The “God of War clone” descriptor gets thrown around too liberally these days, often haphazardly used to classify any third-person combat game not involving guns. We understand how diluted its meaning has become, and yet, we can’t help apply it to Bloodforge (though to be fair, Bloodforge is based on Celtic mythology as opposed to ancient Greek). There may be a small percentage of you out there who haven’t played God of War, but in this case, we think the majority know what we’re getting at here. Granted, imitation in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing -- we've seen well-executed games that ape Sony's formula come and go over the years -- it’s just a shame Climax Studios neglected to clone any of the aspects that constitute an enjoyable game.
You are Crom, a war-weary barbarian who’s decided to settle down with his wife and live a quiet, peaceful life. Upon returning from a deer hunt, Crom sees his village aflame. In the ensuing battle, Crom is tricked by the gods into murdering his own wife. You can guess where things go from there, but we’ll tell you anyway: lots of uber-violent killing, screaming, and scream-speech as Crom embarks on a quest of hack n’ slash revenge against the very deities who deceived him.
Visually, Bloodforge is spectacular. Characters -- especially Crom -- are meticulously designed and dripping with detailed texture work. Throw in some well-suited high-contrast lighting and you have one of the most graphically exciting XBLA games we’ve ever seen. Screenshots and trailers alone might entice some to purchase Bloodforge outright, but they’ll likely regret the decision upon their first enemy encounter.
Above: Graphically, Bloodforge is a step above other XBLA titles
Uncomfortable is the best way to describe playing Bloodforge, as a slew of mechanical issues plague what should be an unabashedly fun display of death-dealing. The ranges of your weapons’ swings are deceptively short and off-centered, and tracking enemies becomes imprecise when Crom is surrounded. Instead of slicing a foe who’s within hugging distance as you would intend, Crom might unexpectedly whiff at a different enemy who’s standing three yards away.
All the while, a wild and jerky camera shifts perspectives in the blink of an eye, taking the focus off of oncoming enemies and obscuring your view of how your presently-engaged foe is reacting to your attacks. Executions lead to further disorientation, ripping you out of the moment to elaborately portray a slow-mo decapitation, then snapping back to the fight just in time for an opportunistic enemy to stab you in the back.
Above: Can’t see Crom? Neither could we
Though nearly every weapon and spell is upgradeable, none of the resulting changes are significant enough to enhance the unrefined combat to the point of enjoyment. Half of the combos exist merely as an illusion of variety as opposed to practical combat options. Powerful magic is available to help mix things up, though unfortunately you’ll rarely have enough collectible mana to use the flashy spells.
But let’s assume you spend the first hour adapting to the cumbersome mechanics (as opposed to enjoying learning the ropes as a would be the case in a more well-designed game) and learn to stomach the combat. What you’ll find is an additional four hours of repetition and monotony. The small handful of interesting boss encounters can’t make up for the lack of enemy variety, and the fact that there are no puzzles, platforming sections, or even many opportunities to break from the linear (and always very flat) path means that the game is as uninspired near the end as it is at the beginning.
Above: A cool boss here or there can’t compensate for an overall lack of variety
If a hack ‘n’ slash game can’t create a comfortable connection between your inputs and the actions of your on-screen character, then it has failed in the most fundamental way possible. From the dysfunctional camera to the bland and uninspired combat, it's an absolute chore to play through this game. It doesn’t matter how great it looks on the outside - Bloodforge is rotten at its core.