I remember being rather impressed with the first Aralon when it was released several years ago. Here was a somewhat open-world RPG adventure that I could play on my phone, complete with day/night cycles and my own horse! Sure it wasn’t as deep or involved as one of Bethesda’s monstrous RPGs, but it was cool to have something like that on a portable device.
Unfortunately, I’m just not as impressed with Aralon: Forge and Flame.
Don’t get me wrong, I still appreciate being able to play a fairly expansive RPG on the go, and Forge and Flame does look pretty good for the most part, but it’s positively riddled with tiny problems. Kind of a “death by a thousands cuts” situation.
The story in Forge and Flame isn’t particularly captivating. No matter which race you decide to make your character, everything starts the same way – you’re doing chores on your family farm when the exposition squad shows up to kill your father (he’s a widower, because of course he is) and hunt you down. Surprise surprise, dear old dad has a complicated past and you have to sort it all out. Thankfully it’s not so much a tale of revenge as it is about trying to restore balance to the world and help the almost extinct elven race survive, but I honestly found it hard to care. The story is full of bland stereotypes and tropes to the point where I’d almost think Forge and Flame is satirizing the genre, if not for the fact that it’s trying to be so serious about it.
But the reason most people play open world RPGs has more to do with the “open world” part. While Forge and Flame’s locales aren’t exactly full of life, they do at least tend to reward a bit of exploration with semi-hidden paths and stashed loot.
Cities and towns are a bit more impressive, since they have other characters wandering around during business hours, and there are all sorts of homes to invite yourself into. It’s what I’d consider decent for a game like this, really.
Forge and Flame’s biggest strength has got to be the progression of your character. As you gain levels you can add points to various attributes, find or purchase better and better gear, and train/upgrade class-specific skills to give you more of an edge in combat. Granted none of this is a new concept, but it’s still quite satisfying to cut a swathe through a bunch of enemies that used to give you trouble. And finding better equipment is its own small reward.
If this were everything I’d encountered, I’d consider Forge and Flame a worthwhile RPG for mobile users who are looking for something to keep them busy. But while it doesn’t truly emulate the expansiveness of Bethesda’s RPGs, is does manage to pay homage to another hallmark of the AAA developer: bugs and questionable design decisions.
The list of problems I’ve come across is extensive. Highlights include:
- Seeing my fully-armored character standing next to my un-armored character while the un-armored character was sleeping during a cutscene
- Accidentally preventing myself from completing a quest because I found the quest item before the quest giver (who only comes out during the day), and selling said quest item because I didn’t know any better
- Entering a cave and leaving through the same entrance, only to end up on the other side of the map in front of a completely different cave
- Finding an old woman with the same exact voice as the burly blacksmith in that same town
- Not actually being able to find or buy a shield anywhere, even though I’m trying to specialize in shield use
- Quests that seem totally pointless when you consider how close the person asking you for help is to the place they want you to investigate
- An incredibly awkward and rather useless first-person mode, and a lock-on system that doesn’t actually lock the camera on to anything
But the “feature” I dislike the most by far is the way the main character draws and sheathes their weapon. It sounds silly, but imagine you’re trying to run through the wilderness and every single time you get close enough to an enemy to attack, your character stops moving to draw their weapons. Then, every single time you take a few steps forward after finishing an encounter, they stop moving to put their weapons away.
Now imagine that you get to move unhindered for about five seconds before getting close enough to another enemy, and having them stop and draw their weapons again. It’s maddening how often the main character will stop dead in their tracks like this. Call it a nitpick if you want, but it’s incredibly annoying to try and run anywhere on foot. Thank goodness you can eventually get a horse and awkwardly ride it around, huh?
I don’t hate Aralon: Forge and Flame. I don’t even dislike it, really. But it has a lot of little problems that add up to something I’m not all that interested in playing again. I’d much rather get my RPG fix from something more polished, even if that means it takes place in a smaller world.