After the disappointment that was Transformers: Earth Wars came close to giving a portable version of the characters but failed due to very limited control and utter repetitiveness, I’ve had a hankering for something new to fill that space in my life. I was of course very interested then when the first footage of Forged to Fight surfaced a few months ago.

Transformers: Forged to Fight is a fighting game starring, of course, the Transformers. Developed by Kabam and using similar gameplay to their previous title, Marvel Contest of Champions (which, despite loving Marvel comics I never got around to playing) you pit your ‘bot against another in Mortal Kombat.. Wait, wrong series.

While I haven’t played Contest of Champions, gameplay is broadly similar to NetherRealms’ portable Mortal Kombat and Injustice titles. You play with two hands, with your left thumb controlling movement while the right is combat. Swiping towards or away from the enemy moves you closer to or further from them, while swiping up and down sidesteps so that you can avoid ranged attacks. Holding down on the left blocks, to reduce bur not completely stop incoming damage. On the right, you can tap or swipe for light or heavy attacks respectively and tapping while at a distance uses your character’s range attack.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Transformers without alt modes and holding down on the right makes your robot transform into whatever it turns into and attacks in that form. Most of these are vehicle attacks ramming into the enemy but there are a few with ranged attacks as well. The combat is very responsive and, unless you get caught in an enemy combo you’ll always end up doing what you were wanting to so which is always a concern with fast paced mobile games.

As you fight, a special meter builds up at the bottom of the screen. Depending on the level and quality of the bot, it can have up to three levels of special attack, and you can use level 1 as soon as it charges or hold on for level 2 and so on. These attacks, particularly with high level bots, can be devastating and will often drastically turn the tide in a battle.

The most substantial mode of Forged to Fight is the story mode, following Optimus Prime and a group of Autobots who find themselves trapped on a strange planet. Quickly they find that universes are converging, and come up against different versions of themselves and other Transformers from the live action movie universe. Currently there are three acts to the story, the third having been recently added, with each act made up of a number of chapters themselves containing multiple stages. Every few stages you’ll get a short conversation between a few of the characters that (slowly) moves the plot along – I’ve not yet finished the story as the difficulty level ramps up a bit and I’ve not got my characters that high yet.

Aside from the story, you have arenas where you compete against other players teams to rise up the leaderboards to win select characters or other prizes; raids that pit you against player’s bases; tough alliance missions where you work together with other members of your alliance; the daily challenges for sparks to increase your characters in rank and then any special missions or events that might be running.

The characters in the game come in a number of rarity levels, 1-star to 4-star. Somewhat disappointingly, there’s no visual difference between the different star versions of the characters and aside from keeping some around for the lower PVP tiers there’s little incentive to want, keep or level them up. I’d expected a system more like Galaxy of Heroes where each character is unique and you improve them to increase their rarity so you don’t end up with multiples of the exact same character or at least cosmetic differences to justify keeping three Optimus Primes for example. The higher rarity versions of the characters allow you to take them to higher levels and have extra special attacks that do make them significantly more powerful, however.

As you build up your team you’ll inevitably end up with a handful of characters that you use all the time. I got fairly lucky to start off with and got 3-star versions of both the classic and movie Optimus Prime, so they’re regular members of my main team. With the left over characters, you can assign them to guard your base – it’s these assigned ‘bots that players will face when assaulting your base in raids.

The graphics while fighting are pretty great, possibly the best I’ve seen on a mobile game. While you don’t get a setting as such in mobile games, it appears to run at my phone’s native 2560×1440 resolution and there are no slowdown problems or lack of anti aliasing. The bot models are detailed and well animated, and they’re wonderfully blocky and colourful in all the right ways. The classic Generation 1 characters are all designed on their most recent toy (which for many is also the IDW comics version of the character) while the movie characters are faithful to those designs while also simplifying and streamlining them somewhat so that they go together aesthetically a little better.

There is, perhaps, a little too much going on. During a recent event, I must have played over two hours in a single day just to try and get somewhere in the rankings and that doesn’t include time spent using the energy for raids and story missions that recharge over time. While this is more down to personal preference, for a mobile game to me that seems a little excessive. Most mobile games I play (or have played) can typically have their daily missions or whatever done within half an hour or so each day, and such a huge time sink isn’t something that I think can really be sustained long term.

This ties into another issue – while you spend a long time playing the game, there’s not a massive variety of characters as yet and getting them is a chore. While I’m sure that the roster will fill out over time (and indeed, with The Last Knight out next week I’m sure there will be some to tie in) at the moment there are only around 20 playable characters and four of those are only available so far through arenas and events. Given the level of details on each ‘bot I do understand that these will take more work to create than the lower quality characters in Galaxy of Heroes, to come back to that for an example, so I know that they won’t be able to release as many characters as quickly as that game does now.

I’m also possibly still a little bitter about Ultra Magnus, my favourite Transformer, being an Apple exclusive for the first month or so and then being released into an event so that I still don’t have him. I even spent possibly too much money on crystals when Magnus was available there, and only got duplicates of characters I already have – I literally got nothing for my money which left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth and will definitely stop me from buying any crystals in future.

There’s a daily free crystal, but this gives a random selection of either a mod to power up the spaces on your base or a character but again in my experience it’s been heavily weighted towards mods and I don’t think I’ve had a character from it in over a week. Honestly, I was on the verge of dropping the game altogether, until today’s update. Coming in line with most other free to play games, a daily/monthly login calendar has been added, with rewards for each. Looking at the rewards for the next days and weeks, there will be a fairly steady supply of shards for character crystals so fingers crossed I might actually get some new ‘bots soon.

Forged to Fight, sadly, is a game that I feel goes too heavily into pay to win territory. It’s mostly my love of the Transformers that kept me playing as long as I have, and they’re not a franchise with as large a built in fanbase as Marvel – given that free to play games live and die by how many people are actively playing (and by extension, some section of that will be paying) I am somewhat worried for it’s long term future. The gameplay itself is fun, but it’s the business side of things that surround it really that is the problem. Today’s update is a step in the right direction, and as long as they keep making some degree of content (and in particular, characters) available to players without having to pay a fortune, I think I’ll keep playing.