Spellbreak instantly hooked me the first time I checked it out with the dev team leading up to its closed beta launch. There was something about mixing the familiar Battle Royale style of gameplay with a incredibly vertical, spell-slinging combat that caught me. It was, simply put, fun. Since that day when I played Spellbreak with its developers, the battle royale title from Proletariat, Inc has hit closed beta, giving more players a chance to access and check out the experience for themselves. However, while fun, it’s not a perfect experience by a long shot.
Spellbreak pits players against each other in a battle royale style experience with an RPG twist. While many of the familiar elements of modern BR experiences are on display (jumping into the map from on high, racing against the clock to ensure you aren’t out of the playzone when it starts shrinking, etc), it adds a twist with some minor RPG-style elements and its element-based spell combat.
Each player will choose a class before queuing up for a match. These classes, such as the armored brawler Stoneshaper or the fast paced Frostborn, each feel distinct from one another, their skills and styles varying enough to give some variety to the gameplay each time you log in.
However, not all the classes feel created equal. Right now I’ve noticed a great deal of players falling back on the Pyromancer for its area control abilities or the Toxicologist thanks to the damage over time its attacks do. Compared to those classes the wind-powered Tempest feels completely underpowered. And while I love the mobility of the Frostborn when you lay ice down to skate across, zipping you around the map like Frozone, I don’t like how each normal attack requires the utmost accuracy.
When you’re in a game, you’ll start off with a gauntlet of the element your class specializes in, as well as a base level skill which can augment your regular attack. The Toxicologist sprays and area with ooze, coating the ground dealing damage and slowing enemies while the Conduit lets players live out their Sith dreams by shooting arcs of lightning at their opponents. Like any other BR game, though, you’ll find items and gear around the map, helping to increase the potency of your attacks and extend the life of your resources.
Every basic attack uses Mana, which is also the resource you will use to levitate around the battlefield. Combat becomes and intricate dance of managing your Mana so you can be mobile enough to dodge incoming attacks, but retain enough Mana to strike back when ready. Float too much and you won’t be able to do your basic attack. Attack too much and you may not be able to escape.
Each player can wear two gauntlets, giving you the ability to incorporate one of the skills from the other classes into your repertoire. Each gauntlet comes with a sorcery – an ability that doesn’t use your Mana but is on a long cooldown. You can increase your mana pool, lower cooldowns and more with other items you find across the map, such as boots, belts and amulets.
Additionally you’ll find health potions and shield packs which provide you with an extra layer of protection (though the Stoneshaper’s basic attack also provides him with armor, so it’s a nice touch). Finally you have your Runes which give you a special ability, such as invisibility or the power to see any close-by enemies with Wolf’s Vision. These Runes have varying cooldown timers based on the ability, but can definitely help you out in a pinch.
You have a very limited inventory, however as you can only hold four items in addition to your equipped items. Do you save a slot for an extra gauntlet or Rune to swap in combat? Or do you run with extra potions and shields just in case things get hairy? You’ll have to decide what’s best for you in the moment, which does add a layer of strategy to how you approach battle.
Being able to use two gauntlets makes you more potent when you choose combinations that synergize as well. Playing a Conduit running with a Wind Gauntlet? By throwing down the Tempest’s Tornado and electrifying it, you can create a devastating…well…Tempest. These synergies are all over the place in Spellbreak, such as being able to explode the Toxicologist’s poison clouds with a Pyromancer attack, or turning that aforementioned Tornado into a poison cyclone.
It’s here where the classes really feel disparate in power. The Stoneshaper, in my experience, just doesn’t synergize well with others. Sure you can toss a frozen rock through the Frostborn’s sorcery attack, but I’ve yet to find a compelling combination that makes it worth running with a Stone Gauntlet if I’m playing another class.
Some of the classes just feel overpowered at this stage in the development as well. Toxicologists can take over a fight with their basic attack alone thanks to the spread-out missiles they shower you with – and the poison residue you’re stuck in when they hit the ground. My favorite class so far has been the Conduit – yet even that class feels weak compared to the devastating secondary abilities of the Toxicologist or even the armor ability of the Stoneshaper.
However, once in the game it’s pretty fun. I’ve played close to thirty or so matches now and while I still have not won one (though, to be fair I’ve played about 1000 hours of PUBG and am the only one in my group without a solo chicken dinner, so my failure isn’t unusual), I’ve come dangerously close.
The map of Spellbreak feels like the perfect size for the player count – which I’ve never seen higher than 24 people. Yet, even with a small field by battle royale standards, it doesn’t feel any less hectic. You’ll drop into the map, sometimes choosing to fall where the valuable Mana Vaults – chests containing some of the best loot in the game – spawn, only to be met with a literal firefight the second you land. Every major area feels like dropping into Pochinki. I’ve scored more early round exits than I care to count thanks to being caught between two players who were also going for the same loot I was.
I have had solo matches, though, where the game seemingly didn’t fill up, seeing only 11 or 12 people in a match. Those feel a bit slow as everyone can drop and spread out, avoiding each other until the storm literally forces us to combat one another. I’d also be interested to see how Spellbreak would handle a massive player count, something along the lines of PUBG or Fortnite, as I can only imagine how hectic some of those fights would become.
When you’re able to establish yourself, find better gauntlets and gear, it makes the fights later on more interesting. As you progress and make into the successive waves of the storm, you’ll level up passive abilities native to your class, such as an ability that makes the Conduit’s lighting cost 100% less Mana than the level before, or the Pyromancer’s basic fireball becoming more and more powerful. Keep in mind too that the other players are leveling up as well, so each fight becomes more and more a spectacle, with players floating around each other trying to score a hit. The verticality and combat style in Spellbreak kind of reminds me of the early TRIBES games, using the limited jetpack to get a Spinfusor kill – only here it’s a levitation ability and you’re aiming a giant boulder at someone’s head.
It’s still in closed beta, and the team has mentioned that the battle royale mode is just one of the modes they are planning for Spellbreak. The RPG influences, as well as the solid combat are a great start, and the BR format is perfect to show both off. It’ll be interesting to see where Proletariat takes Spellbreak from here. However, while not without its faults, it’s a solid foundation for the team to take it from here.