Arma Reforger is not Arma 4. Bohemia Interactive has made that abundantly clear during the slightly confusing rollout of the new entry in the storied military simulation series, which hit early access on Steam last week. Instead, it’s meant to be a “test bed” for features and design choices that may or may not be integrated in a future numbered franchise entry, which means that in every sense of the word, Reforger is unfinished. Textures flicker in and out of reality, flagrant bugs litter the battlefield, and nearly all of my matches ended in a sudden, anticlimactic disconnect from the server. In its current state, Bohemia’s latest is a deeply frustrating experience. And yet, when everything comes together, Reforger is still totally capable of mustering that steely, one-of-a-kind Arma immersion.
Arma 3, the previous game in the series that launched almost a decade ago, is one of the most expansive video games ever made. The spirited Arma community has been blessed with countless expansion packs and a thriving mod scene, which has given rise to other PC classics like DayZ and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Reforger, on the other hand, effectively shipped with two modes: a capture-and-hold warfront on a grand scale, and a “Game Master” variant that allows one player to edit the action in real time like a D&D dungeon keeper. Both of these take place on the same map; an impressively gigantic fictional Atlantic island called Everon which originally appeared in Bohemia’s Operation Flashpoint all the way back in 2001. And just like Flashpoint, Reforger takes place in 1989, with a fairly boilerplate US vs. Soviet gestalt.
Anyone coming to Reforger expecting the barest set of first-person shooter features — like say, any semblance of a single-player mode — will be sorely disappointed. Instead, it functions like an alpha test unloaded for the most dedicated members of the Arma community. The problem is, alpha tests usually don’t cost $29.99, which is what Reforger is retailing for right now. There are certainly hardcore players out there who will relish the chance to nurture the next chapter of Arma from its earliest, primordial stages, but as a more casual fan, I frequently felt like my time would’ve been better spent further exploring Arma 3.
My Arma Reforger matches tended to go one of two different ways. Sometimes I was dropped in the middle of a map, on a server that appeared to have no other human souls occupying it. The environment is gorgeous — Bohemia has imported all of its work to the new Enfusion Engine, which powers a much more vibrant environment compared to the relatively staid Arma 3. (Lakes shimmer in the sunlight, patches of grass drift in the wind. It doesn’t pack the same visual punch as something like Battlefield 2042, but it’s a huge step up for the series.) I fumbled around in the wildlands, ambling between military encampments to sieged townships, not seeing a single enemy soldier until my PC mercifully sundered its connection to the playing field. If you are not already plugged into a dedicated group of Arma-attuned friends, then this will likely define a lot of your early travails with Reforger. Outside of a basic tutorial, Bohemia hasn’t provided nearly enough scaffolding to onboard amateurs to its universe, which seems especially shortsighted given how Reforger is the first game in the series to make its way to consoles. If this is to be Arma’s attempt to court a mainstream, shooter-playing audience, then it makes a horrible first impression.
But then there were other matches where I spawned in the midst of a dedicated group of milsim lifers, and in those moments, Reforger sings. Appreciating Arma requires a small bit of roleplaying faculty, and after ingratiating myself with a cadre of nice, capable troops and liberating a slew of outposts from our NATO oppressors, I felt horrible when I shot one of them in the face during a chaotic bout of friendly fire. (We were being assaulted from all directions. I got confused!) Arma’s simulation style is so much more slow-paced than its typical FPS brethren, and Reforger keeps all of the immersive tendrils that have defined the series in the past. There’s no minimap or radar, navigation must be orchestrated with a compass, and communication with distant battalions can only be achieved with radio chatter that gets increasingly fuzzy the further you are away. These really helped ground me in the landscape of Everon, and Reforger also allows you to outfit the various checkpoints around the island with sandbag barriers, vehicle depots, and armories, which lets the battle grow and evolve over time. Contrasted with the hypersonic murder-arenas of the average Call of Duty map, a round of Reforger feels like a far more rewarding long, attritional campaign.
These flourishes are simultaneously brilliant and maddening, and they’re best enjoyed with a group who are all on the same page. I found myself emotionally connected with my avatar’s life in a way that I simply don’t in other multiplayer games. In one memorable sequence, a partner and I crawled through the underbrush together towards an enemy’s headquarters, unsure if any resistance was waiting for us. A flurry of machine gun shells interrupted the silence, and I had no idea where they were coming from. I’ve been shot at literally millions of times over the course of my video game career, but for the first time ever, the nauseating dread of warfighting jumped off the screen. Reforger makes me feel the weight of the assault rifle in my hands, and when it functions correctly, it’s indispensable.
ArmA Reforger – First Screenshots
I do not mean to make Arma out to be a painful, traumatic dirge. In fact, this game can be quite funny sometimes. I’ve been in plenty of tipped-over jeeps as our driver took a hairpin turn a little too harshly; everyone in the voice coms screaming as we try to put it back on its wheels with the help of a hand grenade. (Hey, it works in Halo, right?) There is a certain comic poetry whenever you’re iced out by a random headshot from the wild blue yonder, if only because it reminds you that for all of our martial bravado, we are extremely mortal. Your mileage will depend on your demeanor, of course, but I enjoyed my time in Reforger the most when everyone I was playing with was willing to laugh after a fight went bad. To my surprise, I didn’t find Arma to be quite as skill-focused as, say, Counter-Strike or Valorant. It’s a game to be experienced, rather than dominated.
Of course, even my best sessions with Reforger usually ended with a server failure. There’s a meme going around the Arma subreddit about how almost none of the community have played a match to completion. It takes a long time to fully rout the rival faction, and with the stability being so fraught, you’re much more likely to watch the infrastructure go kaputt than finish off a crusade. That makes Reforger a difficult game to recommend right now. Bohemia is clearly still working out the kinks with the Enfusion Engine, and I’m not particularly keen to pay for the opportunity to be cast as an unpaid game tester.
I may have some talent for finding problems, though: I uncovered some glitches that torpedoed my games. At one point my character’s head was stuck turning over to the left; another time their finger was perpetually pointing forward as if the enemy was truly everywhere. There are a lot of issues, par for the course in any game in its earliest stages, which Bohemia has been transparent about. But for anyone who isn’t inclined to be on the absolute cutting edge of Arma’s future, there’s another milsim on the market that is a lot less buggy, has a wealth of features, and a decade’s worth of fan support. It’s called Arma 3, and it also costs $29.99.