Touted as the next massive, open world, online role playing game, Citadel: Forged with Fire is a particularly exciting prospect for me. In particular because it comes from Blue Isle Studios — a crew that has both Valley and Slender to their name, both of which are inventive titles that interested me despite their flaws.
The idea of a permanently online world in the style of Conan or ARK, but with the addition of magic is an attractive idea to me. Obviously this has been done before via The Elder Scrolls Online, for example, but for whatever reason Bethesda’s foray into the online role playing mix always fell flat with me. Probably because it captured neither the grand narrative of the Elder Scrolls games, nor the sandbox nature of more survival focussed games.
Citadel certainly has nothing more to offer than The Elder Scrolls Online in terms of story, but what it does have is a unique world that offers enough early interest to entice the players to stay beyond the tedious opening few hours that all games of this kind tend to suffer from. As always, there’s a character creation screen. As usual it allows all manner of hideous puppets to be created. Shortly after that, there is the standard God-awful series of tutorial missions that fail to educate the user sufficiently in any way.
I’ll linger here for a moment, since I still don’t understand why online role playing games do this, as if they expect their main player base to be made up of people who’ve played so many similar games that they simply don’t need to be told anything. You’ll be given simple quests, for sure, but you won’t be given any idea of how or where to complete them. That’s kind of OK when you’re being asked to collect wood, but as the demands get more complex, so does the feeling of being overwhelmed.
Where Citadel is concerned, it’s at around the hour mark that I expect most players will decide whether to forge on or to abandon the game forever. By then, you’ll have completed various menial tasks including building an axe, making some armour, even crafting your own wand — you’ll even have levelled up several times since Citadel is generous with its experience system.
Now you’ll be tasked with more complex actions like imbuing your items with magical essences and spells, a feature that takes some getting used to and which is not explained at all. At least one of Citadel’s quirks appears here, in the way that any weapon can be imbued with two spells — each bound to the left or right trigger. Imbue your axe with a haste spell and a magical projectile and you’ll feel pretty cool, but try to use your axe as an axe with these spells linked to the triggers and you’ll find it entirely useless for chopping wood.
Craft a staff, on the other hand, and collect some essences (which is another early fetch quest that will leave you bewildered) and you’ll realise how powerful (and opaque) the magic system really is. Essences linked with spells, the four different schools of magic, result in different outcomes, and as far as I can tell, you’ll only learn the possible outcomes by trial and error. Weapons can be made incredibly powerful this way, or they can just as easily be rendered kind of weird and useless.
Constructing buildings, on the other hand, is so simple that it doesn’t need to be explained. Simply invest points into an ever expanding technology tree (which has several branches) and you’ll unlock more and more options for construction. The construction menu is easily navigated via the D-Pad and the triggers, with wooden walls, floors, roofs and scaffolds being quickly thrown onto the map. Placing a Throne onto any structure (either self-built or abandoned) will claim it, and it can then become a permanent residence in which, naturally, you can place furniture that enables advanced crafting.
This, of course, is where Citadel begins to show a bit more promise, because as we all know, crafting games are only fun when you can actually make things. The good news relating specifically to Citadel, is that I found it was quicker and easier to reach the point where I had a viable “home base” brimming with forges, workbenches, alchemy stations and similar than I ever have in a similar game.
The speed at which Citadel opens up and rewards the player (also through how fast levelling occurs) has been key to my enjoyment of it, which, you might be surprised to read, is far and above what it has been for any other similar game. Just in case you misread that, let me be clear — Citadel is currently my favourite online role playing game. Even though I have only lodged about twenty hours with it so far, I can see myself continuing with this one until i reach the high level echelons of play, which currently I can’t comment on.
Crucial to Citadel’s success is certainly the generosity of its gameplay, but just as important is how accessible that gameplay is. I’m playing on the Xbox One and I have a poor (roughly 18 mb/s) internet connection, yet I haven’t experienced a single crash, or even any lag in this game. When I load it up, I simply pick the server that I’ve been using repeatedly and dive in — and lo and behold, all of my items are still there and my house remains exactly as I left it.
These basic elements have been a huge problem in every other online role playing game that I’ve played. Conan and Ark have always been buggy for me, or when they weren’t, I seemed to experience insufferable lag. The Elder Scrolls Online, whilst stable, always lagged. Generation Zero seemed to work OK, but there was never anyone playing it. The less said about DayZ, the better.
When you bring ease of access together and mate it with rewarding gameplay, then throw a veneer of bright, imaginative visuals over it, something remarkable begins to happen; people have fun. Something else that has always nagged me about online role playing games is that so much of the first twenty or thirty hours feels like a test, or a chore that has to be overcome so that the real game can be revealed.
That’s not the case with Citadel. Despite the lack of engaging quests (which is a problem, even beyond the opening tutorial) I always seem to find something fun to do. This may be partly to do with the otherworldly location in which the game is set, or it might simply be because I felt empowered from such an early stage. Whatever the reasoning, Citadel’s world is a pleasure to explore, and by introducing magic as a core element in its crafting system, you’ll want to get out there to collect those essences as quickly as possible.
Thanks to its imaginative world design and bright colours, Citadel even manages to look fairly nice on a console, which is remarkable considering the network performance standards that I’ve already mentioned. Special effects (of which there are many) sparkle and pop all over the screen, with many projectile and area of effect spells having pleasingly random visual patterns.
The sound, however, is fairly unremarkable, but I can’t see that causing a major issue for many players given that a lot will be using the various different methods of communicating with players either among their existing friends, or in their “House.” Citadel allows players to create their own houses, which act as persistent parties to allow seamless drop in and out play — a feature that I really like.
There’s a lot about Citadel that I like, and not a lot that I don’t, in all honesty. My expectations were low given that I haven’t enjoyed similar games in the past, but the immediacy of Citadel’s gameplay surprised me, as did its stability, good looks and rewarding nature. It still suffers from the same rubbish tutorial and insipid quest structure that many online role playing games do, but I don’t think that’s a problem once you’re up and running, and have a few friends to quest alongside.