Battlerite, a new team arena brawler by Stunlock Studios, entered Early Access last week and quickly shot up the Steam top sellers list. The game is basically a remake of Bloodline Champions, a game the team developed under publisher Funcom. Bloodline Champions found some niche success, but never quite blew up. This time around, self-published, along with a new art style and some design tweaks, Stunlock Studios hopes to truly break through.
As someone who enjoys arena style PvP, I always had my eye on Bloodline Champions, but it looked a bit complicated and the art style mostly put me off. When I first saw the trailer for Battlerite, the vibrant art style and easier to read gameplay really clicked for me, so I was eager to snap up the Early Access package when it dropped last week. It’s a pretty good deal. Even though the game will be free-to-play when it officially launches, picking up the Early Access package grants you all of the games heroes, including both currently available and future hero releases.
The game itself plays out like an MMO arena with a few elements of Street Fighter thrown in. You can play Battlerite in 2v2 or 3v3 formats, but unlike MMOs, it’s purely skill based. There’s no gear to acquire (other than for cosmetics). Battlerite features a top down camera, similar to what you’d find in a MOBA, but characters are controlled with WASD and everything – even healing—is a skill shot. Each character features a small suite of abilities, a left and right click, a mobility skill (typically), two core abilities, and two abilities that cost energy, including an ultimate ability.
Energy is where things get pretty interesting in Battlerite. As you fight, you build up stocks of energy similarly to how you would in a game of Street Fighter. Also like Street Fighter, your ultimate ability (or super), will cost you all your stocks, but these stocks of energy can also be spent on a single stock using core ability as well as EX versions of your free to use abilities. Using energy to EX an existing move can add new properties or mechanics that can be super impactful. Heck, for some of the characters I play, I will rarely use my ultimate ability and seek to spend my energy purely on EX abilities. For example, the character Croak can use his Q ability to go into stealth and stun a target when striking from stealth. If you spend an energy stock to EX this move, you can incapacitate (sleep) a target and then enter stealth again to hard stun another target. It’s an incredibly powerful tool to lock down the enemy team and focus fire a single target, especially in a 2v2 where there are only two targets to deal with in the first place.
Battlerite’s roster is split up into three categories: ranged, melee, and support. These characters tend to easily break down into the typical holy trinity of sorts; it’s easy to put together a healer, tank, DPS team, for example. But having a healer or a tank isn’t always required. Heck, it’s possible to run double supports or tanks, or pretty much anything you want. The meta, at least from what I can tell, hasn’t fully shaken out yet, though there are some common setups to be sure.
One other interesting wrinkle are the eponymous Battlerites. Every match plays out using a first to three format and at the beginning of each round you’ll select from one of three Battlerites. These are similar to talents you’d pick up on every level up in Heroes of the Storm. Picking the right Battlerite for the situation is key as they allow you to adapt to the enemy composition, plug holes in your own composition, or simply reinforce a particular playstyle. Maybe the enemy team is super hard to lock down so I want a Battlerite that adds a root to one of my core abilities. Or maybe we’re lacking a healer, so I want to pick Battlerites that give me more self-sustain, that sort of thing.
Battlerite also features bullet time, sort of. The game slows down momentarily every time an enemy is slain. This can give you a small but significant chance to line up a key move or just a brief moment to think about what you want to do next. It’s something so incredibly simple that you don’t really think about, but just kind of works.
There’s a lot to consider on the maps, too. You’ll want to think about using the map geometry to manipulate line of sight, keep track of health and energy orb spawns to deny them from your opponent, and most critically, get the last hit on an orb that spawns in the center. Securing the orb heals and provides energy to everyone on your team.
Really, though. The game is just a blast to play. I personally prefer the 2v2 format as 3v3 seems a bit more chaotic than I’d like, but your mileage may vary. Even though your characters have a smaller set of skills than you’d typically find in an MMO, there’s a lot of nuance in how they’re used and how they can be combined with other characters to deadly effect.
Even though Battlerite is in early access, it’s already full featured. There’s even a full replay system in the game. The system is called The Odeum, and you can use it to view and edit your replays, or even share them for other players to find and repost if they dig the footage. It’s impressive that the system isn’t merely functional, but also features that social component to help connect the community around awesome plays.
If this all sounds great to you, you can pick up Battlerite in Early Access for $19.99 on Steam. If you’d rather wait, Battlerite is currently set to launch (free-to-play) sometime in Q1 2017.
Have you played Battlerite? What's your take? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!