I always look forward to the Xbox Live promotions. We usually get to see some truly remarkable games that may not have gotten as much attention throughout their development. XBLA Next is definitely ripe with big names such as Fable, Trials and Minecraft, but the lonely newcomer, Bloodforge, is clawing its way into your heart one bloody stump at a time. So, the big question is, “Can it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the bigger names and, perhaps, carve out a niche of its own?” The answer is a resounding, “maybe.”
Bloodforge is an action game that involves lots of hacking and slashing… violent hacking and slashing. The main character Crom would not be out of place at Kratos’ dinner table. You will find yourself constantly decapitating foes and slicing them into halves, all before you get out of the tutorial. This is the definition of a visceral game.
As I said, you play as Crom, and in the vague attempt at creating a compelling protagonist, he is a warrior that has decided to put aside his blade and start a family. Sadly for him, at the beginning of the game he is deceived into murdering his own wife and, once again, picks up the sword to hunt down and (of course) kill a collection of evil Gods that are apparently torturing him. None of this really ever culminates into anything more than a purpose for Crom to be angry and shout a lot. He is constantly yelling at everyone in his path, yet we never really feel like we understand exactly why. We know his family has been murdered, but Crom really still feels like he is on a blind quest the entire time.
OK, so we have established that Bloodforge is not going to win any awards for its dramatic narrative. We could have guessed that much from the fact that the main character is wearing some type of reindeer skull as a helmet. Bloodforge is about combat, and honestly, that is it. Each area consists of Crom being locked into a specific part of the stage, with enemies pouring in until you wipe them all out. You receive a rank for your performance and move on.
This wouldn’t be that much of an issue if the combat were a little more varied. You get three types of weapons over the course of the game. You start off with the sword, which is your middle ground weapon. You also get a hammer which produces lots of power at the cost of speed. Finally, you’ll get your hands on claws that are quick but do minimal damage. The moves consist of light and heavy attacks, and mixing up combos can be fun. You also have a rage meter that allows you to release extra damage and even gruesome finishing moves once filled up, but none of it really separates Bloodforge from the pack.
What hurts the game the most is that Crom is entirely reliant on his offense. There is no block button, and instead, you are given a dodge mechanic that works, but can also be cumbersome. Combine this with the fact that the combat becomes too hectic thanks to a poor camera and enemies that bleed into each (and you) during battles, and you have the makings for some truly frustrating combat sequences. I love the art style of the game, but it almost does more damage than good, because everything gets lost when things heat up on the battlefield. I spent a lot of battles dying repeatedly simply because I couldn’t tell when an enemy was about to hit me, not to mention some attacks are delayed just enough to cause issues.
It is hard to swallow, because while Bloodforge is very one-dimensional, it is still satisfying and fun. Like I said, I love the art style. The limited color palette reminded me of Frank Miller films such as Sin City and 300, and fits well with the anger-driven story of revenge. The brutality of combat is satisfying, much like that of a God of War, and the simplistic nature of the game leaves it open to focusing simply on these areas. However, when you can’t differentiate certain enemies, and the standard camera feels like ’Roadie Run’ constantly, it becomes more disorienting than anything else.
In addition to the single player campaign, you also have an interesting use of leaderboards that allows you to show up friends by having your name constantly engraved in each level’s monoliths. While no different than a standard leaderboard, it is a nice way to keep you striving to stay ahead of your friends, simply because it only keeps one name per level engraved in stone. There are also challenges within the game that are basically horde-type endeavors. The difference here is you can set modifiers for your challenges and issue them to friends. It is a neat diversion, but not something that will likely keep you coming back for more.
Bloodforge is one of those games that I wanted to love while playing it, but simply could never get over its inadequacies. The camera is truly a bear and the art style, while gorgeous at times, served more as a hindrance than anything else. As an action game, it does most things right, especially the brutality of its setting. When you lose track of yourself during combat, though, it becomes more frustrating than anything else. Still, if you can stick with it and become accustomed to the way you are forced to rely on instinct, there is a pretty fun and solid game here. The barrier to entry is just too high to recommend it to everyone.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.