Forged Battalion is, at more than a glance, reminiscent of the Command and Conquer games (although TIberium Twilight is a definite exception). After the cancellation of Victory Games’ Command and Conquer, formerly known as Command and Conquer: Generals 2, that’s certainly no bad thing, especially when the studio developing it is Petroglyph Games. Their staff includes many former employees from Westwood, the original creators of the RTS series. Also involved with Forged Battalion is composer Frank Klepacki, the guy behind Red Alert’s famous Hell March theme and more.
The game shares similarities not just with C&C but with Petroglyph’s 8-Bit series, which itself contains elements that harken back to the C&C games, like power plants that power bases and the use of a sidebar instead of the more standard bottom bar. While the 8-Bit games weren’t literally 8-bit, they had a blocky, voxel art style. Forged Battalion looks more detailed and realistic, but maintains a blocky and cartoony look to it. What it has inherited more faithfully, judging from the videos I’ve seen, is the gameplay simplicity of the 8-Bit games.
Even as a kid, I never acquainted the C&C franchise with top-notch strategic depth. Turtling until I had a blob of units to steamroll the AI with was a strategy I relied on more than once. 8-Bit Invaders, the sci-fi installment of the 8-Bit series, was an experience that turned out to be even simpler than that, however. I used to think that the groups of units I deployed in C&C games were pretty big, but in 8-Bit Invaders, I would always end up with larger groups than those. Unit-building was done semi-mindlessly and at a much faster rate, thanks to the overly-generous cash flow and how little thought was required in terms of deciding what unit to build.
Based on some Steam threads, it appears that Forged Battalion has a cash flow and blob problem similar to the 8-Bit games, and the gameplay videos don’t make me doubt that. It also shares the issue - although this is a more personal observation - of having lackluster audio and visual feedback. One of the reasons I tired of 8-Bit Invaders quickly was that despite all the firepower being fielded, the visual and audio effects failed to make them feel satisfying. The devastation caused by just a few Prism Tanks in Red Alert 2 - a nearly twenty-years-old-game - easily outmatched the gratification of destroying an enemy base with a screen-filling mess of mechs.
Forged Battalion does seem to look and sound a bit more satisfying than 8-Bit Invaders, at least. The game also injects - or tries to - something more substantial into the gameplay with its selling point: the ability to create one’s own faction through customizing units. Having not actually played the game, I can’t make any concrete verdict on that feature’s implementation. But despite liking the sound of it on paper, what I’ve seen hasn’t quite convinced me that simply changing the role of a unit is enough to make the unit roster interesting in the long run.
That might be different in a game like Company of Heroes or Warhammer 40,000 tabletop, due to the scale of an average (or slightly below average for 40k) match. When standard-sized games are likely to see vehicles fielded in more limited numbers rather than in their dozens, a change in weaponry for a particular vehicle unit marks a more substantial and noticeable change. In Forged Battalion however, the ease at which units can be spammed can be achieved would probably result in a quick erosion of whatever individuality those customized units - vehicle or otherwise - possessed, especially when the customization options don’t make them notably unique RTS units to begin with.
To be fair to the game, there’s more to it than just putting a different gun on a chassis, be it infantry, aircraft or light vehicle. There are things like adding improved armour or swapping out wheels for threads, which provides visual and gameplay differences to units that aren’t just shooting-related. There is also a three-tier tech tree that unlocks new weapons for various chassis. It definitely seems fun, but once whatever unit that was conceived gets deployed en masse on the battlefield, that blob probably won’t stand out the way a fleet of properly distinctive units like the Prism Tank or camouflaging Mirage Tank would. Turning a tank into long-ranged artillery instead sounds cool, but just how unique is artillery to an RTS, really?
The different army match-ups that could result from the customization theoretically would still provide some sense of individuality and contrast. For example, one player may field a light drone with anti-armour capabilities while another fields a heavy drone with an anti-infantry gun. But does it matter when blobs are the ultimate answer in the end? 8-Bit Invaders had factions that featured entirely different units and army compositions, with mech-heavy Marines and aliens with monstrous creatures and a notable air presence. That’s probably a much bigger contrast in both in visuals and playstyle than what Forged Battalion’s customization could achieve. Even then, it all boiled down to easily-attainable masses of units getting thrown at each other again and again with unspectacular destruction.
The good news is that the developers have commented on some of the Steam threads, and shown that player feedback and comments will be given consideration or taken note of. If the excessive and boring spam can be addressed so that customized units feel more meaningful and the gameplay seems less one-note from the outside, that might make me interested again. But for now? Even with Steam’s refund policy, I’m reluctant to give Forged Battalion my money.