Here at gamrReview, we have a very strict 'we don't review it until we've completed it' clause; it's a motto that all game reviewers should abide by, but there are some very rare instances when an exception can be made. While I spent my first couple of hours somewhat impressed by Bloodforge, the experience quickly devolved into madness and eventually culminated in a roadblock - in the form of a cheap boss fight - about halfway through, resulting in weeks of frustration before I finally had to give up. My first thought was that perhaps I just suck at the game, but after weeks of perseverance (and even roping in friends to try and help out), I was completely unable to pass the roadblock.
In Bloodforge, you play as Crom, an ex-warrior who has happily settled into a life of hunting and protecting his land until the Gods interfere and trick him into accidentally killing his family. This may be a budget title, but that's no excuse for sloppy, derivative storytelling directly ripped off another popular mythology-inspired action game. As the plot goes on, one of the Gods gifts Crom with a gauntlet that collects the blood of his enemies, and it soon becomes clear that Crom's destiny is to overthrow the Gods (hence they're collectively doing all they can to make his life a living hell). All of this is told through a series of lifeless cutscenes with paper thin characters and exposition that does little to answer any questions you may have about the game. What did Crom do to deserve this? What is the Bloodforge? Wouldn't it have made more sense not tricking Crom into killing his own wife and therefore causing him to go on a rampage to kill the Gods?
One aspect of the presentation that is decent, however, is the art direction, which is very similar to the film 300, right down to the enemy design. The characters are stylized and brutal, the visuals stark and grimy, animations are subject to random bouts of slowdown for dramatic effect, and blood spurts from the stump of every severed limb and bisected torso. It's a glorious amalgamation of juvenile glee as Crom cuts his way through hordes of enemies left and right. Stylistic as it is, the game has two horrendous issues that prevent you from appreciating the aesthetics for more than a couple of seconds at a time.
The first and most damning issue is the shaky, wobbly camera that seems to get worse as the game goes on, ensuring that even if you know precisely what you're doing and where the enemies are, you can still lose yourself in a fight and get smacked around by an enemy you didn't even realise was still there. Even running from one fight to the next is a dizzying experience thanks to the camera wobbling about like a drunken viking. The second issue is that the game is entirely too dark. The opening scenes seem bright enough, as you are able to see the characters and levels with relative ease, but as the game progresses everything seems to get darker, to the point that you can't tell the difference between enemies and areas of the level, resulting in confusion and frustration.
Visual issues aside, the game plays well. The controls are quite responsive and there's a decent amount of variety combat thanks to the multiple weapons, skills, and super abilities. Each weapon makes use of its own set of combos comprised of quick attacks, strong attacks, ranged attacks, and jumps, just like any good hacky-slashy game should, even though they're all virtually the same. Pressing the shoulder buttons puts you in a hyper mode that increases your attack strength and slows down the enemies (like an ancient version of bullet time), you can spend acquired blood on super moves or for purchasing upgrades, and can pick up items that give you health, blood, and rage bonuses. It's a pretty solid system with a decent amount of abilities and options, it's just a shame that it gets very repetitive only a few levels in, since fighting the same enemies over and over again begets the same strategies ad nauseum.
In addition to the main game, there are also a few other modes you can explore. As you play through each section of the game, you're ranked based on your performance, so naturally there are leaderboards for each and every one of those segments. There are also challenges that you can create and share amongst your friends, as well as a mode called “Blood Duel”, where you compete for the top blood scores between yourself and your friends. Finally, the game has the option to purchase DLC at launch, some of which is free. These extra features are nice, but I couldn't even finish the story, so I had little opportunity to enjoy these added features.
I was unable to finish Bloodforge because of a boss that I found impossible to defeat. At first I thought I was doing something wrong, or I was missing something vital to beating him, but even after consulting an FAQ and watching a play through, I'm convinced it's a bug. The undead boss has an ability that makes a small explosion in front of him that's seemingly impossible to avoid. Neither dodge rolling (regardless of timing or the direction taken) nor running away does the trick, and in spite of fighting him dozens upon dozens of times, roping in friends to see if they could do it, and looking for help online, I was unable to deplete even half of his health.
Bloodforge is built on a solid foundation but still manages to fumble. If it weren't for the atrociously schizophrenic camera and the depressingly muddled darkness that plagues the game's entirety - making it borderline painful to play - Bloodforge could have been a reasonably fun game that was worth the 1200 MS Point asking price. As it is, it's just a mess.
This review is based on downloadable copy of Bloodforge for the Xbox 360, provided by the publisher.