Disclaimer: the reason this review took so long is because I had been waiting to see if the proposed update was going to add some motive, or story, or some bloody direction to the game. Turns out, it doesn’t.
I started Citadel: Forged With Fire with absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Now, some hours in, I have a vague idea of what I’m doing. I just don’t see the point in doing it.
As the disclaimer above says, I was initially wondered if my pre-release review code was just to tide me over until they’d patched in some kind of objective, or quest, or story. Something, anything, to give me a purpose in this rather vast looking game.
Sadly, the only comparison I can draw is that Citadel is a supermodel of a game: pretty to look, but clueless and lacking direction. Turns out, the premise of the game is to build your own fun. “Here you go”, the game says, “Go build your own, I dunno, fantasy adventure or whatever”.
So, Citadel is in essence a Minecraft DIY game for fans of the World of Warcraft aesthetic. A dark fantasy sandpit to create your own fun, that sadly has such a steep learning curve you’ve got to wonder who exactly this was aimed at for the target audience.
Let’s see what we can gleam from this, shall we?
Beginning with a positive, Citadel has the funniest character creator I’ve seen in an RPG. I don’t think it was intended to be funny, but when you can randomise it and be left with a purple skinned, massive troll-armed, bean-headed monstrosity it’s hard not to laugh. I named him Poot.
Jokes aside, there are some very in-depth creation sliders for all your ‘Rings fans to create your Gandalf-alike, or your Dumbledore (Harris or Gambon), or any other grand looking wizard of choice. However, wizard is your only “style” available, given the nature of the game. You can give yourself a pretty decent physique if you want to, but you’re still going to be a buff looking spell-chucker. But as it was, fate threw the dice and I stuck with Poot, the giant purple freak of nature.
But after that brief, dizzying high of the character creation screen, my enthusiasm dropped hard after being born of the flame into what can barely be considered a tutorial. I’ve said before how it’s nice that games are starting to introduce a more “learn it yourself” way of play, not relying on handheld checkpoint gameplay, but there’s a limit.
Citadel does very little in telling you what to do. You’re born of fire (oh, hence the title) and you’re just left to… wander about a bit? Oh, there’s someone with an exclamation mark over their head. Standard RPG trope that, and surely enough, they have a quest. The quest in question? Scavenge up some wood and stone to make an axe. Alright, fair enough, there’s plenty of each lying around.
Then, the next is to find some ingredients. Okay, hardly pushing the boat out, but where am I going? Whilst I don’t expect an arrow pointing directly at it, some area of indication would be nice. For all I could initially gleam, there’s what looks like a big, glowing “field” around the imminent area. Perhaps that’s a limitation to where I can go right now…? Yet it is not, and twice I found myself wondering out of bounds and getting murdered by bears.
Okay, try again. Still struggling to find some of these ingredients… and you see the inherent issue at the start. Citadel wants you to have fun in your fantasy sandbox, but it doesn’t really do much to help you get started. When the ball finally gets rolling, Citadel starts to come into its own. It’s just that you’ve got to push that boulder up a steep slope before gravity does its thing.
What I’m trying to say is that Citadel has a terrible tutorial system. Most of my grind has been trying to figure just what the hell I was doing. Admittedly yes, this is what a tutorial is meant to guide you through. The Witcher 3’s tutorial, for example, was long, but it at least guided you in the right direction. It was tough, it taught you the basics but at least you got a general idea as to what you were doing. By comparison, Citadel just hands you the reins and expects you to know this shit already, oh grand wizard. It is frustrating, making me want to give up on the notion of building my own Unseen University very early on.
But alas, I persevered. I got mauled by a few more bears and wild boars, endured falling off of things in the name of finding deliberately obtuse materials to craft the rudimentary things needed to start building a two up, two down, and I started actually making something of this bloody game. But this what gripes me: why am I to required to make my own predetermined level of fun?
I should probably point out that I can’t stand Minecraft. Oh sure, I can appreciate what it’s done for people far and wide, and some of the creations that have come from the various creative minds around the world have been incredible. It’s just not for me, I put it up there with Fortnite as “something kids obsess over and I do not care for it”. It’s also why I interrupt Sean and Rossko waxing lyrical for bloody ages on the podcast about Fortnite, but that’s by the by.
I just don’t have the fortitude or creativity to want to build things on the grand scale that Minecraft allows, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate when people recreate a full-scale Castle Greyskull or Hogwarts. I tried not to colour my review of Citadel with the same general disdain I have for Minecraft, instead trying to get into an ARK: Survival Evolved or Rust mindset. And for the most part, it helped.
So, tiny shack and a few work benches built, I set about trying to make my own fun in this world of wizards and what have you: I built a broomstick. If the BAFTAS open a “Best Game With Broomstick Flying” then this’d take it. It’s the first real moment I started having fun in this directionless crafter, zipping about the admittedly beautiful landscape on my floor sweeper. For the online/multiplayer fan, there’s even a Quidditch-esque game to get stuck into… because of course there is. This game has been in early access (on PC) since 2017, I’d be disappointed if someone hadn’t thought of that. I briefly dabbled in it. I sucked, but it’s as near as a modern Potterism in an open world/online line we’re going to get until they make a special event for Rocket League.
By now, I’d had my little wizard’s cottage all set up, complete with a few work benches for all my crafting needs, I thought I’d take it upon myself to get revenge on the wildlife. Y’know, for killing me a few times due to my own incompetence.
A wizard is only as good as his magic, after all, so I felt it necessary to craft a few spells to vaporise a few bears. The spell crafting in Citadel is surprisingly in-depth, in as far as combining a couple of different effects to create a spell goes. For those that ever played any of the Breath of Fire games, it’s very akin to tinkering with different dragon genes and seeing what the results are. Some work wonders, creating large area of effect blasts, whilst others just meekly dribble out the end of your staff for not much so damage. The beauty is in the experimentation, the literal craft in spellcraft, to see what works for you. I had yet to find any massive dragons, though. I didn’t think I was brave enough.
Yet as I’ve mentioned previously, the fun in Citadel is what you make of it. Single player is all well and good if you want to build your own fantasy land and create your own adventures, but what about if you want to roam the land with your fellow wizards?
Citadel boasts an impressive game world, and thus can be filled with lots of players. Up to fifty in each self-contained world, in fact. Or, if you just want to explore with your friends, you can create your own private world for your friends, or join one of theirs.
And what is there to do, you might be wondering? Well… everything you’ve already been doing, but with other people. Granted, it doesn’t sound like much, but that is Citadel in a nutshell. One on glowing hand, you’re free to do whatever you want, take on some challenging monsters, raid other player’s structures and houses, or zip around on your not-Nimbus doing as you please. On the other, that you have to make your own adventure is down to the enthusiasm and limitations of what you want to do.
So that, in essence, is my tortured review of Citadel: Forged With Fire. As the disclaimer says, it took long enough to get rolling because the game itself did. There is no grand, overarching plot to save/destroy the world. It’s the game equivalent of an adventure novel, in which you decide what you want to do.
Do you want to build a nice, big castle and create a vast and sprawling magical utopia? Go nuts, settle in for the grind and watch it unfurl before you. Or do you want to roam the land like a gang of robed rogues, raiding players and pinching all of their stuff? You can do that too!
I could be glib and say it’s not for me, but then the question from that is, “Who is it for, then?”. As I’ve said, if you’re a fan of Minecraft, Ark, Rust or any of those open world sandbox-with-crafting games than this’ll be up your wizard’s sleeve. If you need direction or some sort of narrative to drive you, you won’t find it here.
There’s a host of things to do in Citadel, but that you have to dig deep and do it yourself may deter some people.
Citadel: Forged With Fire is available now on PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One and PC.
Developer: Virtual Basement
Publisher: Blue Isle Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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