Hack-and-slash games are a dime a dozen these days, appealing to that type of gamer who loves violence and action. New to the fray is Microsoft Studios and Climax Group’s Bloodforge, exclusive to Xbox Live Arcade and part of the Arcade Next promotion. Is Bloodforge good enough for your attention?
In Bloodforge, players control Crom, a warrior who had long ago traded his sword for a family. After hunting an animal and taking a moment of respite, he is awoken by a strange vision and finds that his village is burning. Rushing to the scene and defeating some invaders, Crom encounters and kills a enemy in his ransacked home, only to find out that it was an illusion and he had killed his wife Alena. Fueled by rage and guided by half-god Morrigan, he ventures forth to kill Arawn, the man in his vision and the cause of the fire.
Although the story in the game is a little bit thin, it’s a nice, brutal sword and sandal story that reminds one of Conan the Barbarian and gladiator films. Characters in the game are very one-dimensional, but are kind of charming in their simpleness. The designs are pretty cool, too.
Bloodforge is a third person hack-and-slash game in where players venture forth into varied environments and combat a number of enemies, monsters and bosses. Switching between three main weapons: a sword, a hammer and clawed blades (each of which can be upgraded twice throughout the campaign), and a crossbow, players utilize a number of combos to attack and daze their opponents. Once dazed, Crom can finish enemies with a brutal and gory finishing move. To defend himself, Crom can dodge attacks by rolling out of the way. Thankfully, the dodging mechanic is responsive as players will be needing it quite often when enemies pile up around them.
The combat is fun and responsive, and full of exciting moments and awesome action. The finishing kills are also spectacularly animated and look great, but sadly there isn’t much variety to them as you’ll be seeing them over and over again.
In addition to using standard weaponry, Crom can also gain Mana, which can be used to augment regular attacks, or summon special attacks from the gods. By holding the right trigger, Crom can strengthen his attacks by using one mana bar per strike, an invaluable technique when facing off against stronger enemies. By using the right shoulder button, however, Crom can call upon the wrath of the gods, magic attacks that are gained by sacrificing blood to the gods. Players can use attacks from Ceronus, who grants serpents that attack enemies randomly; Teranis, who’s giant fist smashes into targeted foes, and finally Nihlem, who summons spikes that attack enemies and instantly kill them if they are weakened. These magical attacks are great for crowd control, as enemies will constantly swarm the player. Unfortunately these godly gifts are in limited supply, as coming across mana sources in the game are few and far in between and it doesn’t regenerate on its own.
Crom also gains access to the Gauntlet of Aneryn, a piece of equipment that absorbs blood from wounded enemies. With each successful attack upon an foe, he will absorb blood that can be used to upgrade his magic attacks. By linking strikes without getting hit, the amount of blood absorbed is multiplied. Crom also has access to any bloodforges he comes across. Full of blood, the player can activate these forges in order to absorb the red stuff and gain a huge amount of points usable for upgrades.
Crom also has the ability to go into a battle rage, which is gained by landing successful attacks. When the rage meter is full, players can press the shoulder buttons in tandem to make Crom go berserk. In this state, his attacks become quicker and stronger, being able to tear normal enemies into pieces in a matter of seconds. If he is hit while in the state, however, it can be canceled. Players can also press the shoulder buttons again while in rage to activate an finishing attack that can kill any normal enemy in one blow. The finishing attack also features a mechanic in where players can gain a greater amount of blood if they mash on a button that is indicated on screen. Fun at first, it grows boring quickly.
The game also features a number of items that Crom can use in his quest for revenge. These items range from simple health items, to extending the duration of the rage meter or adding mana on each successful blow. Each stage has a number of side-paths players can explore, which usually lead to these important items. There are also other items in the game that permanently upgrade the health and mana meter, usually hidden throughout the game’s stages.
While the game looks and plays great, there are a number of issues that hold the title back. First of all, the camera is more harmful than helpful. While navigating through corridors and open environments the camera operates just fine. It’s when Crom gets into battle that it seems to give problems. The camera seems to focus on the enemies, so when rolling and dodging attacks, the camera automatically circles around in order to focus on Crom’s foes. While this can be helpful as it shows where the threats are located, it can also be jarring if you have the camera facing a different direction only to have it auto-correct right before your eyes. The camera can also occasionally get stuck behind walls, blinding the player, or it can jump around erratically, disorienting the player.
The game also has those invisible walls that force the player to stay within the boundaries of a stage. While it isn’t much of a ordeal, it’s pretty disorienting as it looks like a player can explore a section, only to be blocked off a few feet before reaching it.
One of the more pesky problems in the game is that the shortcut for item usage is assigned to the left shoulder button, while activating the rage meter uses both shoulder buttons. This means that if a player does not perfectly execute the rage, they can accidentally activate a power-up, potentially utilizing it at a inopportune moment and wasting it. I have done this a couple of times, and it was a bit frustrating to lose a valuable item just because I pressed a shoulder button a microsecond earlier than the other.
Finally, the gameplay itself can get a bit repetitive after a while. Running from section to section fighting off waves of enemies is fun at first, but soon grows old. Thankfully, the game offers new weapons frequently and challenges the player by introducing new enemies that require more strategy to defeat, which give the game a feeling of freshness during the duration of the main campaign.
The title also has Blood Duels, where players can compete against friends to prove who is the best at bloodletting. By killing enemies in a enclosed area and linking attacks, players can gain a high score and challenge others to beat them. It adds a bit of replay value to an otherwise straightforward title.
Climax Group’s Bloodforge is an entertaining hack-and-slash title, full of nice visuals and fun, visceral combat. Although plagued by a poor camera that hampers the action and repetitive gameplay, it’s still a worthy addition to fans of the genre. If you’re into bloody action and gruesome kills, Bloodforge is the game for you. If you can’t overlook the games flaws, however, it might be more frustrating than fun.
Thanks to Microsoft Studios and Edelman for providing a code for review.
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