Thursday, October 6, 2016

Battlerite Early Access Impressions!




                I tried Bloodline Champions a few years back and I liked it, but at the time I was otherwise engaged with the worldwide phenomenon League of Legends to have eyes for other arena based games. Those who extensively played Bloodline Champions will find Battlerite extremely familiar. Some would even say that it’s just a reskinned version of the Stunlock’s Studios older game, but even as someone who isn’t so experienced with the previous title I have to firmly disagree.
                Battlerite is as a game built on the concepts brought forth by its older brother, but has grown to stand on its own as an attractive alternative to an overcrowded yet stale market. A proof for the desperate need of innovation is the success the game has since its Early Access release. I’ve always been a fan of games that do things differently and not just for the sake of being different, but as away to explore new gameplay mechanics - to innovate and Stunlock Studios have done just that (to a certain degree). Learning from past mistakes the developers are shaping misused good concepts into a game that has the potential to successfully join the eSports scene.

                Unlike with first dates, I can always tell how good my relationship with a game will be from its Beta stages. It happened with Rainbow Six Siege, Star Wars: Battlefront and having played Battlerite during its last Beta weekend, I knew I’ll get along well with this game.
Battlerite is an arena brawler, a subgenre that shares many similarities with its steroids infused cousin, MoBA, but while going to the same gym, they are on different floors and don’t take the same enhancementpills. Built on the core gameplay and concepts of Bloondline Champions, Battlerite has taken the good ideas from its predecessors including some of the former champions design, but has new and better ingredients to attract all the non-resentful fans of the older game and more. 
                In its Early Access state the game comes with 15 champions split into three categories: melee, ranged and support.
To say the champions are quirky is an understatement as Battlerite is a serious game with a theme not so serious. Each champion has his own distinctively unique look and a short history outlining their personality, a history which I’m hoping one day will be part of a much bigger picture than it is today.
                Every champion has 7 base abilities binded on the same keys and with similar functionalities. All the abilities are cooldown based with the exception that 2 of them also require energy to be used. In addition, each champion has 2 EX abilities which are an enhanced version of the base abilities at the cost of energy. The similarity in function and the shared mechanics for many abilities make for an easier way to balance the game as well as diminishing the basic learning curve.
Yummy, yummy, yummy I want food in my tummy!

                As an arena brawler, Battlerite is focused on PvP action without all the grinding responsibilities that come attached with classic MoBA games. There are multiple game modes available with the 2v2 and 3v3 being the standard PvP modes with a ranked system incorporated into them, but those insecure with their skills can practice vs AI or in a Training mode.
                The most distinct feature of Battlerite is the skill based combat system which requires manual targeting for each ability in the game. Players move their champions using the standard WASD while the mouse cursor sets the way the champion is facing and works as a target as well. The movement system might sound similar to a twin stick shooter, but it’s not hard to get used to it and has no functionality problems with mouse and keyboard. The combination of movement mechanics, targeting and skill shots create an intimidating learning curve, but it’s also the foundation of the game’s tasty gameplay.
                The matches take place in small circular arenas filled with obstacles and small bonuses in the form of globes which respawn after a time granting life and energy to those who pick them up.  The game uses a best of 5 rounds system with each round having a time limit of 2 minutes. After the time expires a sudden death kicks in reducing the playable size of the arena through a damaging perimeter that expands towards the center.
Get ready for battle!

                There is a striking similarity between Battlerite’s battles and MMO’s arenas with a fast and extremely intense action that leaves little to no moments of respite.  In order to win, a team has to eliminate the enemy and that’s no easy task. The 15 champions provide a huge number of team compositions and the synergy between certain champions gives birth to some insane combos of abilities and unique tactics. Knowing how to counter each setup and learning to adapt to each situation can prove a herculean task that won’t be accomplished until after many hours of play time.

                The tactics are many and are based on the setup and particular abilities of each champion. A well timed stun can trigger a snowballing effect of abilities hitting the defenseless target, this is why escape skills are so important. Dodge is sacred and the turning point of many battles is decided by the way this cooldown is used. Most champions are prone to powerful attacks after dodging which means a wasted dodge can be painful. The value of this ability together with the skill shots based combat system make Battlerite a playfield for mind games.
You won't see this one coming!


                Watched from afar, the rounds of Battlerite feel like a chaotic battle (especially in 3v3) between weirdly looking characters, but in the arena things take another shape entirely. Fighting for your life using abilities that require a lot of skill to pull off, adapting to the situation on the spot and synchronizing your actions with those of your teammates to reach that slow motion moment which signifies a kill and gives you the one second to rethink your moves it is pure PvP magic!
Each fight is an adrenaline rush and a learning experience, each fight will get you riled up while making you a better player and because of this, each fight has to be treated with respect.
In battle it all makes sense!


                Battling in the arena can get you to the heights of glory through the ranked system, but Battlerite comes with a feature truly designed for epeen gratification: The Odeum. First of all, The Odeum serves as a history for all the matches where players can watch replays and learn from their own mistakes. But above that, the Odeum is a feature combining the glorification of player’s greatest gameplay moments with a non-invasive social component. When accessing a replay, players can cut a part of the video and post it in the Odeum for other players to watch, like and share. Through this feature players now have access to an incorporated tool to share awesome plays and watch awesome plays without having to resort to external means. The Odeum is worth all the praising, it’s an innovative idea that could be expanded into something even greater and with Battlerite’s gameplay designed for show, the Odeum is already filled with stunning plays.
My moment of glory!


                When looking at things from a perspective not even its current popularity can’t hide the fact that Battlerite is a niche game. It has few of the traits that made MoBAs such a huge success because it traded off many of them in favor of shaping a better and more intense combat system and it succeeded in its goal. But this doesn’t mean it’s shallow in the content it provides. The complexity transcends the combat system allowing players to define the way they play each champion through small but definitely powerful builds. The name of the game comes from battlerites, which are passive skills chosen at the start of each new round to enhance some of the exiting abilities shaping into small builds and play styles.
Choose wisely!


                As a future free to play game and an online game designed in the gaming era of microntransactions and DLCs, Battlerite has the customary appearance customization through skins and other items of the kind. But there is no need to worry, each skin is purely cosmetic and the entire system greatly resembles that of Overwatch, which is a rather good thing. Each hero has various weapons and outfit skins, poses and even mounts (oh, did I forget?! Battlertie has mounts!) which are grouped into levels of quality. These items can be obtained through silver and gold chests which contain random loot of different quality levels. The chests are gained by leveling up the champions or by purchasing them with in-game currency or money.
Where is my inferno ram?!


                The customization system is fair and the only major complaint I have with it comes from the current lack of variety in skins for a good portion of the available champions. This is an issue that Stunlock Studios acknowledged and it should be in the top priority list as it will represent the primary source of income when the game will go free to play in Q1 2017.
No available skin can me him less ugly...


                On the technical side of things, Battlerite looks good with the kind of visuals that are to be expected from a game made by a small studio and targeting the free to play market. The graphics are cartoonish, but crisp and with enough details that will let even the pickier players out there searching for different excuses. I wouldn't mind a better adjustment for depth of field when zooming in and a fullscreen mode, but I think other things come on top of these small issues.


                The audio doesn’t disappoint either, each champion is uniquely voiced to suit his personality and the quality is worth praising. The music falls short on variety but it’s intense and in tone with the game’s theme, being backed by some surprising violin parts which I found delightful.


                I’m quite content with what Battlerite has to offer in terms of quality of gameplay and content. It had a pretty smooth transition from Beta to Early Access, but even so, there are a few complaints I would like to address in this article.
                At the moment, Battlerite suffers from a lack of variety coming from its limited content. The 15 champions can create quite a number of team compositions, but don’t offer enough options for the players to choose from. There is also the problem of the diversity of abilities which is attributed to the way the game is balanced and while I do like the current balance between champions I found the number similar abilities a little upsetting. I think more variety in this area wouldn’t hurt (to a point).
Then there are the issues with the UI. The menus lack basic features like tracking the reward’s progress or providing more information and statistics on performance. There are also small inconveniences with the party interface and friend list.
Last, but not least, Battlerite lacks a casual mode which would help players learn new champions without having to lose rank points. I did mention the existance of matches against AI, but let’s face it, the real training is going against other players.
                Most, if not all the problems mentioned above have been acknowledged and the developers are working on fixes and improvements. The content quantity is just a matter of time and if everything goes according to the plan the game will become richer as of this month as two new champions should be joining the arena by the end of October. The community has been very helpful, providing a ton of feedback and many issues have already been addressed.


Shifu ftw!


                Battlerite feels like the equivalent of a good arena shooter. You may not have the long term strategies of an ARMA match, but you get all the fun and intensity of an Unreal Tournament team match with a drop of tactical play, courtesy of the isometric perspective. The way how things went so far proves that Stunlock Studios have learned a lot from the past experience with Bloodline Champions and Dead Island: Epidemic and that’s wonderful.
                There is great potential in this game and I would hate it to see it go to waste. Rarely a game gets me back into something I got sick of playing and by doing so it means that game did a lot of things right and Battlerite is one of those rare exceptions. But if you are a player who still enjoys MoBAs yet it’s bothered by the downtime or the long matches, Battlerite could be the right alternative for you. If you are a PvP enthusiast, you won’t need any more reasons because Battlerite is PvP in the purest form!


(This article is based on a press copy of the game provided by the developer.)



Nodrim

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