Upon launching in North America and Asia last September and then later in the year in Europe, another battle royale shooter entered the arena, and this one's got some pretty serious backing too with Tencent entering the fray behind Aurora Studio's Ring of Elysium, a free-to-paly shooter that refines the last player standing concept and throws a couple of new ideas into the mix for good measure. The question is, though, do we need yet another polished battle royale game what with all the choices we already have?
Ring of Elysium was updated a couple of weeks ago with a new map, Europa, as well as the second season of content. Despite launching in Europe back in November, we only played the first map for the first time a couple of weeks before and therefore waiting for the second to drop seemed like the smart move. The new map is very different to its predecessor, and credit where credit's due, the studio has done a decent job of differentiating them. Europa has, for all intents and purposes, replaced the original, although given how interesting some of the mechanics were in the ice-covered map, we doubt it'll be long before we see it back in the rotation.
The snowy map had a really interesting mechanic whereby teams had to find resources to make fires to keep themselves warm during waves of blistering cold that would sweep in at designated moments in the game. There's not much point dwelling on this for too long as you can't currently play it, but we thought it made for an engaging change of pace that refocused the more traditional shrinking circle approach that a lot of studios opt for as well as elegantly splitting the focus of teams between combat and survival.
We mentioned the ice map, but more recently we were given Europa, a sunnier arena which dropped alongside a bunch of Season Two trimmings. Truth be told, we were more focused on the nuts and bolts of the experience and much of the narrative alluded to in the marketing passed us by somewhat. Instead, we jumped in, armed up, and went in search of trouble.
And trouble we found. It actually turns out that we're not very good at Ring of Elysium and over the next few hours we repeatedly got shot to pieces by most of the people we encountered. At least we weren't up against bots, which happens sometimes when there aren't enough players to fill a server; it can be tough going up against the likes of Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. So yeah, while we were flattering our fellow players, we got a good sense of the game and how it feels to play. Essentially, RoE is a reasonably polished, relatively accessible battle royale game that isn't a huge distance away from PUBG in terms of overall quality. In fact, in some areas, it seems to surpass it.
We mentioned there were a few additions to the formula, and they change things up quite a bit. Players can, for example, grab one of three preset abilities that will govern how you play, at least to some extent. By selecting either a hang glider, a bicycle, or a grapple gun, you can traverse the world in different ways. We didn't really like the glider much as we didn't feel like we got enough distance from our jumps, but otherwise, they're a nice gameplay addition that changes up the dynamic a little and differentiates the experience for players. Our favourite was the bike, which lets you move at speed, quietly too, allowing you to roll into congested areas and take enemies by surprise. The grapple is also quite fun, but it's on a timer so you won't be zipping about the place like Rico Rodriguez.
Exploring the Europa map involves using a lot of vehicles, and you can nip about on quad bikes, pootle around in a city car, hop in a speed boat, and many more besides. There's even a sub that'll guide you through the deep waters around the island, complete with strange-looking sea monsters that swim past. When combined with the aforementioned traversal options, it's fair to say that there are plenty of ways of getting around.
One inescapable genre staple sees players looting the buildings of this abandoned island paradise for the weapons and gear conveniently left all over the place. The island includes a lot of reasonably interesting landmarks and we enjoyed exploring what we could in between getting murdered. The island itself is pretty sizeable which ensures that there's plenty to discover if you go looking for it, and we were pleasantly surprised by the level of detail on offer. There is a downside to its impressive size, however, and that's the fact that you can often spend a lot of time on your own without seeing another soul.
Aurora Studio employs some tricks to make sure that players come together. Unlike the ever- shrinking play space that defines most games in this now well-established genre, RoE moves players around by bringing environmental changes to different regions at certain times. Like we mentioned before that meant a blizzard in the ice map, but in Europa it means deadly volcanic ash descends on the player, and if you get too close you'll see a huge wall of fire bearing down on you.
We played for several hours, checking out the team modes, the third and first-person servers, and trying to work out the story behind the scenario, but then the strangest thing started happening. Our antivirus started going bananas and, for a time, we couldn't even get it the client to run. We've never seen a genuine game annoy an antivirus program so much and so we did some digging, at which point we discovered an ongoing and vocal conversation between players with regards to the things that publisher Tencent can and can't access on your computer when you're playing the game. We didn't dig too deeply, and it's almost impossible to say to what extent the company's systems peer into yours, but our antivirus software wasn't at all happy with it to the extent that we thought it was noteworthy.
Technical concerns aside, the game itself is a capable and polished alternative to PUBG, and the addition of traversal built around extreme sports is certainly a novel one. The island itself is interesting to explore and full of detail, and it's clear that a lot of thought and effort has been poured into making this a game that can compete with the genre greats. Whether there's enough new here to make people put down their existing battle royale of choice and jump ship remains to be seen, but the foundations are certainly solid and price point is very inviting.