It wasn't exactly shock and awe when Hi-Rez Studios first revealed that they'd be creating a Battle Royale game based on their multiplayer game Paladins, because the success of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and then Fortnite: Battle Royale was always going to convince others (even Call of Duty) to jump on board and try their luck. But now the standalone package - called Realm Royale - has dropped in on the Battle Royale map to see how long it can survive, and considering the initially mixed reaction, we're actually surprised to say it's not half bad at all.
That's not to say that we were expecting low quality from Hi-Rez, but considering this mode was only revealed at the beginning of the year and is now being released for the public to try in a free-to-play form, it seems to have on the one hand captured very successful elements from its inspirations, as well as carving its own unique approach to proceedings (and no we're not talking about the inclusion of a zeppelin rather than a bus/plane).
Let's get the obvious comparisons out of the way first though, because it won't surprise you to hear that there's a map, you drop onto it, and a circle pushes all the players together for a grand finale. At first glance, it's your standard Battle Royale-like affair, even down to the seeing a number of your future adversaries aimlessly jumping about in a lobby while waiting for a match to start, but you may notice even before you dive into a match that there's something strange afoot: there's no option for solo.
This is most likely because Hi-Rez claims that it has designed the mode to function like a team-based experience, meaning that the different classes you choose will let you support one another either in duos or squads. Given how it's not been out that long, it's hard to tell right now how well it works with a well-oiled unit, but like with any other game of this ilk we can confirm that wandering round in a group is going to keep you alive a lot longer than scrambling around on your own like a child lost in a supermarket.
If you're going into this game thinking that this is a hero shooter like Paladins, you might get a shock to see that it's not like that at all. Instead there are five character classes that all look and play distinctly from one another, which means that the creativity and flair introduced with all the various heroes in Paladins is gone in favour of a more level approach, both visually and in terms of gameplay.
This doesn't mean all these classes are similar though, as they each have different abilities - the Warrior can gain 5 health a second; Engineer does the same with armour; Assassin has a 10% boost in groundspeed; Mage gains 30% potion effectiveness; and Hunter has a 10% boost in swap and reload speed. They all have distinct advantages, then, so we can see how team composition might work well if thought about carefully, although we'd argue that given the random nature of the genre and openness of the map, the importance of each class won't be nearly as high as in the base Paladins game.
In fact, the only link between this and Paladins is the cartoon fantasy style. The camera, layout, and general approach is all very different, and actually leans more towards Fortnite in terms of visual identity and map size. Even the different areas of the map are more distinct than than those in Epic's game, ranging from forests of giant mushrooms; desert plains; and snowy peaks.
But then there are also elements that'll feel familiar to PUBG players because unlike Fortnite you can pick up pieces of armour like boots and gloves, increasing your likelihood of survival if you get assailed by other vagabonds. Of course, you'll also be picking up other items like weapons (ranging from rifles to swords, shotguns, and pistols) and potions. Each class also has abilities to pick up, allowing you to freely use them, like the Assassin with smokescreen; the Mage's fireball; and the Warrior's ability to charge into people. These are class-specific though, and you'll find them alongside all the other items in chests.
It's obvious to say, but looting is important if you're going to stockpile all of the items, but you won't have much difficulty given the abundance of chests, boxes and crates that are scattered around the various buildings and structures. If you're also thinking that walking's getting a bit boring, you'll also be pleased to know that the mounts gallop their way from Paladins to Realm Royale too, so it's not like it's totally done away with everything that made Paladins what it is... the devs just tweaked it a tad.
A few other big changes worth talking about include the fact that you're never downed on this game, crawling around the floor begging for help, instead you turn into a chicken that clucks around waiting to be revived. A menu on the home screen indicates that these are customisable, which is a nice touch, but in practice, it's pretty much just a reskin on the fact that you've been injured.
The biggest departure from the BR norm though is the inclusion of Forges. These buildings, indicated by anvils on the map, allow you to create better weapons, but the catch here is that smoke billows out when you're using them, pretty much acting as a big 'come here and kill me' beacon for nearby enemies. It's a great risk vs reward system, and also means that the action gets funneled into certain directions, either from those wanting the good equipment, or those wanting to leap on them.
Of course, given it's an alpha there are plenty of blips and bugs, like players holding their arms out in a T-pose when they're actually shooting you and the terrain looking pretty rough even on the highest settings. We also noticed that the booming sound effects related to the circle closing in are way too loud, drowning out the delicate noise of footsteps you may be listening out for nearby. Also, given the changes to what people may be expecting if they're coming over from Paladins, we have to say a tutorial wouldn't have gone amiss.
Those teething issues aside, Hi-Rez has surprised us in a big way. It's not perfect, but given the pessimism that people felt towards this project when it was revealed, it's done a good job at making its own stamp on the genre. It needs work, sure, but given how far Fortnite has come in less than a year, we don't doubt that Realm Royale can also build on this very solid base, and get its own dedicated community at the same time. Watch this space...