How Spellbreak Breaks the Generic Battle Royale Spell(Break)
Spellbreak, from Proletariat, Inc., is yet another battle royale game for the pile.
Wait, no! Come back! It’s pretty good!
I’m not a battle royale guy. I’m not really an online multiplayer guy, truth be told. I put my time into Team Fortress 2 back in the day, and I played an unhealthy amount of Overwatch back in 2015 when I was slightly more depressed than I am now, but other than that, it’s never been my thing. As such, the battle royale phenomenon has largely passed me by.
I am, of course, aware of Fortnite. In fact, I have a lot of respect for it. Well, sort of. While I loathe Epic’s revolting attempts to weaponise their fan base of children in a legal battle with the even more repugnant Apple, I admire the simplicity and ubiquity of their product. When they’re not making tacky references to George Orwell novels they haven’t read (the only people who reference 1984 are people who haven’t read 1984), Epic are kings of the battle royale with a game so popular and marketable that it almost certainly keeps PlayerUnknown up at night wondering what the hell happened. It’s the great equaliser of the playground, available for free on practically every device with a screen and an internet connection. The idea that kids from all walks of life have a better chance of being able to participate in the current phenomenon is fantastic. Nobody wants to be the kid left out.
I played a couple of games of Fortnite when it first launched (somehow winning my very first game entirely by accident before immediately sucking thereafter, more on this later) but it wasn’t for me. I love it in theory, but not in practice.
All this is to say: Spellbreak has succeeded in getting its hooks into me where Fortnite failed. Spellbreak caught my eye during Gamescom’s Opening Night Live and is more or less the only thing I remember from that presentation. Wasteland 3 might have excited, had I not already been playing it on Game Pass during the announcement. I digress.
Spellbreak’s distinctive art style, which feels pleasingly derivative of Breath of the Wild, immediately drew me in. So attractive is the art direction and general vibe of the game that I was willing to overlook it belonging to a genre I have little interest in and downloaded it as soon as I could. Hey, it’s also free! (I also keep referring to it as ‘Spellbreakers’ because that’s a better name. You’re welcome, Proletariat. Hit me up on Twitter for my fee and Ko-Fi link.)
Spellbreak should feel immediately familiar to anyone who has played a battle royale before. Huge map, 42 players, ever-closing death circle. It’s everything you’ve come to expect, with a fantasy RPG twist. Players choose an elemental class from a list of six at the beginning of every match. The different elemental classes feel suitably unique and offer a substantially different experience beyond different coloured projectiles. For example, the Frostborn class’s primary attack, Ice Lance, leaves a frozen trail in its wake. The player may then skate on the ice trail for an increase in speed. It’s very cool. (Pun not initially intended, but retroactively intended given further consideration.)
Your chosen class levels up when the next designated safe zone is reached, up to Level 4, with each level unlocking one of the class’s skills. Following class selection, players (either solo or in a squad) drop into a sprawling, varied map known as the Hollow Lands, which is littered with chests packed with loot. This loot includes belts to facilitate the use of armour and health restoratives, boots that increase your speed, and amulets that increase your mana (your pool of magic juice that you use to cast spells and hover). There are also Scrolls, which can be read to raise the effectiveness of your equipped buffs, and artifacts of varying tiers that provide a number of additional abilities, such as flight, invisibility, and teleportation. Most significantly, secondary elemental gauntlets can be found and equipped, allowing for the combination of the two equipped elements, leading to devastating effects. For example, combining a toxic cloud with a fire spell will yield a delightfully explosive cloud of death. Similarly, conjuring a whirlwind and then hitting it with lightning magic will combine the two into exactly what you want and expect. These are very satisfying to pull off and add a little extra something to the already immense pleasure of watching your foes explode in a shower of their own hard-earned loot. It’s easy to learn and difficult to master, and one gets the impression that high-level play will consist of the tactical use of specific elemental combinations to combat and nullify skilled opponents. There’s a lot more depth here than simply flinging fireballs at folk.
Progression is measured both by individual class levels, distinct from the levels gained in matches, and an overall Mage Level. The class levels grant the aforementioned buffs, while Mage levels dole out the in-game currency for use in the store.
Speaking of which, let’s talk monetisation. At the time of writing, it’s not terrible. Everything is cosmetic, which is important regardless of what the industry and its bootlickers tell you. It’s a huge part of the experience, which is why they want to sell it to you. However, nothing available in the store at the time of writing is terribly appealing, so it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling compelled to purchase the in-game currency (available at all the standard price points you’ve come to expect), so I’ll let it slide for now. It’s a free game, after all. As stated above, currency can be earned in game, though I’d like to see it accrue at a faster clip than it does at present.
“It’s just cosmetic!” – You, probably.
Being fairly multiplayer-averse, I found dropping in solo to be the most fun. Not only was I free of the perpetual chunterings of twelve-year olds and the sound of somebody chewing with their mouth open, but I was able to tackle this thing at my own pace. It does feel rather lonely, however. I can imagine teaming up with friends, selecting classes and powers that complement each other, and generally having each other’s backs in the Hollow Lands would make for a good time. After all, everything is better with friends, apparently.
After completing the tutorial and mastering the basics, I jumped into my first game, and performed unexpectedly well. I mean, really well. I didn’t win due to my own clumsiness (I don’t want to talk about it), but I placed highly. Suspicious of this uncharacteristic success, I hit Google, and found other players with similar concerns. Speculation was rife that the game populates matches with bots, and that a players first match is entirely comprised of these fictitious foes. I reached out to Proletariat regarding this, and they were kind enough to respond with the following:
“The first match following the tutorial is an introductory match where players play against a server of almost entirely enemy AI. As the player progresses through their first couple of matches they compete against fewer and fewer enemy AI. A few matches into the game the player will face all real players. This is intended to give players a chance to learn the innovative new mechanics in the combat and progression systems.”
There we have it. I still suck. Balance has been restored! I have since come to learn that my treasured Fortnite win was likely the result of this sort of system too. My confidence has taken a hit, and I will be accepting praise and gifts.
So that’s Spellbreak; a game that isn’t called “Spellbreakers,” no matter how much I want it to be. I’m into it, and I can see myself putting a decent amount of time into it over the coming weeks. This isn’t a review, and I won’t be assigning a score. Games like this are constantly evolving, and with Spellbreak very much in its infancy I expect there’s still a great deal more to see.
As of now, the official JumpCut PLAY verdict is “it’s quite good and you should play it”/10.