Within a crowded, highly competitive genre, it takes something truly special to stand out. The ruthless Battle Royale genre exploded with the release of PUBG first and Fortnite Battle Royale next, and every year leaves countless bodies in its trail. It’s a tendency that repeats itself in regular cycles, as we have seen not so long ago with MOBA games and digital card games.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom; occasionally we discover a hidden jewel, a game that is far from a quick cash grab and won’t conform to being irrelevant. Instead, it shows some real ambition and could even take a serious stab at the Battle Royale crown. That game is Spellbreak.
Harry Potter Goes Battle Royale
Spellbreak is the new game from Proletariat Inc. Founded in 2012 by game-industry veterans hailing from acclaimed studios such as Harmonix, Turbine, and Insomniac, its first game released in 2015: the popular iOS MMO World Zombination. This was followed by StreamLine, an action game built around streaming, and StreamLegends, and RPG extension for Twitch.
Things got interesting when Proletariat revealed the first glimpse of what would become Spellbreak. The definite name was only publicly revealed in last September, but it seems like a perfect fit for a game about spellcasting and… er, breaking enemy spells, I guess. This is a Battle Royale game featuring epic magic battles and impressive spell combos, with a fantasy art style that reminds me of Motiga’s sadly canceled MOBA game Gigantic, but it often gets compared to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Development is focused on PC for now, with other platforms being considered, but nothing is set in stone yet.
But why did Proletariat choose to enter the merciless Battle Royale genre? According to Seth Sivak, CEO and co-founder, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds had a great deal of importance in this decision, as it pushed the genre into the mainstream. Proletariat was carefully watching as H1Z1, Arma and other games followed suit and wondered about creating its own competitive multiplayer rogue-like game as well, while throwing some RPG elements into the mix.
As for the magic spellcasting, that was a different issue entirely. While looking at other games that included magical effects, Proletariat concluded that most of them either featured slow-moving old wizards or that the spells were nothing but a thinly veiled cover for guns. Their goal was for the player to feel like an “absolute badass battlemage” with fun combat, massive fireballs and incredible shock waves – judging by the explosive pre-alpha gameplay, they are on the right path.
Now with More Spells
Nothing screams RPG more than classes, and Spellbreak features a class system with the goal of carving a picture inside the player’s head. Players should have the image of a class in their head and know how it plays like. Classes are meant to be “thematic, evocative, and aspirational”, as Design Director Jesse Kurlancheek puts it.
Currently Spellbreak has 11 classes, one for each school of magic, along with five others, with plans for several more, both tied to a school of magic and not. The twist? You get to pick two classes, a primary and a secondary, each one coming with a passive ability and three scrolls/abilities that you get to choose and level up during the course of a match.
As the match unfolds and you earn skill points, you must spend these in two scrolls randomly selected from your primary and secondary classes. This is the time when you’ll face a difficult decision, as you can either level up a scroll you possess or choose a new one to be added to your character. Ultimately it all comes down to your playstyle and your current abilities, and the way that you want to mix and match them.
Here is one example. You may be forced to choose between Squall and Armor Piercing scrolls. Squall allows your mage to do some extra damage while up in the air, but Armor Piercing is self-explanatory and extremely tempting. Considering that your Tempest class already has the Updraft ability, which makes any whirlwind launch you high into the air, which one would you prefer? Are your current opponents wearing armor? It’s a tough call and one of the many that you will eventually have to make.
What Kind of Sorcery is That?
Spell combinations are a vital mechanic of Spellbreak. There are six types of magic a.k.a. schools available (fire, poison, ice, lightning, earth, and wind), translating into a vast array of combinations that skilled players will want to dominate in a heartbeat. A picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at the artwork above to get the gist of it.
Spellbreak’s mechanics somewhat remind me of the now defunct MOBA Magicka: Wizard Wars, which allowed you as well to combine spells in a battlefield, but from a top-down perspective.
The easiest example of a spell combo is using a fireball and a poison cloud. Combining the two will result in a green flame burst that will seriously affect anyone in the vicinity. Most combinations can be created by a single player, but everything is cranked up to eleven when it comes to Squads or Duos. Proletariat is keeping this mode under wraps for the time being, but it’s easy to imagine the potential that it holds for extreme two-player combos.
Looking back at the 11 classes, only a few were officially detailed so far, with glimpses or occasional mentions of others such as the Tempest. The Pyromancer, Conduit and Toxicologist are the classes that deserved an insightful, in-depth look.
The Pyromancer’s passion for everything fire should come as no surprise to anyone. However, his passive Phoenix’s Rebirth allows you to come back to life with 50% HP for the first time you die, complete with increased run speed and invulnerability for a few seconds, but you’re also unable to attack. Evidently, this almost feels like an unexpected second chance in a world where there are no second chances.
The Conduit is a student of the lightning school of magic and won’t hesitate when it comes to shocking his opponents. His passive Lightning Fast increases sprint speed by 20% and one of his scrolls allows him to become immune to lightning storms and even gain mana when struck by one. Thor would be proud – in fact, the developers mentioned that the inspiration for this ability came from watching a Thor movie and thinking just how amazing that would be.
The Toxicologist is all about gooey, poisonous stuff and spreading sickness around. Corrosion is his passive, eating away 3 armor a second for 10 seconds. However, the downside is that this doesn’t work if your opponent doesn’t have any armor. Of course, one of his abilities involves becoming immune to poison clouds.
Esports School of Magic
The fierce competitive nature of Spellbreak means that it was designed with the esports scene in mind. However, this isn’t a crucial point and there is only so much that Proletariat can do by putting the building blocks and basic mechanics in place and working in tandem with the players to take it to the next level.
Spellbreak should differentiate itself from other Battle Royale competitive games through its magical interaction system, says Seth Sivak. He adds that there are tons of combinations that push the game to a tactical level he hasn’t seen before. It’s not about getting the faster skill shots but more about thinking through and opting for the best tactical decisions given the current situation.
While Proletariat is heavily invested into communicating with its fans and regularly reveals details about the game’s mechanics and classes, there isn’t much talk about lore. Being a predominantly PvP game and even pending towards the more competitive scene, could Spellbreak entirely ditch the world building and character bios aspects? Not at all, Sivak said.
However, it is extremely challenging to convey the message, as players don’t have access to NPCs or cutscenes just as they would in a linear story-based game. So, the plan is to start with the game map and the characters themselves, trying to provide rich backdrops as to where they come from, answer some pressing questions such as to why they are fighting, if everyone in this world has magic powers or if it is a sort of Harry Potter universe where only a chosen few harness these powers.
This left me with one substantial question lingering in my mind: will Spellbreak have any sort of PvE? To that, Proletariat simply replied, “not at the moment,” so there’s that. While similar PvP-focused game KurtzPel will include a simple PvE boss raid-based narrative, Spellbreak will ditch it altogether. Quite a shame if you ask me, considering the accomplished art style and potential for a magic-based action MMO. Oh well, I guess we’ll always have Wizard101.
Apart from this omission, which may or may not be important to you, Spellbreak enchants. There is so much potential to its spell combining gameplay, and the fact that its artistic style is often compared to the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is another triumph.
It’s too early to say if Spellbreak will be free-to-play just like Fortnite Battle Royale. For now, you can sign-up for the pre-alpha or purchase a Founder’s Pack if you believe in the game. It doesn’t take a magic spell to make me think that it could become one of Battle Royale’s flagship games.