October 12, 2017
I somehow completely missed Forts by EarthWork Games this year. I had never even heard of it until PAX West when I sat down with some friends in the PC gaming area and we noticed Forts was one of the available games. What followed over the next 20 minutes was a lot of confusion, a lot of laughter and a lot screaming as the 6 of us tried desperately to build forts that wouldn’t just immediately fall over but that could also blow the other team’s fort away.
Forts describes itself as a “a physics-based action RTS” and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. The general premise is that you and your opponent(s) start with a small wooden fort protecting a central core that provides both power and metal, the two resources of the game. You must then build out your fort, create more mines, place wind turbines and construct weapons to begin attacking your opponent’s fort who is doing the exact same thing. There’s a campaign, skirmishes against the AI, online multiplayer and a recently added workshop for downloading community levels.
There’s a nice little campaign to play through that will teach you the basics at the start and then will slowly ramp up the challenge to some nice little puzzles at the end. While nice, I think the tutorials took it a step too far when they started explicitly, step by step, explaining what to build, where to build and what to shoot. I would have appreciated more hands off teaching from the game. There’s also a lot of not so subtle political commentary jokes being thrown around in the campaign between the Eagle army, Bear army and Dragon army. While some of the jokes got a chuckle out of me the story here probably won’t age very well.
Graphics & Sound
The graphics are relatively simple 2D graphics but they get the job done and they do a good job of conveying the required information to you when everything is burning down and you’re in a panic. The sounds as well are good and can actually be quite helpful when they help you to distinguish who is firing what and if they are hitting their targets. You can’t always keep your eyes on the whole battlefield and the sounds do help here.
The gameplay of Forts is where I’m the most divided about this game. Forts reminds me a lot of Worms Armageddon actually.1 A game I loved. It’s similar to Worms in many ways but crucially you can’t actually move around because, well, you’re a static fort. And because the maps tend to be mirror images of each other this means that both players are basically always making the same decisions and executing the exact same moves.
In Worms you’d be placed in random positions across a procedurally generated map and you were given lots of tools to move around to take advantage of the battlefield around you. In Forts every player has access to the same weapons, the same construction materials and the exact same starting structures, just on different sides of a mirrored map. This tends to limit the meaningful choices one can make on any one map to effectively gain a lead. Combine that with some of the larger maps where lower tech weapons can’t even reach your opponent and games start to devolve into a match to see who can place a laser first. There just isn’t enough variety in the available weapons to make up for the lack of mobility being a fort forces upon you. Players can choose different commanders with some passive buffs to resource collection or reload times but it just isn’t enough. What I would have loved to see is multiple factions with different building materials, different fort building strategies, weapons and defense tactics. I realize that game design wise it means at least twice the work plus balancing issues but I think that’s what’s really needed in the land of RTS games to move from good to great.
Which really is a shame since I think there’s some really nice weapons and gameplay design in Forts. I love the fact that just blindly upgrading your weapons isn’t always the best choice. In too many RTS games you always just click the upgrade button because why wouldn’t you. But in Forts there’s always a tradeoff between the lower class weapon and the upgraded one. Upgrading machine guns to mini guns means they’ll do lots more damage, especially to armor, but they won’t auto fire at mortars and missiles anymore, meaning you’ll lose out on a lot of defensive capability. Upgrading swarm missiles to nukes means they do way more damage but an unprotected nuke will just get shot down by machine gunners every time. You actually have to have a mix of all the available units to have an effective fort and I think that’s a brilliant design choice on the developers part.
- There’s still new maps and patches being made for the game so content is still coming down the pipe which is nice to see. It’s all free so far too.
- I never really encountered any major bugs which is also really nice to see.
- Unfortunately, while there is online play there really isn’t much of a community right now so it can be difficult to find a match.
I enjoyed Forts while the novelty of it lasted. The mix of physics based fort building, real time strategy with active offense where you have to aim every weapon and a nice mix of maps is really fun. The campaign was fun to play through for a few hours and the AI provides a nice challenge for you in skirmish mode as well. With some, admittedly major, changes to differentiate the two sides I think Forts could be not just good but great. If you’re at all looking for a Worms like game or just a new RTS to try out give this one a shot.