Battle royale - it's a phrase we've heard an awful lot of over the last few years. With the rise of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (we know it's not the first, before you say it), and then subsequent others like Fortnite and Apex Legends, we've been inundated with options to choose from. What do almost all of these have in common though? They all give guns and modern/futuristic weapons to the players.
Spellbreak is trying something rather new then, in the sense that it's a magical battle royale game currently in alpha testing on the Epic Games Store. We've been dipping into the game ourselves briefly to see what's what, and at first glance it's not a million miles away from the likes of PUBG and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode, as you're wandering around a large open map as a circle closes in while you look for the best gear to kit yourself out with before you meet some big meanies who are trying to kill you.
We'll start off by saying it would've been nice to have a tutorial mode, similar to Apex Legends, which takes 10 minutes but introduces you to all of the basic features you need. Although there's a practice mode, the features that make Spellbreak unique aren't explained in a lot of detail if at all. It'd be great to see this improved, especially since it might stop players feeling intimidated when diving in for the first time.
You have two gauntlet slots in your inventory, as well as ones for a rune, amulet, belt, and boots. There are also four slots underneath that for extra items, including of course potions which can restore health if you get into a tight spot. By tabbing you can see what effects these items have, and part of Spellbreak's learning curve is finding out what items have what effect and - by consequence - which ones you'll be wanting to look out for.
Gauntlets are the most important by far though, as these determine what kind of attacks you have. Left mouse corresponds to the left gauntlet and the opposite for the right, and they vary in types of attack depending on the elemental gauntlet you equip. They also correspond to the attacks on Q and E, abilities that pack an extra punch and have a cooldown. The flame one stood out for us, as it produces a wall of fire that is good for managing space, but there are plenty of others to experiment with. You can even combine them to add effects together, something we only discovered after hours of fumbling.
Your runes give you even more extra abilities, but these are more dramatic and aren't as aggressive. Invisibility is one, and another lets you fly for a limited time, although our favourite is the one that lets you teleport, which got us out of a few sticky situations. Just like with any battle royale though, your gear loadout as a whole is the biggest key to success, and there's plenty to consider in Spellbreak aside from the runes and gauntlets.
Perhaps the most surprising element of Spellbreak is the RPG system, which lets you level up classes, two of which you pick at the start of a match, and you level up scrolls as you progress through the match, giving you certain abilities. We say surprising, because this is the biggest departure from the battle royale formula, and adds depth beyond the run-and-loot mentality.
The map is perhaps the biggest weakness in Spellbreak right now, as while the large castles and colourful art style reminded us of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the models are very similar and the map lacks character. Compared to other games in the genre this is a big deal, although with more time in the oven the large barren fields and carbon copy castles should hopefully make way for more interesting variants.
Mechanically it plays as you'd expect, but it takes some time getting used to firing and aiming slow-moving spells when compared to firearms you might be accustomed to. Solos, Duos, and Squads are all available in there already right now, and while there aren't 100 players dropping into the map there's enough there to produce real tension when the circle starts closing and you're forced to move.
Spellbreak is an odd beast because on the one hand, it's very similar to things we've seen before, as you drop into a map that shrinks down until one player is left, but the RPG elements and the presence of magic sets it apart entirely, meaning its not just a lick of paint that makes it stand out from the crowd. It's early days and it's still lacking in the personality department (the map in particular), but we can see Spellbreak growing a community around this intriguing formula.
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