Bloodline Champions (BLC) was regarded as a brilliant free-to-play game, a PvP arena brawler with the game being driven purely by skill. The community then began to agree that the game had started to degrade in quality. Players attributed this to Funcom, who was involved in the game. As such, developer Stunlock Studios choice to separate themselves from that game seemed like a sensible decision; hence the creation of Battlerite.
The best way to describe Battlerite to those familiar with Bloodline Champions is as a spiritual successor to the game. To those not familiar, the game is, similar to my description of BLC, a PvP arena brawler, and is driven by your own skills. The game is currently $19.99 (US) or £14.99 (UK) in Early Access on Steam. It contains a founder avatar and title, as well as access to every champion in the game when they are released. After its Early Access period, it will become free-to-play.
The characters available to play as are pretty varied. They, naturally, fall into one of three roles: Melee, Range and Support. There are five champions in each, all of them being varied. Each character has a lot of nuance and, (similar to a fighting game) you can spend a lot of time perfecting your skills with each character. There are some characters which are better than others, but all of them are viable.
The game can be played in 2v2 or 3v3 formats, both have a team of players, and players only have one life each. Your aim is to wipe out the other team. This sounds simple, but each map will have a central clock that houses a spinning ball. Upon destruction it will provide the attacking team with a boost of energy which will allow you to use EX skills and ultimate abilities. Most fights will, because of this, take place in the middle of the arena, and will revolve around trying to achieve the last hit on this ball. In fact, this focus on energy usage is so important, a fallen ally will drop their energy upon death. After an overall timer expires, the borders will close in onto the center. This acts similar to the closing borders in survival games such as The Culling and H1Z1. This adds a level of tension to matches, especially because some of the characters most commonly used ability is their dash, which can force you out of the borders resulting in a loss of much needed health.
The game has a decent skill floor. If you complete the tutorial, choose a character you like the look of, and practice for about ten minutes in the training mode, you’ll find yourself performing at least passably. The skill ceiling is even higher. Each character’s ability has a cooldown, as one would expect. An important element is knowing when to use your ability so that it is not on cooldown when it is needed next. I have had instances where I’ve used counter abilities (where you ignore a hit and attack back), sometimes inducing a status effect, and then not had it later where I needed an aid in escaping.
Escaping is another crucial element. Every character will have some means of escape. Shifu has a shadowstep ability, that makes him largely invulnerable (known as immaterial), along with javelins that can hit walls and pull him towards them. Jade, a ranged character, has a vault (allowing her to jump away from danger) and a stealth ability. Other important elements include interrupts, snaring and stunning, allowing you to deal more damage, or enable yourself to back up and recover. Since many abilities have multiple uses, you need to have quick thinking and reflexes to determine when they should be pulled off, or if you have the alternative to keep an ability unused for another reason. An example of this is with Shifu, again. By using his javelin, I could escape a sticky situation. Alternatively, it is a brilliant initiator because hitting an enemy pulls you towards them and can root them, rendering them immobile if you pick the correct Battlerite, and allows you to knock off a substantial chunk of health.
On the topic of Battlerites, each game is in a “first to three wins” format, and at the beginning of each round, you can pick one of three (two on your final round) Battlerites. This can be compared to Heroes of the Storm‘s talent system. Most Battlerites are situational, and most builds aren’t be-all and end-all solutions. Some instances have Battlerites that are always better than others, but picking a less efficient Battlerite will likely not ruin your chances of victory.
However, as an Early Access game, one of the big problems is balance. To give credit where it is due, though, Stunlock seems dedicated to fine-tuning the game, but I seem to have encountered instances where certain champions seem to always be stronger than others. However, this isn’t always a problem, since a team of skilled and coordinated players can take down these heroes.
This brings up another problem with Battlerite, which is also shared by many other games. The game is playable on your own with another match-made partner, but you tend to make sacrifices by doing so. The first of these being hampered communications. A text chat is available, but giving vocal call-outs to teammates is far superior. You need to use common sense and be incredibly observant to recognize what your teammate needs to have happen, and so would they. With voice communications, one could easily request a change of focus onto a certain enemy, or indicate that an enemy is stunned, and that they should be exploited. There is not a real way of fixing this, but solo queuing is still fun by myself. You’ll obviously face the usual problems with games like this, such as being saddled with less skilled players, but with Battlerite’s early life, this is also to be expected.
Speaking of less skilled players, I have had very few interactions that were toxic, which honestly surprised me. The first time I died in a PvP scenario was incredibly stupid, and easily avoidable. My apologies were immediately accepted, and the player had provided tips, which has happened multiple times. As with all multiplayer games, there are some bad apples, and people have been known to disconnect upon the loss of a first round. Some will slate their teammates, may it be due to their lack of skill, or trying to palm the blame off onto their teammate, or others have been the expected toxic player. By and large, the community comes across as friendly and helpful. This is a really subjective point, since another player’s experience with the community may be much different to my own, but I have felt welcomed, and been given the distinct pleasure of not getting my soul crushed after a loss.
Finally, since the game will be free-to-play, there are some microtransactions present. So far, these are in the form of Overwatch style loot crates. These will contain only cosmetic items, such as avatars, skins, weapons, and even mounts which you start the game upon. The champions will be locked to the players at this point, though, and must be unlocked. One can imagine that this will work similarly to most MOBAs, where items can be bought with the in-game currencies. As previously mentioned, buying the game in Early Access will unlock all of the champions immediately, as well as giving you instant access to all future champions.
In conclusion, Battlerite is a fitting successor to Bloodline Champions, and it seems to be hitting all the right notes that Bloodline had. As to how this game will change leading up to the final release has, obviously, yet to be seen. I have confidence that Battlerite will enter the free-to-play market as a skill-driven game and not be marked as a pay-to-win mess. As it stands currently, the price tag is fair for the game. It is playable, stable, and will provide hours of high speed, skill based competition, akin to MOBA team fights.