It’s time for a new kind of battle royale.
The battle-royale wave some argue has been rode to death. The genre is ever popular without many signs of slowing down, and the titans of battle royales (BRs) continue to dominate. New entries to the field have been hit or miss. Games such as Hyperscape have proven to be…mostly hype, while more games are simply incorporating BR elements, like Vigor, a survival looter-shooter and the party battle-royale, Fall Guys.
The lines between what is, and what makes a battle royale are beginning to blur, but this is for the better, as we get standouts like this month’s Spellbreak from Proletariat. Distributed by Epic Games, Spellbreak fits somewhere between a lite BR and largescale arena combat. The result is fresh, fast and fun gameplay with visuals that don’t take themselves too seriously.
“Players launch spells at their foes from elements like fire, ice, and wind…it’s certainly got some Avatar: The Last Airbender like vibes.“
Fatigue of first-person shooters is understandable these days, especially when it comes to BRs, but Spellbreak livens up the playing field by encouraging wizards around the globe, and on several different platforms, to join in battle. Dropping from the skies onto an island, battle commences in manageable yet hectic 42-player matches. You’ll launch spells at your foes from elements including fire, ice, wind, stone, lightning and poison. It’s certainly got Avatar: The Last Airbender like vibes.
What is most enjoyable about Spellbreak is the fluid combat. Levitation is one of the fundamentals of movement when you’re not running on the ground. This adds an interesting dynamic of play, as during the most heated battles you not only have to try to hit often aerial targets, but you also must take care not to lose track of them.
Fight like a wizard, think like a wizard.
Escaping a firefight… err, spell-fight is often just as viable as winning one. In addition to your array of spells, runes located throughout the map can enhance your movement allowing teleportation, Superman-style flight, frog-like double jumping or invisibility. Spells can be combined as pickups, known as gauntlets, allow you to use an additional element in combination with an element you initially choose. Want to turn your tempest tornado into a firenado? You can. Want to set ablaze a cloud of toxic poison gas? You can do that, too. There are several “builds” and strategies you can utilize and your creativity is rewarded.
The whole formula is a refreshing change of pace from more grounded titles like Call of Duty: Warzone and Apex Legends, and is slightly reminiscent of Fortnite (without the building mechanics). Graphically, the game resembles Fortnite or a higher quality World of Warcraft, adding to its charm are vibrant cel-shaded visuals and color tones. This also allows it to be one of the select BRs that the Nintendo Switch can actually handle. So far, I’ve tried it on both Xbox One and the Switch, and while it certainly handles better on the Xbox One, nothing says convenience like being able to play a BR comfortably in bed, with The Office or Rick & Morty in the background on my TV. If playing on the Switch, be prepared for longer load times and dips in framerate.
Spellbreak’s environments are a tad bland. Aside from combat, Spellbreak isn’t really doing anything new.
Spellbreak’s environments are a tad bland. There are castles and fields, some desert and swamp areas, an abundance of dilapidated coliseums, but there aren’t really hot POIs. The locales of the game aren’t really going to stand out in your mind and one edge of the island is almost indistinguishable from its opposite end on the other edge of the world. Right now, however, it works. The environments aren’t meant to be awe-inspiring, they’re meant for you to pick up some quick loot before you go to battle, or quickly dispatch a stray mage or squad of mages looting just like you.
As far as BRs go, aside from the mage combat, Spellbreak isn’t really doing anything new. You loot health potions and armor potions (shields) like many other games in the genre, and worse still, these items are actually pretty scarce, especially near the final rounds. Third partying (rushing in to clean up combatants already engaged, or weary from battle) is easy to do. If you don’t run into an enemy player while flying around like Superman, you’ll likely see them from afar when they detonate a bomb of lightning or hurl a tornado at someone.
Often, this is how you will engage in battle, as well. A core tenet of most BRs is to listen for enemy footsteps or gunshots to gauge how close would-be attackers are to your character. In Spellbreak, you can use audio cues to your advantage, but often I’ve found I’ll realize I’m about to be in combat because I’ll hear spells when I am casting none, then realize as my health is depleting, “Oh, someone is attacking me.”
It can be rather confusing when playing with teammates because sometimes they may randomly cast spells for fun or in-between combat. Was that whoosh of wind you just heard your teammate leaning too heavy on the trigger button, or is another player on top of those ruins pelting you with mini-tornadoes?
In any case, once your health is depleted you become “disrupted” in team modes turning into a golden orb of light, if playing solo, you simply die. A disrupted player can still move at a snail’s pace, your only chance of survival being through restoration by a fellow teammate.
Should an enemy player get to your little glow ball of a body first, they can exile you resulting in your permanent death, and no, you cannot be respawned (unlike several other BRs). The one upside, though, the exiling process takes several seconds while your executioner stands perfectly still, an ideal opportunity for a teammate or a third party to destroy someone mid-exile. The reverse is also true, while killing someone or restoring a teammate, you must be acutely aware as you also leave yourself in a highly vulnerable state.
Spellbreak still claims to be in an early release “phase”, but it certainly looks promising.
The game released earlier this month, and limited pre-release builds were being worked on and in alpha (being play tested) as early as last year. I certainly did not even notice the game until it was featured on Nintendo Switch’s new release news board and the game still says it’s an early game preview, but it certainly looks promising. Proletariat’s roadmap for the game seeks to include more arena style matches, 9v9s, team deathmatch, and eventually new elements and loot. Players can dive in solo, duos or in three-person squads and the game supports cross-play as well as cross-progression.
Spellbreak is free-to-play on Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC and Nintendo Switch.
You can catch footage and my live streams of Spellbreak and many other games on Twitch and Youtube.