Friday, September 18, 2020
It’s weird to think that only a few years ago, the term “battle royale” meant nothing to the average video game enthusiast. Now, it’s one of the biggest genres in gaming, regularly drawing in millions of players in titles such as Fortnite, Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone and even Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. However, this also means that the market for these types of games is quickly growing saturated. With large player counts essential for any game in a genre that regularly requires at least 50 players to start, you’ve really got to do something unique to stand out from the crowd. New battle royale Spellbreak does that with its brilliant sense of movement.
Spellbreak is, funnily enough, all about spells. You drop into battle wielding a magical gauntlet, each one possessing some sort of elemental power. You can choose to lob fireballs, create storms or carve tremors in the ground to take out your foes. This by itself is great, with each element offering a different kind of move set, and chucking boulders around or creating walls of fire almost feels like you’ve just dropped into the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender (the good cartoon, not the terrible film).
Where Spellbreak’s genius really lies is in how these attacks also play into your Battlemage’s movement. Equipping the ice gauntlet, for example, allows you to snipe far-off enemies with a precise shard of ice, but it also leaves behind a trail of frozen ground, which increases the movement speed of you and your team as you slide forward. You’ll find yourself settling into a rhythm of firing shots, skating forward and firing another shot, and it feels great.
Oh, and I probably should have led with this - you can fly. Just as a default power that every player has at the beginning of the game, you can fly upwards and hover in the air for a short time, and it’s executed really well. It accomplishes the same thing that Fortnite’s crafting does, by giving players a much bigger vertical space in which to evade, dodge and fire off attacks. However, where crafting at pace in Fortnite is a skill that requires tons of practice, insane reactions and some strong muscle-memory, Spellbreak accomplishes this with a simple button press. It’s easy to pick up for beginners, but still feels great to use, and, quite frankly, not enough games allow you to take to the sky.
Developer Proletariat, Inc. absolutely knows that great movement is one of Spellbreak’s strengths, and it builds upon this even further with collectible Runes you can find in the game. Each one grants a special ability, and these are great fun to play around with. The Flight Rune upgrades your hover to a full on Iron Man-style boost, allowing you to quickly cross the map or outrun the incoming spellstorm. The Featherfall Rune launches you higher and allows you the stay in the air for ages, firing spells from the sky, while the Teleport Rune quickly pings you to a new location.
All of these elements combine to make movement feel fantastic in Spellbreak, and it's especially useful to keep you entertained during long periods where you’re not running into other players to fight. When you do get into a skirmish, though, the combat proves to be enormously enjoyable, with different elemental powers combining in unique ways as Battlemages launch fire, ice, poison and more across dilapidated castles or verdant green fields. The art style is lovely, as well, offering a cel-shaded world that bursts with colour.
Spellbreak is not a perfect game by any stretch; the map is perhaps a bit too large, and the player count too small; there isn’t a lot of diversity in the environments; and the six elemental powers don’t feel entirely balanced. But for a battle royale title to even make a dent in the market these days, it has to excel in some way. Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Warzone have incredible shooting, Fortnite offers a community space unlike any other, and Spellbreak? Spellbreak absolutely nails the joy of movement in a video game.