Bloodforge is an Xbox 360-exclusive hack-and-slash title from UK developer Climax Studios. The story takes place in a cold, unnamed Scandinavian location, probably somewhere in the 8th to 11th century. It revolves around Crom, a warrior who has left behind his raiding days to settle down with a family. When an evil god causes Crom to lose his family, the warrior sets out on a single-minded quest for revenge. Along the way he is aided by a crow goddess and others who seek to shift the balance of godly power.
It’s a great mythology and setting – I especially like Crom’s name, which is either a reference to an early Pagan god or the fictional god of the Conan stories. While the game’s lore and creative god designs lay the groundwork for an interesting tale, it’s brought down somewhat by Crom’s voice actor. He is just terrible, and certainly not qualified to carry the weight of a story on his own. Best to look past that and concentrate on the gameplay itself.
Bloodforge is most similar to God of War and other violent action games. The hero wields three melee weapons: sword, axe, and claws, plus a crossbow for long-range attacks. Each weapon has its own advantages in range or speed, plus a handful of unique moves, combos, and finishers. Combat is fast and fairly fluid, allowing players to rack up huge combos as they take down hordes of monstrous opponents. Crom can also roll away to avoid damage, which works surprisingly well during most encounters.
Norse warriors were sometimes known as Berserkers; and fittingly, Crom has a rage meter that allows him to go berserk. During this time he moves much quicker than normal, but initially Berserk mode runs out far too quickly to be helpful. On the other hand, players can sacrifice the meter to perform a gory finishing move, which proves far more useful. Finally, Crom can purchase and level up three separate magic attacks which deplete a separate meter.
Bloodforge boasts some excellent visuals for a downloadable console title. The color palette consists of white, black, and red (not unlike Madworld), which perfectly captures the cold and isolation of the snowy locations. During the gory combat, you’ll see plenty of vivid red blood splash out of vanquished (and occasionally dismembered) foes – a nice contrast to the ever-present white snow. The character designs also deserve praise – the main characters and bosses are quite distinct and strange. The only thing bringing down Bloodforge’s visuals is a somewhat flawed third-person camera. It shakes constantly while walking, which doesn’t bother me too much but certainly gets on some people’s nerves.
Bloodforge’s most significant issue is its health and checkpoint system. Unlike just about every other game known to man, it doesn’t refill the player’s health between levels or after dying. You do get a handful of health items in each level, but they don’t go very far. When Crom is defeated, he respawns at the last checkpoint with a fixed, minimal quantity of health. This can make boss encounters difficult if not impossible for the player, forcing a restart of the entire hour-long level. Hopefully Climax patches the game to fix the health problem.
Bloodforge is a nice, bloody action game whose production values (outside of the voice acting) often approach retail levels of quality. The cold, bleak setting and muted colors work very well with the dark-toned story and gameplay. It also has a fairly robust system for challenging friends’ high scores and sharing your own survival challenges. I just wish Climax had balanced the difficulty better since it will prove frustrating for many players - an upcoming patch will apparently fix that. Still, if you like a tough action game like Ninja Gaiden, you’ll want to give Bloodforge a shot.