Arma Reforger is a work in progress. That point was hammered home over and over again at a recent preview event hosted by developer Bohemia Interactive. It's been almost a decade since the release of Arma 3, and while a formal sequel is still on the horizon, the company is first offering a smaller, scaled-down version of their traditional warfighting precision. The goal, says Bohemia, is for Reforger to be a "bridge" towards Arma 4; using the platform as a testbed to gauge community feedback throughout the rest of the development cycle. That makes a lot of sense considering how Reforger, and the future Arma 4, are both headed to consoles for the first time in the series’ history. The studio now needs to answer questions it never had to ask before. Can a gamepad mesh with the complex logistics of a military simulator? Does the console audience even have an appetite for Arma's many quirks? You can understand why Bohemia wanted to dip their toes in first before taking a dive.
Arma Reforger is, in some ways, a reimagining of the first game of the series — 2001's Operation Flashpoint. A fictional Eastern European island from that game, Everon, has been fully remastered in Bohemia's new Enfusion engine, and players are cast as either Americans or Soviets in the keening, late-’80s apogee of the Cold War. I was granted access to a pre-release build, which gave me a tutorial and a few multiplayer servers that were otherwise abandoned by any other actual human players, and it was immediately clear that Bohemia's graphical retrofitting paid off. Pastures bloomed with dewy grass, trees lined the horizon on the impressive draw distance, glassy water lapped against the shores. Bohemia mentioned that development for Reforger has been difficult, likely because importing systems to a brand new gaming infrastructure is always challenging. But this new chapter of Arma is both beautiful, functional, and right in line with other triple-A shooters on the market.
Reforger plans on keeping the vibrant Arma modding scene alive and well. The main menu includes a link to the Workshop, where players will be able to upload their own bespoke creations directly to the game's servers. Reforger also includes a new game mode called Game Master, which is pitched as a way one player can effectively direct an Arma multiplayer match through the ebb and flow of battle. (It sounds similar to a DM in Dungeons & Dragons.) This should be a boon for diehards of the series; finally, a chance to play around with Arma's tools using modern technology.
Some PC lifers might fear that Bohemia's console pivot means that the studio will deemphasize some of Arma's more fiddly, hardcore tics. I'm not a milsim expert by any means, but from what I saw, those anxieties can be safely put to bed. Reforger keeps both the restless shooting mechanics and all of the administrative overhead; you will absolutely be hauling supplies to different checkpoints in order to construct vehicle depots and armories, and this remains a waypoint free experience. That means Xbox players are going to become very much accustomed with their compass and coordinates, as they triangulate where, exactly, the enemy lines are located.
But anyone spending the $29.99 on Reforger's early access release should know that, as of this writing, the game seems to be in its opening stages of development — especially compared to how fleshed-out and content-rich earlier games in the series are. Reforger has one gigantic map so far, and only two modes. One is the aforementioned Game Master suite of tools, and the other is a capture-and-hold rigamarole, which means that currently, Reforger has a dearth of single-player content outside of the tutorial. Compare that to Arma 3, which released an expansion focused on a literal alien invasion three years ago. It becomes clear that Bohemia has a long way to go before Reforger reaches feature parity with the rest of the series. (Right now, the studio is saying that Reforger will be in Early Access for about a year, with frequent updates occurring throughout the cycle.)
Unsurprisingly for a work-in-progress Early Access game, I also ran into a number of bugs during my playthrough, including some psychedelic visual glitches and a number of crashes as I attempted to load into matches. Remember, I was playing on empty servers, so I can't speak to the stability once everyone is piling onto Everon at the same time. I can only imagine that Bohemia is eager to see how their backend holds up.
But hey, these are the growing pains of any intrepid new platform. New Arma games are treated like seismic events in the milsim community, and Reforger – with its new engine and fresh debut on consoles – stands as one of the boldest ventures in Bohemia's history. We'll keep checking in as the war rages on.