In the winter of 2015, I wrote an article concerning how I lamented the death of the RTS genre, particularly the Command & Conquer franchise. In those days, Grey Goo had been the most recent original game developed within the genre, and Blizzard had already finished the SC2 saga, and Microsoft only appeared to be interested in merely updating AoEII to modern resolutions. Well, my outlook was not necessarily wrong, but certainly myopic. Though C&C remains dead, the Homeworld was revived with Deserts of Kharak and we will see a new Age of Empires this year. Additionally, Empires of the Undergrowth and They Are Billions look to offer in 2018 a non-traditional approach to the standard base-building RTS, but a standard military-style game is currently nowhere to be found. Among this activity, Forged Battalion enters the fray.
Currently in development by the makers of Grey Goo, Petroglyph, Forged Battalion treads the path of a traditional base-building RTS. Expect to build power plants, refineries, comm centers, airports, and a super weapon as the game’s mechanic for tier progression to access additional units. While I find comfort in the familiarity, keeping the aforementioned up-and-coming RTS in mind, I can also see how taking this path can be seen as dated and stale. All build orders are uniform, no matter the game or scenario, stifling creativity.
It does not help that Forged Battalion foregoes factions. There is no equivalent of GDI vs Nod, or Soviets vs Allies here, and certainly not Terran vs Zerg vs Protoss. All units are uniform, but the wrinkle here is that this is a game built entirely around those who love customization. Forged Battalion follows a “mod-your-RTS” philosophy.
Players are given points to allocate into the tier tree, unlocking new technologies that can be applied to the four base chassis: walker (infantry), light vehicle, heavy vehicle, drone (air unit). Points are earned by completing (or losing) missions in the campaign or multiplayer, though there is a minimum number of points that need to be accumulated before games in multiplayer count. This is supposed to be the game’s top selling point: if one wants to raise an army that only attacks with chemical-based attacks like flamethrowers or toxic attacks, this is possible; if one wishes to utilize a combination of missiles and lasers, they can. Higher tier tech extends the cost and build time of a unit, so there is risk in developing an army with top-tier tech just as building only low-tier units requires players to rush before getting out-gunned.
Petroglyph is most certainly aiming for the C&C fandom by recruiting Frank Klepacki to produce the OST. When it is actually playing, which is not all the time, it is good stuff. Hopefully, the issue of the music cutting off is something that will be addressed in the final version.
More pressing, however, is the game’s identity crisis. Because all units use the four base chassis, unit variety is lacking. Battles look great in still shots, but true to old-school Red Alert, the gameplay in Forged Battalion strikes me as a race to build the biggest, most obnoxious army. The rock-paper-scissors effect of how some weapons are more stronger against infantry, and others against heavy vehicles, etc., only feels noticeable in small skirmishes. In massive or prolonged fights, unit spam with heavy vehicles seems most effective. Perhaps this is a low-tier problem, and as players begin approaching tier IV units, this problem will no longer exist. But waiting to unlock higher tech over the course of playing the game presents another problem: grind. I do not like JRPGs because of grinding; I certainly do not care for it in my RTS games.
It will be up to Petroglyph to find ways to maintain player interest for long. There are currently five campaign missions, but the AI is lacking—scripted rather than adaptive, for lack of better word. Forged Battalion is on my radar as I love RTS games, but if it wants to be remembered among its 2018 competition, it will need some sort of standout mechanic.