced to pick from 5 starting classes and will then unlock the others as they progress through the Ascension Atlas upper level. This is a technique that extends the life of the game without having to create any additional real content. The real shame is that there are some truly interesting classes, like the Slayer and Kinetic, but any players who aren’t drawn in by the limited starting classes might not continue through long enough to find the more exciting ones.
It truly feels like the developers put all of their effort into designing the combat system and then left the actual gameplay as an afterthought. I will admit that my playtime with Skyforge has been rather limited, but what I did see offered no interesting storyline or complicated quest mechanics. The first few zones are littered with large areas to kill specific enemies, destroy flags, or uncover artifacts, but nothing ascended to more than spam attacks or hold space bar. Once the entire area has been cleared the player gets a one-liner regarding their help in saving the world, or something similarly uninteresting and are then asked to report back to the home city. Between every “open” zone there’s an instanced event that can either be done with a group or solo, which usually consist of following a specified corridor, completing a few objectives and then confronting a boss with horrible AI.
Everything considered, Skyforge is a bit of a disappointment so far. The game isn’t even close to the worst one I’ve played this year, but even with all the hype it doesn’t satisfy a single gaming need. There’s no complex story, the leveling system is simply the same thing with a different face, and the biggest selling point (the combat) feels awkward and limiting. While Skyforge is still in open beta, it’s unlikely that any major changes are going to happen soon. This one is going to appeal to those players desperately looking for a combat-oriented MMORPG and who are also willing to sacrifice many other gameplay elements to get a taste of what they want.Related: Beta, MMORPG, Preview, Skyforge