Skyforge Closed Beta Preview

Skyforge is a free-to-play, fantasy, sci-fi, action massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). The god Aeli has disappeared, leaving Aelion weak against invaders from other worlds. Luckily, Aeli was able to leave behind some of his power, turning a select few into immortals. The immortal player must fight alongside men and other immortals to push back invading armies.

The developer, Allods Team, calls Skyforge a fantasy, sci-fi MMORPG because, besides some futuristic worlds and settings, it feels like a fantasy game. The player starts with a sword instead of a plasma sword or other futuristic weapon.

The new immortals use magic that requires mana rather than some advanced tech that requires energy. Even the enemies seem like they were pulled from a fantasy MMO. This all makes sense for an immortal on their way to developing god like powers but it’s not what one would expect when they think sci-fi MMO.

Free-to-play (F2P) can be an automatic turnoff for many gamers and a nonstarter for some MMO fans. There are a growing number of MMOs on PS4 and most of them are F2P. Some of them are more concerned with taking money from people than delivering a fun and entertaining experience.

There are time gates, unnecessary grinding, and other design concessions made to encourage people to dip into their wallet. Even worse, many games flaunt how much better their game would be with you would only pay and there are constant reminders that they have a cash shop.

… I developed my character at a good rate without being subscribed …
That’s why I am happy to say that Skyforge has one of the best F2P business models I have ever seen in a MMO. In my two weeks with the closed Beta, I never encountered time gates or other mechanics where I felt restricted by not paying and I wasn’t constantly reminded that there was a cash shop.

For those interested, players can subscribe for approximately $10 a month. Players who do so will receive double the credits for completing quests and double the knowledge for killing enemies. There are also other perks and goodies given the longer players are subscribed.

There’s also a free three day trial to give people a chance to check it out. Obviously the extra credits and knowledge help to increase stats and unlock new abilities faster, but I felt like I developed my character at a good rate without being subscribed.

There is a cash shop, but it was not available to players in the Beta. In an email I got from PR answering some of my questions, I was told there will mounts, costumes, and currencies for sale.

… combat is fluid and very action oriented …
Selling currencies can potentially be an issue if the later levels are inflated to encourage people to buy knowledge to increase their stats, or depending on what is required for the endgame and how easily those currencies are obtained.

Skyforge may have been designed for PC first but the combat, UI, and menus feel like they were built from the ground up for consoles. The combat is fluid and very action oriented.

The world of Aelion is not big open world map, but instead made up of a series of instanced areas. Some of the areas are only for a single mission that has to be completed to progress the story, and some of those can be fairly linear. This makes the a small level feel so much smaller.

The other areas, on the other hand, are full of generic MMO kill and fetch quests. There’s a wide variety of enemy types and landscapes in the level design. Geographically this makes no sense for two small areas next to each other on a map to be so different, but it helps keep the game from getting stale.

… anyone can switch to a support role …
After the tutorial, the player will be able to pick from one of three classes. The game does a great job of explaining the difference between the classes and the how the play style of a Tank class is different from a DPS (damage dealing) class.

One of the best things about the game is the class system. At any point when you’re not in combat, you can switch between any of the classes you’ve unlocked. In total, there are fourteen classes that can be unlocked with in-game currencies or by purchasing class packs with real money.

Instead of spending hours with a melee class only to find you don’t like how it plays, just switch to a range class instead of starting over with a new character. Gone are the days of your group waiting for a healer, when anyone can switch to a support role.

Your character’s prestige and might will carry over from class to class. The only downside is if you switch to a new class for the first time and have not collected any equipment for that specific class along the way they will start with the basic equipment.

… Give me motivation to keep fighting …
For a traditional MMORPG, Skyforge can appear MMO-lite. For one, it lacks the customization options that every other MMO has. Players are unable to move any part of the UI around or change the size. MMOs are typically a huge time investment and players want to, and should be able to, customize the UI to best fit their needs. Personally, I always increase the size of the mini map.

Another example is the story. What I covered earlier is really the only story I have gotten out of the game and that’s all in the first half hour. There is nothing beyond “you are immortal, go drive back the enemy”. The writing and voice work is not bad by any means, just very bland and unmemorable. Give me motivation to keep fighting – tell me more about this world of Aelion that is new to players.

Finally, Skyforge characters have no individuality. That may be a little unfair. There are costumes and there will be items in the cash shop, but it lacks so much personality. Players do not get to choose from a group of different races with their own starting zones and distinct attributes.

If you look at pictures from characters late in the game, there is a wide variety of costumes that can help characters stand apart, but that does not exist early on. Also they are costumes – there are no armor slots in character menu.

Players cannot craft armor or obtain pieces as rewards for completing quests. Characters should stand out visually and by their abilities. You won’t be choosing whether to focus on armor with damage or health bonuses. A new chest piece makes a great carrot to keep players going and that’s just lacking here.

… it’s missing that special ingredient to put it over the top …
Skyforge seems like a great MMO for casual players or people who have never played an MMORPG before. The ability to switch classes means player will never waste time by picking the wrong class at the beginning of the game. The tutorial takes the time to explain the differences and playstyles of the different classes. The game is free-to-play and avoids most of the pitfalls other F2P games fall into.

However, there is a ton of competition in the F2P MMO arena on consoles and many of them are tied to a strong IP such as DCUO, Neverwinter, and Star Trek Online.

Without a strong story, compelling world, enticing leveling experience, and strong character customization, it feels like it’s missing that special ingredient to put it over the top. Depending on the post launch content, it may struggle to set itself apart from the rest of the pack.

Skyforge opens to all players on April 11. I may jump in with some friends and mess around, but there’s nothing else to really draw me back and keep me invested in Aelion.

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