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Citadel: Forged with Fire – First Look

Citadel: Forged with Fire is Blue Isles Studios foray into a market that is racing toward over-saturation at break-neck speed. So, does Citadel have what it takes to stand out from the crowd?

Citadel: Forged with Fire is an open world survival MMORPG, like games like ARK or Dark and Light. Players join a server, create a character, and explore a huge open world to find treasure, interact with other players, and fight monsters. The environments in Citadel are possibly its strongest point. Everything in the game from the models and textures to the lighting and particle effects are incredible. Magic permeates every square inch of this world and the visuals do a marvelous job of showing that. This world is beautiful, huge, and it absolutely sucks you in. The stunning visuals combined with the incredible score and masterful use of ambient sound create an almost unmatched sense of atmosphere. In non-combat moments, I found myself so lost in the experience that a two-hour recording session turned into five hours of non-stop exploration.

The game opens with Citadel’s character creation suite. It’s incredibly barebones. Four hairstyles and four preset faces with no options to customize or adjust face or body shape. The lack of options here was just sad. It seems like it would have been easier to just have you pick from four pre-made characters than to give the illusion of customization with so few options.

Gameplay centers around exploring the world, fighting monsters, and harvesting resources. Despite being a survival game, though, Citadel is surprisingly light on actual survival mechanics. The game doesn’t feature any kind of food or water system. There’s no temperature gauge either. This doesn’t harm the experience, but it does take away a lot of potential depth. Building shelters would be a lot more meaningful if they provided shelter from the elements. Hunting animals would be more necessary if there were a mechanic like hunger to create a sense of urgency. To their credit, Blue Isles has said in a recent announcement that food and water mechanics are possibly coming to the game soon. This shows that they’re paying attention to the state of their game and the feedback they get from players.

Almost everything you do in Citadel gets you experience. Harvesting resources, fighting, and crafting all contribute to your progression. The rate of growth will change from server to server, as whoever sets it up can change the experience rates. The public server I played on featured a 3-times experience rate so that I could see some higher-level content more quickly. As you level up, you gain knowledge points you can spend to unlock craft-able items, structures and gear. Levels also grant you points to add to one of four base stats: health, mana, damage, and carry weight. There is also a magic tree with several schools of magic for you to learn.

The interesting thing about the magic system is that some spells require certain types of weapons to equip. For example: the fireball spell requires a staff to use. The fire-smash spell requires a melee weapon like an axe. There are spells like Mana Burst that work with any weapon as well. Your character can have up to two weapons equipped at a time, giving you up to four spells at any moment to play with. Despite this, I found myself only using the same one or two damage spells to fight most things in the game. This was partially because higher level magic lies behind a level requirement, and partially because fireball is a great spell that does a solid amount of damage from range. Between this and the near endless supply of materials to make healing potions, low level fights became trivial quickly.

Combat in the game is what you would expect. The magic and melee weapons feel decent enough to use, and the animations are a damn sight better than some of the other genre offerings I’ve played lately. Still, it feels like it lacks nuance. A lot of the fighting I did in the first 15 levels involved backpedaling and spamming fireball. If something hit me, I would just pop a healing potion and keep going. This doesn’t mean that there was no challenge. I got brave at one point and attempted to fight a pair of trolls or cyclopes that were well above my level. Despite holding my own for a minute or two, they took me down with relative ease.

The coolest thing about this was, at least a little, that each of the enemies I fought acted differently. Orcs were constantly in groups of three or more. Their strategy involved very quick movement and trying to surround me. The trolls, on the other hand, were much more direct. They would run straight up to me and start swinging. This added a little bit of depth to the otherwise shallow combat, when it worked. The servers would occasionally lag or hiccup for a second and suddenly the AI would do questionable things or forget that we were fighting. This really took me out of the combat, and is an issue that needs fixing.

Another aspect that I really enjoyed about the game was that it offered two server types: PVE and PVP. If you want a competitive, gritty, you vs. the world survival experience, you can have that. If you want a less aggressive, more cooperative style of survival experience, that’s available to you as well. The community in the game was also much friendlier than other survival games I’ve played. Players on my server were constantly trying to help one another, giving crafting and exploration tips, and offering advice to new players. It was awesome.

Unfortunately, Citadel isn’t without its flaws. The user interface feels half-finished. Parts of it, like XP notifications, level up effects, and the like look great! The rest of the interface suffers from straight boxes with gray backgrounds, boring text, and no sense of style at all.  A lot of it feels like placeholder assets. Another strange quirk is that the game only allows you to draw resources from larger objects like full-size trees and boulders via magic. Using the axes on trees doesn’t do anything to them, and doesn’t yield wood. There’s no pickaxe at all, so mining in a traditional way isn’t an option either. This only serves to make the experience feel more shallow and unfinished. Given the developers’ attention to player feedback though, this could easily change moving forward.

A lot of Citadel’s other problems come from the game feeling rushed and unfinished. As I’ve said before, the game is in early access, but if I’m going to rag on one game for things it is missing in a pre-release state, then it’s only fair to do that here as well. The game just lacks a lot of the depth and the tried-and-true mechanics that make survival games what they are. With no food, water, temperature, or other major elements to fight against, it just becomes a PVP sandbox RPG. Calling it a survival game at this stage feels like a mislabel.

Additionally, the controls for the crafting mode leave something to be desired. Placing objects in certain ways only works if you’re looking on from just the right angle. Also, doors on the same level as the ground require an awkward short-hop to enter. If you don’t hop when you approach, and sometimes even when you do, they can stop you dead in your tracks despite only being a few centimeters off the ground. Some construction pieces don’t line up correctly unless you build them in one exact way, like the roofing pieces, but they’ll still allow you to place them down and become one giant clipping mess. This was the case with my smaller hallways especially. This meant if I wanted it to look even a bit normal from the outside, I’d have to tear down the whole section I built and start again which is tedious.

The delete option in the crafting segments is also unresponsive and unclear. The game doesn’t tell you if you get the resources refunded from items you delete. There’s a massive pregnant pause any time you tell the game to delete something, and like with placing certain structures, you might not even be at the right angle to delete something even if you’re directly in front of it. On a related note, pre-built structures like tents in Orc encampments and chests in the environment can’t be interacted with. This is hugely disappointing. I found an Orc camp an hour or so into my first session and began repurposing it into my personal compound, and moving the Orc stuff out of the way after I killed them would have made it a lot easier.

Overall, Citadel: Forged with Fire feels like a great foundation and skeleton of a game that is in desperate need of some drywall and furniture. The atmosphere and presentation are gorgeous and dangerously engrossing. However, it becomes difficult to dive in with parts of the experience incomplete, half-functional, or missing altogether. The lack of customization, bland UI, and half functional enemy AI all need serious attention. The addition of actual survival mechanics beyond raids from other players would also add a layer of depth to the game that would help it feel more fleshed out. As it stands, Citadel is a good foundation that could one day be great, but needs more work to get there. Given recent announcements from Blue Isles, it seems like they’re listening and taking the game in a great direction.

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