When I started getting into MOBAs like Heroes of the Storm, which I reviewed recently, I ran into mention of an older game called “Bloodline Champions“. Like in MOBAs, you had characters with a diverse set of abilities–but instead of that fighting being distributed over the course of a lengthier strategic macro-game, the entire point of the game was to constantly teamfight! It was rooted in the use of abilities, as though it were a topdown fighting game…and it also had an incredibly small player population by the time that I heard of it, which is a very big problem for an online game.
Battlerite is the revival of that game. With years of experience, the same studio is launching it as a new game, reworking heroes, adapting a current business model, and reworking the core game to focus on a more intense experience. What does that all mean, specifically?
What is Battlerite?
Battlerite is…basically…a superhero wizard gladiator match. Players face off against one another in two-versus-two or three-versus-three matches, throwing powerful abilities at one another in an attempt to knock out the other team in a small arena. It’s a bit like a fantasy game like Dungeons & Dragons given life in a fast-paced battle, each team trying to whittle down the enemy players’ health. Some characters are built to tank a great deal of damage, some try to deal out large amounts of damage, and others work to mitigate damage from the enemy and even to restore health.
This dynamic is very similar to the way that heroes in MOBAs are set up, but because you don’t have to deal with enemy buildings or minions, everything is oriented towards fighting enemy heroes. It’s a fast, constant death battle. Everyone is moving around, dodging and trying to land attacks, unleashing powers and trying to plan ahead as they develop tactics for the fight. It’s truly an “arena brawler” game, with familiar-feeling top-down perspective (like in action RPGs such as Diablo) and tactical, challenging gameplay.
The Challenge of Battlerite
Battlerite is not an easy game. There’s a lot of factors that add up to a fairly significant difficulty, and it’s not going to be something that’s everyone’s cup of coffee. Thankfully, even though it’s not an easy game, none of that difficulty seems artificial, like it sometimes can in games. You don’t have to play Dance Dance Revolution with your fingers to use special moves (looking at you, Streetfighter and Guilty Gear), and you don’t have to master unintuitive attack timings to exactly land killing blows (like in most MOBAs). Instead, difficulty boils down to knowing your options and using them wisely.
The two key challenges in Battlerite, outside of strategy, relate to your abilities. First of all, most of your abilities are “skillshots”. This means that almost everything you do in the game has to be aimed. While there’s a small number of abilities that operate on a “click your target and the ability happens” basis, those are incredibly rare. From damage to abilities that put down obstacles to healing, Battlerite requires you to be on top of the action. Not only do you have to aim well, but you have to anticipate whether your opponent will be dodging, and you yourself want to be moving unpredictably enough that you can’t be hit.
The other biggest challenge in Battlerite’s gameplay has to do with the suite of abilities your character possesses. Every character has seven different abilities! Granted, two of them correspond to “main attack” and “secondary ability”, and pressing the spacebar is almost always a “get out of there” ability, which makes things easier, but that’s still a lot to keep track of! Playing the game well means being mindful of your abilities and your opponents’ abilities, knowing what they’re capable of, and knowing when you’re vulnerable or when you have an opportunity.
The Characters of Battlerite
There’s a huge variety of characters in the game, whether it’s a frog assassin who spreads poison everywhere, a perky alchemist who tosses potions around at friends and foes, or an elderly machine gun-toting jetpack-wearing granny. Some characters are designed to be incredibly mobile but fragile, while others are slow but can take immense amounts of punishment. Some have tricky abilities that need heavy coordination and great thought to use, while others try to lock down the battlefield with oppressive power. It’s a big strength of these types of games, and because everything else is removed, the characterizations are what make this game. If you don’t like the style of one character, there’s probably another one who works for you.
I started playing the game with Jade, an elusive gunner. She runs around the map firing revolvers at people, and can pull out a rifle to snipe enemies from a distance. She also has the ability to hide from enemies, which helps her to line up her sniper shots, which are normally slow and hard to pin down enemies with. I had some trouble making good use of her, however, because she relies heavily on not just precise aiming but also controlling space by keeping enemies back. Sometimes, I’d be faced with aggressive enemies who would keep pressuring me, and I didn’t know how to deal with that. So I had a look around.
This is Pearl. She’s a young, determined healer who many players regard as the most annoying character in the game. I love her. She runs around, throws up a bubble shield to make an ally briefly invulnerable, puts down a massive bubble to stop enemies from going through, and she can even silence enemies, preventing them from using any of their abilities! She’s designed to stall them off, giving her ally time to set up devastating plays and curbing aggressive rushes before they start. It’s a remarkable change in playstyle, and it’s a testament to the variety that Battlerite offers.
Should You Play Battlerite?
Battlerite isn’t designed to appeal to everyone, largely because of its focus on action gameplay. It’s a game that rewards reaction, quick thinking, and fast, changeable planning. It’s not a game that you’re going to be able to play well at the start, but I personally found it very rewarding to start getting into the game. I didn’t have to waste time figuring out how to input commands for my character, and I could get right to understanding how my character’s abilities could work together, working out how to make plays and strategies against my opponent. The game also plays out very quickly, with rounds going as short as 2 minutes, so the learning process fits well into most people’s schedules. In a mere half-hour chunk of time, you can get a very large amount of play in, and the game works well with small chunks of available time.
Right now, Battlerite is available through Steam Early Access, which will let you play every hero currently released and to be released in the future. It’s not currently clear what heroes will be available after the game releases, but it’s very likely that, at least, some heroes will be free to play no matter what, if you just want to try the game but don’t feel like buying into early access. It’s a small investment right now, but a huge amount of content comes with the early access game, which is already very, very polished and possibly even launch-ready. It’s a fun but also competitive game that definitely deserves a look.