Early Access Impressions: Citadel: Forged with Fire combines Skyrim with survival

Citadel: Forged with Fire is a new RPG currently in early access that blends elements of the survival formula that’s become so common these days with a magical twist that feels like a distinctly different take on the genre.

Citadel focuses on magic over swords, and flashy spells over beating trees with your fists. In some ways it feels like a typical survival game, but without a number of the mechanics familiar to the genre, like hunger, thirst, sleep, and stamina. As a result, it’s hard to call Citadel a survival game at all, although the look and aesthetic similarities are impossible to miss. Instead, it feels much more like a magical adventure RPG that we’re used to seeing from the Elder Scrolls series, albeit with its own unique problems and challenges.

The second I loaded into the game it felt like I took a step back in time to my best memories of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. On some level I knew I was looking through some heavy-duty nostalgia glasses, because there’s no way that a game that came out over a decade ago could look as good as something made on Unreal Engine 4 (early access or not). Yet the sense of recognition was palpable as I ventured out into a world with the dense foliage, ambient magical effects, and even the mushrooms that I could still remember clearly from my first steps onto the Madgod’s Isles so many years ago.

Going on an Adventure

Although it’s important to note that Citadel is very much its own game, it plays with the same ideas that made Skyrim, Oblivion, and many other open world survival RPGs wonderful. The need to explore, to adventure, and to conquer great beasts, mountains, and dungeons is incredibly strong in Citadel: Forged with Fire, and that’s where you’ll find the main meal when you sit down to sling spells and kick ass.

As a result, it fits perfectly into that niche for people that are craving an RPG where they can create their own narrative, level up, and find adventure at a moment’s notice. The map is large and full of small dungeons, bandit camps, and a number of varied enemies that all shift between blade and magic on the fly. There are treasure chests to find, enemies to smite, and resources to gather, all in the interest of moving forward and steadily farther away from your spawn.

All that said, this is decidedly not a single player experience. There are a lot of areas that can be cleared on their own, but once you reach a certain level you begin to encounter monsters that are clearly too tough to take on alone, or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. In my experience, uniting a group of random strangers to take on high-level enemies is a bit of a challenge on PvE servers, and doing so on PvP requires some serious real-world Charisma. 

In the latter situation, someone inevitably throws a fireball, or starts trying to mow people down with arcane missiles, or in general pisses one of the other characters off enough to incite a bloodbath. It’s the kind of thing that I’ve come to expect from a lot of these games, and with no law of the land preventing it anywhhere aside from a few safe areas, don’t be surprised when some high-level magus comes screaming through the valley looking to murder you because you have a load of stone or wood that he needs for his secret castle on a mountain.

Additionally, the early access nature of the game means that things are still very much a work in progress. Those same difficult monsters can be ripped apart safely from a distance if you manage to trick their AI into getting stuck between two trees or a few poorly spawned rocks. Or if you manage to tame a dragon, you can currently just kind of break the combat entirely, flying directly into mobs that have absolutely no way to react to a dragon just kind of hovering inside them breathing fire. 

Of course, this is an early access game, so it is what it is, and there are a hundred of other small issues with game balance, lag, the occasional clipping issue, and many more, but none that are so common as to be entirely game breaking.

No Hunger, No Problem

The lack of a thirst or hunger meter in Citadel: Forged with Fire is an interesting choice, but it makes sense for the narrative of exploration and adventure the developers are going for. Without a constant need to find food or an active source of clean water, it’s much easier to explore and have a more traditional RPG experience, and on PvE servers or playing solo the tone is a lot more casual and relaxing than you normally see in early access survival titles.

You’re free to explore, fight, and level up without a worry in the world, and as a result it feels a lot like playing a rudimentary MMO or hack-and-slash RPG, with a much more limited player count and a tighter focus on crafting than you might see in World of Warcraft or other more grindy RPGs.

The developers have discussed adding hunger and thirst back into the game if the community requests it enough, and as someone that appreciates those mechanics I wouldn’t be opposed, but I can also enjoy the more relaxed nature of Citadel without them. It feels significantly less restrictive to explore without hunger and thirst, but it's also something that could add another layer of variation and difficulty to the title, which might help extend the lifetime of the game as a whole.

The best of both worlds would be adding hunger and thirst to the server config so that admins can choose whether they want the server to be more survival focused or more adventure focused, but only time will tell if that’s where the devs want to take the game.

So you wanna be an Archmage?

Gameplay in Citadel revolves around the use of magic in all its sparkling glory. You’ll make weapons to cast spells, unlock knowledge, and make gear and other items to improve the spells you cast.

Melee is an option, but it’s definitely less of a focus, unless you’re out of mana or somehow decided that you wanted to be that guy that brings a stone axe to a battle between two mages who can literally set the world on fire.

To that end, gathering resources involves either picking them up off the ground, killing enemies for them, or using a spell that lets you rip logs from trees and rocks from bigger rocks. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it definitely looks cooler than beating a rock with your bare hands or even a beefy steel pickaxe.

My only qualm is that it’s also quite a bit less involved than most other methods of cutting down trees and mining iron in games. Rather than steadily working your way through a forest like a lumberjack on a mission, you’ll usually find yourself staring at a tree as you fire your arcane beam at it, before shifting your character’s attention to the next tree once the first one dissolves in a flash of light. It’s a small thing, but it just loses its charm after the first few forests, so I sincerely hope they work to add other methods later on in development.

Even if they don’t swap to different techniques for gathering resources, it would be nice to see different spells that maybe apply over a large area or that clear an entire tree or multiple trees at once. It would feel more like you’re a powerful mage that way, and less like you’re a lazy apprentice that’s using his powers to make life a little easier.

Spell combat is definitely where Citadel shines. You can only equip two weapons at a time, but each weapon can hold up to two spells, and swapping between the two is quick and easy. Each weapon has a small number of spells that can only be used by that weapon, and as a result you often have to commit to a specialization before a battle, but you can swap between several once you’re out of danger.

Staffs can use fireballs, melee weapons can shatter the ground Reinhardt-style, and there’s quite a bit of variation between the weapons and the different spells that can be applied to each. This portion of the game feels solid, and as long as there isn’t a massive amount of server lag you can generally take out enemies in a variety of satisfying ways as you steadily build up your spellbook and arsenal of abilities.

Utility spells are also pretty common, and do a lot to break up the monotony of travel and add a layer of tactics to combat. Spells like Haste will give you a burst of speed, while Mage Armor will give you a temporary shield, both of which can be useful to give you a brief second to swap out your gear so you can fly away on a broom or equip more combat-focused gear in a pinch. It’s not exactly the CS:GO of mage warfare, but it’s perfectly serviceable and often a lot of fun if you’re really into the tactics of arcane battle.

There’s also a lot of focus on building, with all structures locked behind skills, and a fairly standard tier system, similar to what we see in other survival games like Rust, Ark: Survival Evolved, and Conan: Exiles. You start with wood, move up to stone, and continue from there. You can claim territory with a throne, but anyone can attack and break into your structures without much trouble until you get into higher tier materials. At that point they’ll still be able to get into your base, it’ll just take more time or more powerful weapons to get it done.

A Good Foundation

Citadel: Forged with Fire has a lot of things going for it. It’s a solid foundation to build up to bigger and better things. Unfortunately, although it does some things well, it really doesn’t break the mold in any really significant ways. This could change as the game continues to improve in subsequent versions, but for now it isn't distinct or polished enough to stand out from the crowd. 

Blue Isle Studios can make Citadel something really interesting, but it’s going to take a few patches to get there. For now it’s a fun little experience, and if you have a lot of friends and a decent server you’ll probably get a lot of value out of your time and money. If not, you might consider giving it a pass until it matures a bit.