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Arma Reforger - The rest is yet to come

Arma Reforger is an early access prelude to what will eventually be Arma 4 - and it's best thought of as a proving ground for the new Enfusion engine

Arma 4 reforger hands on: A soldier driving a jeep, with sunset visible through the windscreen

It’s the middle of the night, and my squad is gathered at the end of a small airfield on the northern tip of Everon. There’s a nervous energy in the air as the distinctive army-issue right-angle flashlights flit back and forth in the darkness. None of us are sure what we have to do or where exactly we’re going, but we know it’s going to be exciting. Someone drives by in a jeep, ploughing through the barbed-wire fence and rolling it into a ditch. It’s just like the real army.

This is Arma Reforger‘s only fully featured multiplayer mode, Conflict. It’s set on the 51 square kilometre island of Everon, where Arma oldheads will remember tramping around back in the old days of ArmA: Cold War Assault or Operation Flashpoint. In Conflict, teams of American and Soviet forces compete for control of various bases and strongpoints across the island, and the winner is whoever can capture the radio located in the enemy headquarters building.

I’ve never seen that happen in the week I’ve been playing Arma Reforger, but it’s hardly the point. Conflict is a good time, with a spare but workable mix of Cold War-era light infantry roles and wheeled vehicles that seems to generate exciting Arma moments at a familiar Arma pace. I’m free to run off on my own, of course, but usually that results in a long walk punctuated by a swift death – and it’s far more fun to ride along with other chaotic players just to see what happens.

Teamwork really works, and it feels great to sweep into a military camp in the mountains alongside a coordinated team, planting our flag outside the camp HQ as the crackle of small arms fire fades like a bag of microwave popcorn just hitting the ‘burnt’ phase. When you find a lively server, Conflict is a distillation of a lot of the stuff that’s always made Arma fun.

Arma 4 reforger hands on: First person view a person holding a gun walking down a forested hill

Outside of Conflict, however, there’s not a lot to do in Reforger – at least, not yet. There’s a helpful tutorial that will give you some of the basics of Arma and Conflict, and a ‘game master’ mode that lets one player drop AI units, vehicles, and events into the map on the fly. Reforger also arrived with one official Bohemia mod, a more compact game mode called Capture and Hold. Dozens more mods have shown up in the Workshop since launch – alternate versions of vehicles, new weapons, tweaked rules, and more.

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If that lights up the neurons in the Arma section of your brain, then you’re who Bohemia Interactive had in mind with Reforger. The goal for this game is to act as a soft launch for the company’s new Enfusion engine, so modders (and to some degree, players) can get acquainted with the new tech, which completely replaces the creaky old Real Virtuality engine Arma games have used in the past.

Enfusion feels like the next-gen upgrade Arma desperately needs. While it’s still recognisable as the often-clunky Arma system, it feels much slicker and more responsive than Arma 3 ever did. Everon 2.0 is the prettiest and best-sounding location in an Arma game to date, and it’s better optimised to take advantage of modern PCs. It’s also multi-platform, and so for the first time, modders will be able to share their creations with players on Xbox Series X|S, where Reforger is available as an Xbox Game Preview.

Arma 4 reforger hands on: a soldier looking through binoculars across a field

Seasoned Arma vets who are coming in hot off of Arma 3’s extensive DLC catalogue and want the next generation version of that experience are not going to find it in Arma Reforger, period. There was always going to be some pain involved in going from a fully kitted-out copy of 3, fortified with key expansions like Apex, SOG Prairie Fire, and Tanks to a new vanilla base game. It’s important to understand that Reforger is not that new base game – it’s an interstitial piece, meant primarily to put the new technology into circulation, mainly so that community content creators will be up to speed and ready to hit the ground running when Arma 4 eventually arrives.

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It’s also worth noting that there are a few standard Early Access issues with Reforger at the moment. Connection quality varies wildly server to server, and in some cases I’ve struggled to stay in a match for more than five minutes at a time. When I can, I’ve frequently seen player animations without any of the usual interpolation that makes movement look fluid, and characters will disappear or show up in the incorrect seat in a vehicle. Once, while helping capture a base in the woods, I caught sight of a supply truck serenely flying off in the distance at an altitude of about 600 metres, doing a passable impersonation of a Cessna.

All that to say, getting in on the ground floor of Enfusion and the road to Arma 4 may not be worth your hard-earned $30 / £25. There’s simply not a lot here for series vets, who by now will mostly have a definite and bespoke idea of how they want to play Arma. Reforger will certainly grow over time, but it’s always going to be a prelude to the main event.

However, Reforger is a first glimpse into the future of Arma, and it’s an exciting one. Enfusion is a much-needed technological refresh, and this early look has made me eager to find out how much Bohemia Interactive can do with its new engine. In the meantime, Conflict is an enjoyable drop-in/drop-out multiplayer Arma experience, and I suspect I’ll be popping in regularly over the coming year to see how it’s coming along. The main event is still to come, but I’m happy to be part of the advance party.