In playing the updated beta of Spellbreak, refinements to core mechanics helped its best qualities show.
Late last year, I got my first hands-on with Spellbreak, the indie battle royale game from Proletariat Inc. I've seen and experienced the evolution of the genre, from the days of janky mods to full-blown AAA productions, so I'm a bit skeptical of another one coming onto the scene unless it's doing something to separate itself. But having recently played an updated beta, I was reminded that Spellbreak stands out in a saturated genre, laying down the guns for magic and trading suspense for hectic arena-style fights.
Spellbreak's Style Of Battle Royale
Your first impressions might be to think it's riffing off of Fortnite because of some slight similarities in environmental art style or color palette; however, in terms of gameplay, the parallels end at the battle royale foundation. No, you don't create structures and enemies can't transform into towering buildings the moment you fire at them. Instead, Spellbreak's depth comes from the RPG-like class system, with distinct elemental affinities and gear variety fundamentally changing your capabilities throughout a match.
(Note that the gameplay video above is from the earlier beta in October 2019 and changes have been made to the game since then.)
When it comes to classes and their gauntlets (basically, weapons), you'll have six to choose from: Frostborn (ice), Conduit (lightning), Toxicologist (poison), Pyromancer (fire), Stoneshaper (earth), and Tempest (wind). Standard spells each have different characteristics--for example, the Pyromancer's fireballs lay heavy damage and cover a wide attack range but travel slower than the Frostborn's precision ice arrows that require pinpoint accuracy. And each one offers a unique cooldown ability to mix into your combat approach, too. Essentially, each class accounts for a preferred playstyle but experimenting with a combination of elements is where the real fun's at.
The flexible gear system is what adds depth; your chosen class at the match's start determines your first gauntlet and main attacks, but you'll loot a second gauntlet to simultaneously equip for your offhand. Not only does this allow you to mix up the attack rotation, getting the elements to react with each other presents devastating combat opportunities as well. A personal favorite between my two beta runs was to cast a tornado and light it up with a fireball to create a high-damage trap, which you can also do with toxic attacks to make a poisonous storm. The permutations that each player can toy with makes combat less predictable, and while skilled aiming is still part of the equation, clever use of your build's abilities is imperative.
Building Your Character Before And During Matches
The recent beta I played featured a newly streamlined inventory management so you spend less time fumbling with items. Consumables for healing and armor have dedicated slots, and equipment (belts, boots, and amulets) simply swaps out when you loot for higher-tier pieces in the field. Simplified gear systems have been a key trend we've seen over the years in making battle royales more enjoyable, and it appears that Spellbreak has taken note. Personally, simpler is better especially in a game type that has you juggling several mechanics amid chaotic, high-stakes fights.
The most significant feature that's been fleshed out since the first beta run is the Talent system. Before a match, you pick and choose from an assortment of perks between three categories (Mind, Body, Spirit) using a limited pool of six points. You'll have to be selective, having one from each category where some cost more than others. Talents further emphasize the RPG influence of Spellbreak and the importance of understanding the advantages of building around each class. And by allowing Talents to upgrade within a match through looting Scrolls, it gives you something more to strive for without overwhelming you in unwieldy systems.
Aside from leveling up Talents and finding high-tier versions of loot, each player automatically gets enhancements to their class gauntlet each time they make it to a new safe zone. These usually consist of buffs or added effects to basic attacks and can significantly change your combat approach.
The Rune system remains intact, which are non-class specific cooldowns found in the looting process; these offer abilities like temporary invisibility, enemy detection, or teleportation, though you can only equip one at a time. It's yet another layer that plays into the customization and character-building aspect that emerges within each match.
Freedom Of Movement
Lately, I've been putting a ton of time into Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's battle royale Warzone, which has been a great time outside of the occasional frustrations associated with the genre. So when I think about how Spellbreak contrasts with the tactical military style of Warzone, the more I look forward to not having to go through some of the same motions. It's not just in the emergent character builds in Spellbreak, but also in the freedom that comes from the game's movement style.
In Spellbreak, you're able to soar through the air and float about free of fall damage, and not worry so much about getting picked off while running across a field or concealing yourself in fear of a low time-to-kill. The pacing and tension feels different because of that; conflict isn't something to dread. It affects how combat plays out, often leading to face-to-face bouts with players trying to outsmart one another. Here, you'll see mages blasting off flashy spells trying to telegraph enemy movements to lead their attacks while dodging midair. Discretion isn't necessarily the key to this battle royale.
Closed Beta And Patch Update
Spellbreak has shown how it's distinguishing itself from the myriad battle royales out there, and so far, its core systems and mechanics have a lot of promise. However, its longevity and sustainability will lie in things like player progression, modes to freshen up the standard battle royale format, and evolving as a service game.
Of course, much of that isn't set in stone as it's currently running a closed beta for PC and PlayStation 4 with cross-play enabled. You can sign up for it on the official site (or purchase one of the founder's packs to get instant access and a bunch of cosmetics and in-game currency). This latest beta implemented Spellbreak's 2.1 patch which features a ton of fixes and tweaks as well, so the game is sure to change as it continues to develop.