Another day, another battle royale. Spellbreak may appear to be another drop in the battle royale bucket, but developer Proletariat applies enough nuance, fluidity, and care to stand out from the pack. Gone are the atypical artillery weapons and confines of modern war; instead, Spellbreak immerses players in a world of magic and a traditional medieval fantasy setting that allows enough deviation from the formulaic to stake its place in a trending genre.
The magical and mythological tone of Spellbreak allows the game to toe the line between familiarity and novelty. Granted, we all know what to expect from a battle royale, and all that is still here: dropping in with your squad, collecting your loot, and battling to survive a shrinking map until only one player or team remains. Yes, magical gauntlets with elemental-based attacks replace AK-47s and riot shields, but the stylized aesthetic and innovative approach to the method provides an enjoyable experience.
The minute you hit go, the apparent assessment will be that Spellbreak looks like Fortnite, which is understandable, but limited. There is a cell-shaded quality to character design, and the characters are more proportionality accurate, as slight as it may be. There are no quads to be found, but singles, duos, and trios can all be played. Regardless of the initial familiarity, once you dive deeper into Spellbreak, the disparities become clear.
Matches are quick and frenetic – for the most part – with a hefty mix of looting downtime and spell throwing action. Unfortunately, most games only had roughly forty or so players in each lobby for the time being. Depending on your landing, you could go a few minutes before seeing any action whatsoever. Considering the early stages of the title, it can be forgiven, but the map can easily house roughly 100 players to increase the frequency of enemy engagement. Modern Warfare’s 150 lobby cap would overwhelm the scale of the map. Sadly though, the environments lack variety. If you’ve seen the vestiges of one fallen castle, you’ve seen them all. With 50+ rounds under my belt, I still never felt as if parts of the map stood out from the rest; nothing developed into a potential hot spot or even an area to avoid, I just picked a landing zone and ran with it.
Landing onto the map is limited. Anyone looking for far-drops or distant glides should look elsewhere; you pretty much fall straight down with a slight slope. Spellbreak mitigates this by having portals across the map you choose to warp out from before starting the match. It works well, considering the limited flight, but changing landing zones on the fly is problematic. Once boots are on the ground, players can levitate instead of a double jump and a second tap of the jump button grants limited flight, with a mana bar regulating your time in the air. It seems like a relatively small addition but makes the navigation of the terrain both more accessible and more manageable than its battle royale counterparts.
Where Spellbreak excels in its unique combat mechanics and there’s a lot to unpack here. Proletariat refined the combat system to balance welcoming new players into the fold and to allow enough depth and breadth for the sweats. Initially, combat might feel chaotic, but not unlike many other titles of this ilk, you quickly begin to manage the chaos in your mind and controller. With any new title, there is a bit of a learning curve in coping with physics. The most significant curve will be handling how each spell is slung and course correction when levitating. Thankfully, targeting and button responses are accurate, and I never felt like the game cheated me out of a win.
The core of Spellbreak’s combat relies on gauntlets with six elemental abilities to master: Conduit (thunder), Toxicologist (toxins), Stoneshaper (earth), Tempest (wind), Frostborn (ice), and Pyromancer (fire). Each gauntlet has a light attack in the form of a spell and a stronger attack based in sorcery. Naturally, each spell type has a cool-down with light attacks taking less time. It might be easy to liken the elemental abilities to Avatar: The Last Airbender, but my mind immediately drew comparisons to the gauntlet system of Fable 3. Before a match, players choose their prime element, which will remain throughout the game. However, you can loot a second gauntlet and wield two components in tandem. Gauntlets vary in level as well, ranging from common to legendary, growing ever more powerful with each tier.
The most satisfying and intricate aspect of the elemental abilities is combining elements for a more potent attack. Sorcery attacks can come together for an assault that is both more powerful and visually appealing. Slam down a wall of flame with the pyromancer ability and hurl a giant stone through it to make a massive fireball; drop a cloud of toxin fumes and light it up with a well-placed flame. Spellbreak doesn’t hand you the guide to the combos and encourages testing it out for yourself. Not only does this improve singles play, but it adds another detail when working in unison with squadmates. And yet, each ability also has passive abilities; for example, laying down a sheet of ice across the ground allows you to skate across it Iceman style. The intensity of battle deepens with each closing circle. As you enter the smaller circle, your premier element’s abilities increase with each wave, meaning the final rings are packed with powerhouse mages wielding more powerful attacks and higher tier equipment.
If you’ve played any battle royales before, you know looting is a fundamental part of survival. Here, you’ll find gear by looting the map, opening chests and boxes, and from dropped items after killing other players. Equipment in Spellbreak can be broken down into three major items: boots that increase your speed, belts that expand your armor, and amulets that increase your maximum mana–a resource that powers spells and levitation. The upgrades don’t end there. Throughout the map, players can pick up a rune that grants an additional spell not tethered to the elements. Runes range from mediocre, like a dash ability, to the game changers like teleporting or becoming invisible. They also charge over time, but there’s a balance well, as the weaker runes have a shorter rejuvenation window.
Apex Legends set the standard with the ability to bring back allies from death. Proletariat applies a similar system, albeit in a limited manner, and by employing a magical tactic. Fallen players are “disrupted,” essentially becoming spirit like orbs with a count down timer. The sphere can move slowly and takes no direct damage from spells, but beware, an enemy can get to you and begin to dispel you. It takes roughly 10 seconds, and once you’re dispelled, you’re gone for good. There is a pinging system, but it was overly sensitive on the controller, and I found myself accidentally pinging incorrectly. Apex Legends and Modern Warfare have refined the system to the point where anything less feels substandard.
Where Spellbreak truly breaks from the mold is in its progression system. With a traditional battle royale, every new match is a blank slate, with everyone on equal footing. As you play your class and mage levels gradually, gaining XP and rewarding your time spent in-game. The result is divisive; one the one hand, it never feels like a match is a waste of time, and it incentivizes players to rank up multiple elemental abilities. On the other hand, players can grind their way to a decisive win, meaning sheer leveling can surpass skill. As your mage rank increases, you’ll earn gold, Spellbreak’s currency that can be earned in-game or by paying real cash. Like most of its predecessors, most rewards here are skins to stand out from the pack.
There are some cracks to be patched up on the title, but Spellbreak has the potential to be an enduring title. When all the components come together – a unique theme, a rich battle mechanic, and new approaches to the genre, the game turns out to be a pleasant alternative to the shooters gamers have grown accustomed to. Spells, runes, gear, levitation, and a reliable control system make Spellbreak an outlier in a genre brimming with competition. If nothing else, a game is meant to be fun. Did I have fun? Yes. Will I come back to Spellbreak every so often? Absolutely.
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