Spellbreak Adds A Magic Touch To A Fortnite-Like Battle Royale
Lay down your arms for magical powers.
At a time when we seem to be flooded with battle royale games, it's been increasingly hard for new ones to find their place. Fortnite remains leaps and bounds ahead of all others in terms of popularity (which just launched a slew of new features in its Chapter 2, Season 1), and Apex Legends stands on solid ground as the premier FPS in this space. However, there seems to be room for games to offer fresh takes on the last-person-standing subgenre, and judging from our time playing the latest build of Spellbreak, developer Proletariat's magically infused battle royal seems to do just that.
Many elements of Spellbreak may be familiar to you if you've spent time with any of the battle royale games out there: you jump into large-scale deathmatches on a big map where everyone has one life and scavenges for good gear, and a ring gradually closes in on a random location, forcing fights between remaining players. But Spellbreak forgoes guns in favor of magic, and it's this premise that allows the game to be different. (See our gameplay video above where we won a match that came down to the wire.)
You start with a choice between six classes, each of which determine a roster of perks for a certain element-type and a starting magic gauntlet (the game's weapons). When you drop into a match, though, gauntlets of any element can be found as loot in the field, of which you can equip two simultaneously (one on each arm). Every element of gauntlet offers its own unique basic attack and special cooldown ability. For example, the fire gauntlet allows you to shoot chunky fireballs, and its special attack casts a wide wall of fire in front of you--or the wind gauntlet, which shoots fast, low-damage gusts and has a special that summons a tornado that can trap enemies.
Now take those two elemental gauntlets I described, and think about how they can interact with each other. A devastating combo would be to cast a tornado and light it up with a fireball to turn it into a damage-dealing firestorm. On the flipside, wind attacks can dissipate walls of fire to create a safe opening in your own or get past one from an enemy. There are other secondary effects to consider; the sniper-like frost gauntlet shoots deadly arrows, but when launched from the air, it leaves a trail of ice that players can skate across to traverse even faster. And with a poison gauntlet, you can turn that ice trail into a harmful strip of terrain that deals damage-over-time.
The elements of Spellbreak's combat are all reactive, no matter who's casting, and further possibilities open up when you begin coordinating spells with teammates. Combat feels a lot less predictable and more varied than traditional firefights you get from other battle royale games. You have to be measured in combat, though. Both basic magic attacks and jumping great heights cost mana, and this prevents you from simply spamming attacks and hopping or floating around everywhere. While mana regenerates extremely fast, managing the resource in fast-paced battles is the key to playing smart, and a sensible substitute for scavenging and juggling ammo types.
There is one other important piece to the game's gameplay dynamic, one it has in common with a fellow battle royale. Spellbreak's runes are non-offensive capabilities that can be extremely helpful for survival and work similarly to tactical abilities or ultimates in Apex Legends. Runes that proved most useful during my demo include the dashing technique that grants temporary invisibility and a howl that detects (and tracks) enemies through walls for a short period. In practice they are very similar to Wraith's Into the Void run or Bloodhound's Eye of the Allfather scan from Apex Legends, respectively. The catch is that runes are pickups you have to find while looting rather than predetermined character abilities that are dependent on who you choose. Thus, you never know what you may end up with or what you'll be up against in each match.
From our brief experience with Spellbreak's beta build, it seems to be incorporating parts of other battle royale games in smart ways while providing an identity of its own. The objective is the same, but the means for achieving it are much different.
One thing was certain in my session; Spellbreak delivers that particular thrill of battle royale, fighting to be the last player, or squad, alive. And once you adjust to the basics of its combat, you can then open yourself up to the nuances of its system of magic. What I felt, however, was less pressure to conceal myself or rely on cover. Of course, it's never a good idea to hang out like a sitting duck, but you're not as vulnerable as other battle royales when you're out in the open by nature of the ability to bob and weave through the air and the projectile style of spellcasting. Spellbreak feels less like a game of cat-and-mouse since magic spells emphasize positioning and proper timing more than having pure precise aim. I felt free to engage in open skirmishes and it's a relief in a genre that has relied on a sense of foreboding to heighten its stakes.
Nearly all other battle royales have revolved around guns--having the right one for the situation or straight up dead-eye aim. But Spellbreak's magic-based elements and their reactive nature to one another offers a new way to think about combat in the crowded genre full of lookalikes. From our brief experience with Spellbreak's beta build, it seems to be incorporating parts of other battle royale games in smart ways while providing an identity of its own. The objective is the same, but the means for achieving it are much different. Spellbreak is currently in closed beta for PC, and you can sign up for a chance to jump in.
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