Following a thorough leak that appeared online (opens in new tab) over the weekend, Bohemia Interactive has confirmed the existence of two new Arma games: Arma Reforger and Arma 4. Bohemia is surprise launching Arma Reforger, an introductory version of what Arma 4 will eventually be, today in early access for $30 on Steam (opens in new tab).
You read right: there's a new Arma game out today, but fans eager for the next generation of Arma will have to check their expectations at the door. Reforger is a small slice of the Arma 4 experience that currently supports two multiplayer modes on a single map: the 51-kilometer island of Everon (a remake of the same map from the very first Arma game). The game is set in 1989 during a fictional conflict between the US and Soviet Union, 10 years after the original Arma: Cold War Assault.
Bohemia isn't treating Arma Reforger like a typical early access project. First weird thing: Despite running all the same tech that Arma 4 will, this is a standalone game from Arma 4. Reforger will not one day become Arma 4 and Bohemia isn't promising any Arma 4 discounts to Reforger's earliest adopters. Reforger is its own thing, though Bohemia says it hopes to make custom scenarios created in Reforger's new Workbench toolset forwards-compatible in Arma 4 someday.
Second weird thing: Bohemia only plans to update Arma Reforger for about a year. This is what Bohemia told press during a presentation last week, though a press release provided later says Bohemia is "pledging continued support" for Reforger after focus shifts to Arma 4. Unlike Arma 3, which in 2022 is a sprawling-but-aged military sim with years of expansions and loads of elaborate user-made scenarios under its belt, Reforger will have a shorter shelf life by design.
What's in Arma Reforger, exactly?
- One main multiplayer mode, Conflict, which sounds like a very large, very complicated version of Battlefield's Conquest
- Another mode, Gamemaster, that lets you edit and create modes in real time with other players
- Everon, a 51-kilometer map with tall peaks, valleys, beaches, and grasslands
- Some guns, a few vehicles
- Workbench: The new creative suite of the Enfusion engine that consists of the "very same tools used for development" of Arma Reforger.
Arma 3 players will immediately notice Reforger's limited scope. Series staples like tanks, jets, and singleplayer scenarios aren't in this $30 package yet. I suspect most of those features will arrive in an update someday, but it gives the impression that Arma Reforger is essentially a paid demo.
I had the same impression after trying Reforger's tutorial for myself over the weekend. There's not a lot going on in Reforger yet, but as someone who at one time sunk 100 hours into Arma 3, what's here is promising. Some improvements make it immediately clear that Bohemia has rewritten Arma from scratch. Most notably, basic shooting and soldier movement are different than I remember. For the first time I actually like how an Arma game feels. Running and turning is more responsive and quick without sacrificing the simulated weightiness of real life. Ditto for shooting: little things like weapon sway and aiming animations are less stiff and videogamey now, which goes a long way for selling the simulation.
Based on my limited hands-on, Arma Reforger feels somewhere between the hefty-but-snappy shooting of Squad and the looser movement of PUBG: Battlegrounds (a game that itself started life as an Arma 3 mod).
Arma's janky combat has always been forgivable because of its strengths as a sandbox for playing soldier with friends, but Reforger's gameplay is a major leap forward. At least, that's how I felt after 30 minutes of dinging metal targets with a M16 in the tutorial. As I write this Reforger isn't out yet, so there's little more to do at this moment than stare at an empty server list.
That said, I've never been much of a PvP guy in Arma. The main mode launching with Reforger, Conflict, is a persistent war mode about holding territory and capturing enemy radios (at least I'm pretty sure it is, the tutorial breezed by some of the rules too fast). I learned how to set up mobile spawn points and deliver supplies with a logistics truck, which is the kind of stuff I love to do in a round-based game like Squad, but I'm not sure I'll like as much in Reforger's larger, possibly more chaotic sandbox.
I'm much more interested in the bits of Arma Reforger that don't exist yet—and may not exist until Arma 4 comes out someday. I want to poke around in co-op scenarios against AI, taking my time navigating the landscape and clearing buildings without worrying about a random hilltop sniper controlled by username "iSnipeU789". My favorite part of the Reforger tutorial was the moment the game taught me how to use my compass (there just aren't enough games with dedicated compass buttons) to orient myself, distinguish landmarks on the map, and find my own way to the next objective. I'd take a whole campaign of isolated, behind-enemy-lines-style survival missions like that.
But for now Reforger is more of a test bed for Enfusion, the engine, than Arma 4, the game. Bohemia really wants its modding community to get its hands on Workbench, Enfusion's creative suite that is apparently the same tools the studio is using to make the game. The tools are in-depth enough that you apparently need a healthy understanding of C# coding to get the most out of them.
Bohemia's urgency to debut Enfusion makes sense. Bohemia really is starting from scratch with the new engine, and that means the modders who have been the lifeblood of the series for years are too. By the time Arma 4 comes out, a day apparently so far away that Bohemia wouldn't even speculate on a release year, it wants the most dedicated players to already be proficient with the tools that will make it shine.