When a lesser-known game debuts to lukewarm or, even worse, flat out bad reviews, it’s usually a clear indicator that that game’s days are numbered. But every now and then, certain small-time games manage to beat the odds and go on to garner at least a cult following if not a full-blown rebirth of popularity. Two recently release games; Orion: Dino Horde and Forge, have managed to stick around despite their rather rocky debuts. But even with their tendency to persevere, are these games worth your time and money?

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A Little Background….

If the name “Orion: Dino Horde” sounds somewhat familiar, it’s probably because you’re remembering the game’s previous title “Orion: Dino Beatdown.” Developed by Spiral Games Studios, the original Dino Beatdown was promised to be a fun and thrilling co-op shooter in which players would be pitted against hordes of ravenous A.I. dinosaurs. The game contained all the hallmarks of a great shooter title; drivable vehicles, a variety of different firearms and upgrades, and several expansive maps. But if the game’s 2012 launch could be summed up with one word, that word would be “disastrous.”

Horrible dino A.I., frequent glitches and crashes, a horrendous matchmaking system that often dumped players into empty servers, and a whole host of broken or straight up missing features quickly turned Dino Beatdown from a promising co-op shooter into a laughing stock of the PC gaming community. Spiral Game Studios promised to fix the game through post-release updates and patches but, sadly, the damage had already been done. Many assumed the game would fade from memory before long but the saga of Orion wasn’t quit over.

A few months after Dino Beatdown’s release, Spiral Game Studios announced it was taking all of the game’s assets, retooling and rebuilding them from the ground up, and re-releasing the game under the new title Orion: Dino Horde. Unlike the first game’s barebones setup, Dino Horde promised five different cooperative and competitive modes (up from Dino Beatdown’s offering of one), nine different dinosaur opponents to battle against (up from Beatdown’s three), and roughly twice the number of weapons and upgrades from what was offered in Beatdown.

After an extensive beta testing period (something Dino Beatdown didn’t have), Dino Horde officially released last week and, as a sign of good faith, Spiral Game Studios has given everyone who purchased Dino Beatdown a free upgrade to Dino Horde.

Forge, from developer Dark Vale Games, doesn’t have quite the elaborate story as Orion but, much like Orion, it is working hard to re-establish the PC community’s trust. When it was first announced, Forge promised to be the quintessential PvP fantasy/action online game. Featuring fast and frantic class-based third-person-shooter gameplay, a purely cosmetic progression system that kept every player on an even power-level, and many other popular “MMO PvP” features minus the subscription fee, Forge was setting the bar rather high for PvP fans.

Sadly, much as was the case with Orion, the reality of Forge’s release last December didn’t quite meet the fantasy that was built up by Dark Vale Games. A paltry offering of different maps and classes, a confusing matchmaking system that required players to exit out of the game in order to join servers, and a grindy progression system that was actually missing several reward tiers left a bad taste in many players’ mouths. Fortunately, Dark Vale Games has made good on its promise to support the game with updates despite its floundering sales but Forge still has a long way to go in order to live up to the fantasy it promises on its Steam page.

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An Investment Well Spent?

Currently, Orion: Dino Horde is $15 on Steam while Forge is $20. Deciding whether or not the games are worth those asking prices is entirely a matter of perspective. Having played both games, I’d say that based on what’s available in each game as of right now, Orion is *barely* worth the asking price while Forge isn’t in the slightest. Both games offer at least a few hours worth of gameplay; the inclusion of Steam achievements, different modes and maps, and various in-game rewards helping to extend those hours, but aside from the hardcore crowd, neither title really has any potential for longevity in their current forms.

Forge’s progression system is still tedious and grindy (and useless if you don’t care about unlocking new cosmetic upgrades or tweaking your stat values), Orion doesn’t even have any progression outside of the aforementioned Steam achievements, Forge’s control scheme still feels confusing and unwieldy, and Orion’s single cooperative mode (the other four are all PvP-centric) gets repetitive fast and has next to no replay value, again, outside of earning obscure achievements.

That being said, there is the undeniable fact that both developers have proven they’re willing to support their games despite their shaky starts which hopefully means both games have nowhere to go but up. If you can find them on sale, I’d highly recommend picking them up if only to see first-hand how each game has already improved from its launch state, and how each game*will* improve in the future. It’s up to you to decide whether or not paying for what will eventually be two solid indie titles is worth your money, but I say if you can find them for cheap, Orion and Forge are both pretty safe bets.

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Refining The Experience

So now that we’ve looked at the past and present of both Forge and Orion, what about the future? Below I’ll put down a list of improvements, tweaks, and other features I’d like to see added to both games in the coming months. Naturally, it is all a matter of personal preference, but I’m confident my suggestions would resonate with other players in both games.

For Forge, some obvious improvements would be more playable classes and more maps. The game’s current selection of classes don’t really stand out as testaments of innovation; you’ve got your basic healing/buffing class (Shaman), your “tank” and “stealth” melee options (Warden and Assassin), and a choice of either physical or spellcasting ranged classes (Pathfinder and Pyromancer). This small selection wouldn’t even be that bad if the classes could be customized from the get-go but unless you’re willing to sink countless hours into grinding up each class’s progression tree for new skins and armors, there is virtually nothing customizable about each class except which keybinds you want to assign their skills to. Maps are another issue; the current offering is ok, but it couldn’t hurt to have a few more options.

Speaking of Forge’s progression system, it could do with a facelift. Despite one of the game’s chief promises of no grinding, that’s exactly what the progression system, with its total of 100 ranks perk class (meaning 500 ranks in all) feels like. I’d say a more manageable and enticing system would be 20-30 ranks per class with each rank offering a tangible cosmetic reward (getting to tweak a class’s stats, while strategic, isn’t very engaging). Different armor skins, weapon skins, genders for each class, maybe even new visual effects for skills and powers would go a long way towards building up the game’s replayability.

Orion is another title that could benefit from more in-game incentives. In its current state, the game lacks any meaningful progression outside of its Steam achievements. New weapons and upgrades are earned on a per-game basis which means every time a player joins a new game they start with no upgrades and only a basic pistol.

Personally, I think a much better system would be to implement persistent progression through ranks that slowly unlock new weapons and upgrades for permanent use on a player’s character. Upgrades would still have to be purchased with cash earned in an individual game, but having that persistent presence of progression and unlocks would certainly help to keep players coming back for more than just achievements.

More cosmetic options would be nice as well. Orion’s three different playable classes (Assault, Recon, and Support) offer a solid core of gameplay options, but getting to customize our character’s outfit and armor colors without delving into the game’s cash shop would also be nice and, again, could tie into the persistent progression element. More tangible goals for the game’s survival co-op mode would be a welcome addition as well since “defend this base” or “defend this generator” can get stale rather quickly.

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Final Thoughts

Paying for what a game *could be* as opposed to what it *is* is always a risky endeavor. As players, we’re in the unfortunate position of always being at the mercy of the promises and fantasies built up by game developers and it can be a crushing blow when those promises end up ringing hollow. However, both Orion: Dino Horde and Forge are proof that resilience and dedication can keep otherwise mediocre games from the brink of failure.

Even more than that, the perseverance of both Spiral Game Studios and Dark Vale Games has lifted both of their respective games from the bowels of obscurity and, slowly but surely, elevated them into the realm of passable entertainment. Only time will tell if either of these games can rise even higher to the point of being able to garner and sustain a large community but I’m confident that both Orion and Forge are on the right track.

Since this isn’t technically a review and since both games still have a lot of future potential, I don’t think it’d be fair to assign them official scores in their current state. I will say this though: whether you find enjoyment in either or both of these games, as with any game really, is a matter of perspective. Take what I discussed in this article with a grain of salt. Go out and research these games if they still sound interesting despite their flaws. I’d personally argue that taking a leap of faith with either Forge or Orion is a risk worth taking but, at the end of the day, it’s up to you how you choose to spend your money.

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