The Xbox Store page for Blacksmith Forger turned out to be a clue to what we were about to play. Every single screenshot looked identical, as if they were taken moments after each other. They give the impression of a short game that didn’t change, which, appropriately for Blacksmith Forger, hits the nail on the head.
You have probably played a few games like Blacksmith Forger. Diner Dash, Cook, Serve, Delicious!, Ooops! 2, Overcooked! and more all have the same general outline. It’s the old ‘making stuff for impatient customers’ sim.
Customers arrive at your little workshop and make demands of you. In Blacksmith Forger’s case, they want daggers, swords, shields and spears. So, off you truck to your workshop where the process for each one is almost identical. You grab some ore from a bin, chuck it in a forge, wait a moment for it to smelt, and then slap it in some water to cool down. Once cooled down, you bring it to the anvil where a Minecraft-redux crafting system is at play. Depending on the permutation of ore and hilts (an item that is grabbed from another bin but requires no processing) on your selection of anvils, an item will be forged.
Each of these steps is done manually, in real-time. Which makes sense, as the customers stack up in real-time too. So, managing your time and optimising the process is the name of the game. You soon find little shortcuts and workarounds: having an ore in the forge at all times, just in case, is a must, and you will often store things on the anvils – again – on the off chance that someone will want it.
The requests get increasingly complex and demanding. Spears need three ingots to be made, not the traditional two. Some customers want fancy, gold-plated versions of the items that require you to dunk the bars in green goo. Each of the recipes can be tracked from a recipe book in the corner of the room, but they soon become second nature. Shield is bar + hilt + bar, while a longsword is a hilt + bar + bar. That difference is vital.
Unlike a few of the other games we mentioned, there are no levels or challenges in Blacksmith Forger. It’s a continuous roguelike run, where you aim to get further than you did before. If you’re good, you will soon earn enough cash for run-locked upgrades, like additional speed (essential) and an upgraded forge. You will also be exposed to increasingly out-there requests. Mostly, requests just arrive faster and faster, testing your ability to multi-task.
Blacksmith Forger is so simple that we’ve managed to describe it in six paragraphs, which is comparatively short. It should be so simple that everything is polished and refined. How can things go wrong when you can only do five or six things in the game? Well, let us tell you: they go wrong, lots.
To have so many bugs in a game of this size is inexcusable. It really did need a few more weeks on the anvil to be hammered into shape. The one that grated us most often is a weird screen-shake bug. Every single action in the game, from picking up coins to hammering on the anvil, causes the screen to shudder like we were playing on a truck with no suspension. Honestly, it made us kind of nauseous.
Stand next to an object and you’ll be able to pick it up, ooh, about eighty percent of the time. Every so often, your little blacksmith will shrug, and you will have to move away and back again to grab it. Something similar is wrong with the anvils, as we could only pick up longswords from the bottom of the anvil, but not the top. The other items are fine, so the issue is solely with this one.
Coins get stuck under the anvil, customer requests overlap each other so you can’t see them, and you can’t exit out of the recipe book UI. Blacksmith Forger is a mess, frankly, as if the quality assurance team put up a sign saying ‘back in five minutes’ and never actually came back.
And then there are the usability goofs. The tutorial is so unfit for purpose that we genuinely wonder whether we’d have been better without it. It doesn’t teach you anything about making items gold, how to create spears or shields, or anything like that. And games like Overcooked! do a fantastic job of providing worktops for you to stockpile unwanted items, allowing you to prepare for the future. There’s not really anything of the sort here, which means the skill ceiling comes crashing down. All you can do is dump stuff into the bin.
But the kicker? The complete lack of content. Play well enough for fifteen minutes, and you’ve seen everything the game has to offer. There are no challenges or levels, as we mentioned, and no new workshops to earn. There are no unlocks or upgrades to the one workshop you have, either, so there’s nothing that you could call progression. All you’re left with is the same fifteen minute strut through daggers, swords, spears and shields, with a little bit of gold-working into the bargain. We played three times over, got our 1000G, and felt no impulse to play it again.
If Blacksmith Forger was a free-to-play mobile game, we’d be complaining about the lack of material. You could barely make some tinfoil out of it. When there are dozens of alternatives for Overcooked!-style games, you’d have to be desperate to pick Blacksmith Forger out of the line-up.