Developer: Stunlock Studios
Publisher: Stunlock Studios
Platform: Windows 10
Copy purchased in Early Access – Full Release Reviewed
Aping a 3D brawler more than a MOBA, Battlerite offers something of a hybrid experience between the two aforementioned game types. In Battlerite players are placed in teams of either two, or three against an opposing team of equal size and made to fight in an arena until only one team is still left standing. Every ability is a skill shot, so you are responsible for aiming everything, while also avoiding the casts of the enemy. This hectic combat is not unlike the team fights that take place within a MOBA, but they lack the downtime that precedes and follows such events. In addition, Battlerite also streamlines the item and objective systems found in other MOBAs. One such simplification is the use of battlerites, skill augments that improve your abilities in a variety of ways, being selected in a group of five prior to beginning a match. Furthermore, an orb spawns in the centre of the arena after a set period of time which provides both teams with an HP and energy bonus for claiming it. These features offer a quicker variant on items and objective claiming that is found in other MOBAs. The culminating result is a game where matches are quick, skill based, and high impact making for a very interesting take on an arena combat game.
The first thing I really appreciate about Battlerite is how quick the matches are. Each match has a two minute timer and upon expiring the play space is shrunk down forcing players into a tighter space. This keep all rounds very quick as the odds are increasingly stacked against all players left standing. As a result, even when you are defeated you’re never left to sit and watch a long match continue to play out. You die, the match ends shortly, and you’re right back into the action. Having such a quick turn around time on matches really helps to keep the pace of the game moving, and also keeps the player in the thick of the experience.
In addition to the quick matches, Battlerite also features a very simplified set of mechanics compared to similar games. Talents and items are made into minor passive abilities known as battlerites, which you assign to a loadout before a match. This allows you to quickly read through and assign the rites you’re most interested in before jumping into a game. In conjunction with loadouts, there is also no mana to manage on any characters. Instead, Battlerite opts to having energy that charges as you land abilities. Energy can be spent on a subset of abilities as well as an ultimate ability. Due to this system you’re more often managing cooldowns than you are your mana usage, which helps to simplify one more common element of MOBAs. These simplifications help to keep your focus on the aspect of the game that is at the focal point of the experience: the player versus player combat.
What really sells Battlerite isn’t the simplicity of starting, or the quick pacing: it’s the balance. In a game that prides itself on being a high skill game where only your ability to perform can earn you a competitive edge having perfect balance is key. I’m of the opinion that Battlerite is fairly close to achieving this sense of equilibrium. There is only two notably overly powerful characters in the current roaster (Destiny and Poloma), but given the right team composition every champion feels like they have an opportunity to shine. Losses feel like an opportunity to improve one’s own ability rather than simply being matched against a team comp you were hard countered by because of how equal the playing field feels. Possessing that sense that you can improve really helps to drive the player to continue playing. As a result the balance plays an integral role in making Battlerite enjoyable to play.
While there are aspects to Battlerite I do enjoy there are also many I do not, firstly the matchmaking. In the many matches I’ve played in Battlerite I’ve felt like the matchmaking algorithm had a difficult time placing me. There have been play sessions where I’ve gone several matches losing without question as my opponents stomped me to dust. Similarly, I’ve also had many win streaks go by where my team was dominating the opposition without contest. These kind of matches feel wholly unsatisfying to play for both sides as they lack the tension to make them feel exciting. There was also several instances where the match making placed me in matches across ranked tiers. The worst example of this happening is a time when I, as a bronze player, was matched with a gold player and placed against a team of high silver players. Having matches that more consistently put me up against a challenge where there is give and take would have improved my overall enjoyment with the title.
Along with poor matchmaking, Battlerite also features one of the worst UIs I have seen in a game. Menus are buried within other menus, for seemingly no reason, with items that would make sense at the top level (such as character customization) being buried within a sub-menu. After poking around the menu I now know where everything is, but all of the important items (such as starting a match) are relegated behind upwards of three clicks. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it left me wondering why so many other games can design clear, easy to use menus and Stunlock Studios failed to do so with Battlerite. The UI isn’t a huge detracting point, but it is an easily remedied blemish that has served as a point of frustration throughout my time with the game.
Loot boxes are a popular topic to scrutinize at present, and while I find Battlerite’s implementation of it less offensive than other games I still don’t like it. The loot boxes in Battlerite, thankfully, only contain cosmetic items. In a game that prides itself on being skill based this is an especially important detail to note as being able to unlock more powerful items in the crates would undermine the experience. However, many of the boxes I opened contained one or more duplicate items. At present I only possess about a quarter of the in game unlocks, so it is really disappointing to open a chest to find it contains nothing but duplicates. While this will not affect all players I found it really soured my mood on the cosmetic items, especially as the random crates are the only way to get them. Like the UI, this alone wouldn’t be a big problem, but it compounds with the other smaller gripes to make the experience feel more negative overall.
Stepping away from loot boxes, lets now focus on what is often considered one of the most important aspects of champion based games: the heroes themselves. At first glance Battlerite appears to have a robust lineup of diverse characters each with unique skills and abilities. However, after many hours playing the game I noticed many similarities between a number of champions. For example, almost everyone in the game possess a mobility skill bound to the space bar. Additionally, many of the support heroes heal by using their right click ability, and anyone with a counter has that bound to Q by default. These are all surface level comparisons that ignore the subtle differences between characters, but they still make the them feel less unique and interesting to play.
The problem of characters feeling homogeneous is further cemented by the lack of customization found in their respective battlerites. These passive abilities only offer very minor bonuses to skills and this makes seeing similarities across several champions easier. A number of them have a battlerite to recast an skill for a second weaker version after casting the original. Others gain a passive twenty to forty percent boost in duration time to a particular status ailment on any given ability. The lack of diversity in the battlerites, in addition to several parallels in character skill design, ultimately leads to Battlerite featuring a cast of heroes who can feel very alike, which makes extended playtime with the game feel tiresome and dull.
I think one of my biggest gripes in Battlerite is that it feels like there is very little room for counterplay within it. At the beginning of the match you and your opponents choose your passive skill augmentations and then the match begins. There is no way to adapt how your character can play in response to how the opposition is playing. Things remain static until the end of the match. Having the ability to choose battlerites throughout the match as well as having the opportunity to synergize your loadout with your team was part of the game during early access, but was removed. I feel like this was a huge misstep as it added an extra layer of complexity to matches and could really change the pace for, or against you depending on the talent choices of each player. Instead, most games play out the same across all rounds and that can lead to a feeling of stagnation, especially after you’ve put a considerable amount of time into the game.
Throughout my playtime with Battlerite I’ve had an equal measure of enjoyment and frustration, and because of this I’d have a hard time recommending it. The minor annoyances in the match making, UI, and loot boxes, in conjunction with how repetitive matches began to feel due to the character design and the lack of counterplay took me from enjoying every session of the game I played to feeling bored with the game. It really is exciting to play at first and my initial impressions of it were positive, but over time all of the pain points began outweighing the quick skill based matches. If you’re curious about the game it still might be worth checking out as it is free to play, but it isn’t a game I’d recommend in its current state.