Spellbreak First Impressions
Announced back in October 2018, Spellbreak is not just another copy and paste battleground simulation. Peer into Proletariat world for just a moment and you’ll find fireballs tossed around like frag grenades, whirlwinds, levitating icicles, and teleporting assassins all decorating a mystical landscape with the bodies of your enemies. Spellbreak is a fantasy-themed battle royale and after months of closed alpha testing, Proletariat’s own iteration on the battle royale genre apparates above the parapets today. As the NDA lifts, we take on the fantasy battle royale that threatens to bring a little magic to the evening.
As you may have guessed, this is not Apex Legends. Spellbreak is the fantasy RPG to Apex Legend’s hero shooter alternative. Logging in for the first time, the player avatar presents to players on the main lobby screen is the first and most obvious example of this fact. This range of twelve characters to choose from a simply that, cosmetic. Like most RPGs sex, age, height, or orientation of these pixels is not linked to any particular playstyle. Spellbreak provides a huge range of customization in the arena, but on this screen, character selection provides a good, if not huge, range of stylish looking avatars to choose from. It is also the first hint of the game’s overall aesthetic.
Take even a cursory glance at Spellbreak gameplay and it is clear to see why this game is so appealing. It looks utterly gorgeous. Developed using Unreal, this new competitor on the battlefront uses an uncomplicated painterly style that accentuates edges and uses a kind of gradient shading. While reminiscent of Motiga’s ill-fated Gigantic, the fantasy setting is adorned with a more muted pallet that works well against the fire and thunder, when it breaks out in earnest.
Like most battle royale games, Spellbreak follows a familiar formula and gives players a good view of surroundings as they plunge from the heavens. Falling from the sky at the start of each match, as expected, gives players an opportunity to find some breathing space among the rolling hills and ancient ruins that are dotted across the game’s singular map. Despite only finding one map to play in, the size and variety of terrain seems sufficient to keep competitors entertained, and the array of ruins does provide more interesting verticality than the dilapidated shacks of Player Unknown Battlegrounds.
Assuming a successful landing is achieved, most competitors will find themselves in a well-worn hunt for weapons, gear, and consumables. With a limited inventory and only two arms to carry weapons, you’ll need to choose carefully. Weapons, a staple of any battle royale encounter are probably the most impactful difference that you will find to the overused gun totting tropes of most mundane battle royale. Spellbreak dispenses with the frying pans and puts the fire in your hands. Guns are replaced with a series of gauntlets to adorn a character’s left and right arms. These weapons are stashed around the world in a series of magical caches, with the most powerful summoned by slowly activating a range of giant glowing portals. While the difference between a semi-auto and a sniper rifle might mean the world to a pro player in other battlegrounds, Spellbreak provides almost transformative flexibility with each of these gauntlets. Wind, fire, lightning, earth, frost, and toxic gauntlets are just some of the available appendages that drop in the world, and each comes with their own combination of primary skill and secondary ability. The result is battles where massive tornados descend, lighting crackles between hilltops, and toxic oozes blights every footstep. It makes an incredibly refreshing change from the bang-bang dead scenario that you might be more accustomed to, just watch out for your mana bar while pummeling an enemy with fireballs.
Magical weapons are not the end of Spellbreak’s customization either. These elemental armaments are intertwined with the core of Spellbreak’s wider combat customization. While Spellbreak does not entertain any sort of horizontal progression tree, there is a classic class system to Spellbreak. The elemental themes of the various gauntlets seem to synergize with a selection of 11 classes that players can pick from during each match. Every class has its own difficulty tiers and provides distinct benefits that ape the elemental theme, allowing players to hone their style with a particular set of bonuses. The Conduit, for example, enhances lightening effects by boosting player speed and making competitors immune to opposing lightning storms. The Bulwark, however, tends to help tanks by channeling damage into players mana pool and leeching armor from enemy targets. This is augmented further by a crafty rune and gear system. Gear, like gauntlets, comes hidden around the world and in varying tiers. It, again, tends to allow players to synergize towards a particular playstyle and continues to stay on theme. Runes, however, provide a little more obvious impact on gameplay. Picking up a rune stone slots an active skill right into the corner of the screen. When triggered, these can activate anything from a surge of wind to boost players off into the air or even a cloak of invisibility. While I haven’t been able to grab every single variation of gear, gauntlet, and runestone, the fact that Proletariat is borrowing these RPG lite mechanics makes Spellbreak far more flexible than most urban battle royales.
That very same flexibility is paramount when entering into combat, whether it is for your first fireball or last lightening round. Movement in Spellbreak is, thankfully, already razor sharp. Characters flee around open ruins and combat trails using a standard WASD system, with a close quarters third person camera in tow. Fairly standard control systems surround this, shift to sprint, space to double jump, and C to crouch. Q, R, T, and the primary mouse buttons also add to the limited set of action keys when firing off combat skills. Overall, blitzing around an arena has a definite sense of urgency, characters have pace without being uncontrollable and can pull out the odd aerial flair when wearing gauntlets. Terrain is varied and moves the action around the vertical axis, making these little combat enhancements crucial in keeping out of the fire. In many respects, the combat here reminds me somewhat of Gigantic, and it sometimes does suffer from the same barrage of attack animations when things get really hectic.
Actually, working out how to use combat skills, handle cooldowns, synergize classes, or manage an inventory is largely left to the player to discover. This being a game under early testing, and with systems subject to change, the tutorial is non-existent. Click on this mode expecting a rundown of the latest updates and you’re more likely to find a pile of gear and a sandbox to kick around in. This is not unusual for a game in development and it is reflected in the opening menu of Spellbreak. Items like Guild and Quests point towards a community-led game that intends to build a reason to return to combat. This is front and center with the addition of a squad join games and a team invite UI just beside the main player avatar.
Most of my first night in Spellbreak was spent in squad matches, throwing teams of four against each other and I had a ton of fun. The solo queue does exist for those who just couldn’t stomach the cooperative approach to combat and if you are sick of the same old drudgery of chicken dinners alongside your MMORPG, it might be time to try something a little more magical in Spellbreak.