If the battle royale genre was an actual battle royale wrestling match, the ring would be crowded with dozens of contenders vying to come out on top. Heavy-hitters like Fortnite and Warzone might be the odds-on favorites to win it all, but up-and-comers are entering the squared circle every few months, it seems.
The latest of them is Rumbleverse, a free-to-play battle royale launching on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation consoles this Thursday, August 11. With its focus on melee and wrestling moves, Rumbleverse almost looks like the intersection of Fortnite and Super Smash Bros. in gameplay videos, and the team at Iron Galaxy is hoping its cartoonish grapplers can help the game get over with fans of wrestling or battle royale, and certainly anyone who likes both.
Speaking with Chelsea Blasko, co-CEO of Iron Galaxy, GameSpot learned how Rumbleverse came to be, what the team thinks of its new place in a highly competitive genre, and learned a handful of the game's wrestling-themed puns you'll find around Grapital City.
"I think at Iron Galaxy, it's not like we don't do competitive research or, you know, pay attention to what's going around us," Blasko told GameSpot. "But we really always think about competing with ourselves. I try not to get too in my head about what's going on with the rest of the genre."
Blasko said that Rumbleverse has been in development for four years. Its original pitch came out of an Orlando bar during a studio event. "A few of us were throwing out, frankly, a bunch of dumb ideas for what should we try next. And a couple of people were like, 'Oh, we should really make a battle royale that's just like really gruesome and gory and ripping people's heads off?' And I was like, 'Okay, but what if we did rasslin'?'" The idea took off from there with the intention to capture "wrestling with your siblings in the living room," hence, Rumbleverse's lighthearted style and world.
In the game's setting, the city's denizens have taken to wrestling to settle all differences and declare champions. Each player creates their own future champion featuring "over 14 points of customization" such as hairstyles, headwear, gigantic mascot cat heads--a popular item in the game's testing phase--and more. An added layering element, such as jackets with shirts, is meant to allow each player to create a heel or face with as much personality as the pro wrestlers on TV they lovingly caricature. It seems even local businesses and government are in on the joke, with stores such as Swolefoods Market and Clothesline apparel store setting up shop on streets named Pile Drive in neighborhoods like Gainsville.
The vibe is cohesively silly in every aspect, and while that may imply breezy mechanics, its fighter-like movesets seen in trailers suggest something more akin to a Smash tournament, where every attack has a counter and every German suplex has a potential reversal. That doesn't mean the game is unfriendly to newcomers, said Blasko. "What we wanted to do was make the game accessible, so you can pick it up and button-mash and still have a good time. But the goal is that you learn which moves that you like to use, you learn how to string together combos, you learn that weapons cause more damage, and then you're able to use some of those strategies to your advantage."
Not having gotten my own hands on the game yet, it definitely looks more complex than the grinning meatheads and chicken mascots you see in the game's screenshots might imply. But Blasko said there's room for all player types, and Grapital City's layout, particularly its verticality, will help some suplex-shy wrestlers stay out of trouble early on--before the map shrinks and eventually pushes them into conflict.
To be more approachable by players of all skill levels, the game also doesn't use character builds. A scrawny scrapper and a buff beefcake needn't worry about trade-offs on speed or strength, at least not inherently. Their physical differences are purely cosmetic, meaning your wins and losses will come down to who's the better fighter. Along the way, you'll find fitness powders that will build up your arm, core, and legs, allowing you to dole out and sustain more damage and have more stamina.
Like shield potions in Fortnite, no would-be champion should head into a fight with a bare minimum of defenses. And like any good wrestler knows, things get easier when you have a steel chair in hand. Special moves can also be discovered, turning pro wrestling's use of finishers into the top-tier loot in a loot pool free of firearms. Pro wrestling is nothing if not flashy, and Iron Galaxy looks determined to create a city full of mouthy, over-the-top champions fitting of the sports entertainment world.
Given that the game is published by Epic, I was curious what that process has been like. Epic seems to know a thing or two about building a live-service battle royale game, but doesn't mind publishing what could be seen as a future competitor, which I found interesting. "It's been a really collaborative relationship," she said. "They never want to push too hard. They never want to cross any boundaries. They really want it to be our product and want to support that. So I wouldn't say there's anywhere where they step in like, 'This is how Fortnite did it, so you have to do it that way.' It's like, 'Hey, we learned this, and take from that what you will and discuss it, and then we'll see if it works for us or if we're trying to do something different."
One thing the game may want to borrow from Fortnite, however, is a penchant for crossovers. I asked Blasko if the team ever thinks about--or maybe already has plans for--crossovers with the likes of WWE or AEW. "It's definitely something we thought about," she said. "I think, you know, we want to just get it out there and see how people respond and see what people are having fun doing. And then once we get a little bit of feedback and see what people are really excited about doing, kind of hone in on where it makes sense to really dive in going forward. But yeah, of course, we've thrown around ideas."
Blasko said the team already has plans for the game's first two seasons of content, including a debut first season that will launch on August 18, one week after the game goes live. It's come a long way since the team built its first animatic four years ago, intending to show it as part of a bigger pitch to potential publishers. "When my kid wanted to watch that thing 40 times in a row, I was like, 'There's gotta be a spark here.'" Players can tie their boots, drink their protein shakes, and smell what Iron Galaxy is cooking when Rumbleverse launches this Thursday, August 11, on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC via the Epic Games Store.
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