Built from the ashes of Westwood Studios, Petroglyph has been carrying the torch by developing a variety of RTS titles for PC and mobile devices. Forged Battalion is their latest RTS game with an intriguing premise. All players start with the same base unit types, but customize their very own faction by modifying the units.
The early access build I tested comes with a small text intro to give players some background into the story and a five campaign missions. While the campaign content is far from finished, the writing already channels a cheesy B movie feel that I have always associated with the Command & Conquer series. I hope Petroglyph’s writers continue to embrace the cheesiness, as it is a nice hit of nostalgia and breaks from the generally buttoned up nature of recent RTS releases.
Forged Battalion does not stray far from RTS norms. The game is still about building armies and steam rolling the enemy. The strategy focuses on the customizable units. For every win or loss, players are awarded research points that are used to unlock new modifications for units. To balance the game, players are only able to equip their units with a limited number of mods. With the mod limits, each player made faction is forced to have certain strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited over the course of a game.
Customizing factions is done with a series of menus. It is all well organized and very easy to pick up. The game offers players a chance to access every modification in the game over time. The early unlock decisions are probably the toughest out there. Since they are often made when players have little idea how the game works, it would be nice to see a reset button that allows players to reallocate their research points.
Forged Battalion’s gameplay is more focused on the overall rock, paper, scissors mechanic than hardcore micromanagement. The tech tree, economy, and manufacturing mechanics in the game are simple, bordering on barebones. There is a complex damage table that explains all the multipliers for all unit types and weapon types in the game. The relevant row is thankfully displayed as part of the unit information. Base expansion feels a little awkward at the moment. Positioning refineries in an spot close to other resource nodes around the map either means slowly sprawling your base towards the nodes in question, finding a nearby outpost to create a second base, or simply letting harvesters create an inefficient convoy.
The maps so far are solid. Many follow the standard symmetrical design ideal for competitive play. Forged Battalion also uses the environment to add more strategic complexity to the game. Elevation offers bonuses to unit sight lines. Hazardous terrain can only be crossed by certain vehicles, giving a crafty commander an opportunity to ambush the enemy then flee into an area that will forcibly split the enemy forces.
I hope Petroglyph spends some more time improving the AI in the coming months. The friendly unit AI has an terribly low reaction range. I often saw friendly units staying still as a nearby unit was pelted from a distance by artillery wielding tanks. It would be nice if the AI could have units move as a group. Currently, a mixed group of units will travel at their maximum pace, often having light vehicles rushing in while the infantry lags behind. Players are stuck stacking all the units together in at a nearby staging area before sending them in for an attack. The AI difficulty level could also use some work. I found one-star difficulty to be way too easy, while the average level two-star AI would easily roll into my base with a massive army early in the game. Another alternative may be to split the AI difficulty into five tiers instead of three. The developers have already confirmed this is work in progress, so the difficulty curve will probably look very different when Forged Battalion leaves early access.
The audio/visual experience is enjoyable so far. The sound effects are solid. The music is an instant hit of nostalgia for me. The soundtrack feels like it was ripped out of video games from the late 1990s and early 2000s. The voice acting is pretty bad, but it works because it helps create that cheesy B movie feel. The models and textures are nice. The unit design reflects modern military technology. I love the comic book style particle effects, as its unique and gives the game a bit of character. While there isn’t too much variety with five base units, the different weapons each unit can equip is identifiable right off the bat.
Forged Battalion is shaping up to be a solid RTS that fits in a nice little niche between casual games and hardcore competitive RTS titles that demand players to push out the absolute maximum APMs for victory. Petroglyph has embraced a nostalgic, B movie style presentation reminiscent of old Command & Conquer titles and added its own flair with its comic book style effects.