Sol Forge Fusion Review


My Early Access impressions for SolForge Fusion are from the perspective of someone who has not played the physical card game version. I’ll try to give some thoughts for those that have experience with the physical version, when the digital one might be more enticing. But for someone fresh to SolForge Fusion, I would say it is very much a “wait and see” as the current production, content, and further monetization are just not compelling.

The game itself has some different and intriguing mechanics, as you might expect from Richard Garfield (creator of the now timeless Magic: The Gathering) and Justin Gary (of an early deckbuilder, Ascension). There are several lanes you play creatures (only one per lane), which can be in the front or back depending on their type and if you have The Forge, which determines the turn order and which player is attacking, switching every turn. Each turn there are two action phases switching between you and the opponent. You only get one action (playing a creature or spell, while creature abilities are free) per phase before battle. Since the order of who goes first and who gets the last action before battle flips each time, this gives an interesting twist to the strategy and timing compared to your typical card battler.

The other “forge” part of the game is that each deck is unique (or rather “algorithmically-generated” to try to have equal power), made up of half of two factions (there are four total). Well, except the starter decks you get and most of the ones you can unlock by playing the campaign, which are set. You can scan in decks you have in the real world (which are each unique) to use in the digital version. There looks like good variety in overall flavor: zombies, dinosaurs, mages, monsters, etc. Along with mechanics like creatures which can move or force others to move lanes, buff others, and all the other usual stuff.

The other big element is that cards have 3 versions, getting upgraded as you progress through a deck cycle, with each cycle after the first also having a sort of hero ability available (this depends on which Forgeborn you choose of the two deck halves used). A deck cycle occurs after 3 turns (each turn has 2 action phases for each player and one battle phase), shuffling your deck so the upgraded cards are available. So playing a card or killing a creature to let it get cycled back, or cards that have abilities to upgrade your cards quicker, add yet another layer. Though note that after 4 cycles whoever has the most life wins. This makes for quicker matches, but robs the game of a type of big finish of longer paced games.

Anyway, suffice to say as a card game, digital or not, SolForge Fusion has my interest. But how does it look, sound, and feel to play?

In a word, “basic.” The cards themselves, including their art, look nice, though everything is rather large or lower resolution when viewed on a large, high resolution monitor (27” and 4k). There are few animations and sound effects for cards, just basic playing/attacking/dying sounds for the most part. Cards move to deploy and attack just like in your typical Hearthstone-like. No flashy animations or effects, just a “foil” version for cards which just makes it sort of shiny/multi-colored and the text at times impossible to read. There are plenty of other little annoyances, like needing to re-mouse over a card to see the full version if the round just changed, or the combat log (generally quite useful!) showing a confusing order or lack of details for actions to understand what just happened.

On the Deck it sadly has black bars at the top and bottom (which your mouse can go over), displaying nothing useful. The cards are then too low resolution to read the text in your hand. You can sort of make it out, and if you know the cards it can be enough, but for anyone new it is unplayable like that (magnifying just shows you larger text which is still too fuzzy to read, instead you need to right click to see a big version). For a game that shouldn’t be very demanding at all, the performance fluctuates between 60-90 fps on the OLED and often taking up 17 W while nothing much is happening on screen. Of course using the frame limiter or power controls is an option, but a game like this should be one that let’s you play for many hours without a power cord. By the way, no offline play, but it is on their roadmap. Controls are fine with the default trackpad as mouse, but there are no proper controller bindings by default. Otherwise on the Deck or desktop everything works, via Proton.

Besides the usual PvP mode (which I did not try, for reasons below), you can play a single match against a friend or the computer, or the campaign mode. The campaign mode is also very basic: there is one boss, ascension levels (further modifiers to make it difficult after you beat the previous one), and then you choose one of three powers (like certain creatures come in with plus attack, or a free creature) and choose one of three enemies to face (with their own modifier). Rinse and repeat 4 times, face the boss, and you are done. While I enjoyed the battles and strategy, once I figured out how things work, I wasn’t compelled to do it more than a few times on its own. The AI makes basic mistakes in what it plays sometimes and randomization in the modifiers and enemies, there’s not much to see.

However, the campaign is where you earn experience to unlock set and random deck halves to use. (After the initial Early Access release they updated to earn experience in PvP as well.) The experience also gives you levels for your decks, adding overall modifiers/buffs to some cards. This is the only reason I can think of to stick with the campaign as otherwise it is too barebones.

That said, I can’t imagine doing well in PvP with the starter decks (limited synergy). Maybe the ones you unlock or the random ones are better, but I haven’t tried against real people yet.

So, interesting actual game, limited digital version with basic production which feels dated (but it works just fine to play the game itself besides minor bugs) and not much progression or cards to get without spending money. Which all rings more of a game that is free-to-play to start, or rather cheap. At $19.99 I’m not so sure, though to be fair you get to unlock 10 deck besides the 4 starter decks. (For comparison, a “booster kit” for the physical game has 4 decks meaning 6 decks you can make, at a list price of $29.99.) If you already have a bunch of physical cards there’s more reason to want to play digitally, perhaps making a one time purchase (since you already have cards or are buying them anyway) more attractive. Maybe.

For me, there’s an attraction to the physical product of cards, getting to hold them, shuffle them, play them with a real person across a table. And I love the mechanics of a decent card game in any form. As an extension of the physical game, the digital SolForge Fusion might be more enticing with just a single cost to give you another way to play (and presumably more opponents), though it still has rough edges.

Unfortunately, for someone like me who is new to SolForge Fusion, and looking primarily and the single player side, the current Early Access version has too many drawbacks for the interesting game mechanics to overcome and truly shine. The campaign, card unlocks, and overall progression will hopefully be tuned in Early Access which could go a long way to making this a better game. Giving the physical players a good reason to (also) play this version would ensure a stronger user base. A nice coat of paint wouldn’t hurt, too.

(I should add, I never played the original SolForge, but there are many comments online from people that were burned by that one being abandoned very quickly. Something to keep an eye on here.

Oh…I just saw there’s a press release going around from the publisher Stone Blade Entertainment partnering with crypto groups for a “token and NFT launch” for June…)

SolForge Fusion released on Early Access on Steam on April 16, 2024. A key was provided for review.