Geek Review: Spellbreak

The battle royale genre has evolved quite considerably in the last three years. Back in 2017, there were only a handful of games, including Fortnite and PUBG. Since then, there have been more and more entries, including those from big players, giving us Call of Duty: Warzone and Apex Legends. Each of them takes their own spin on the battle royale format, adding in character skillsets and fast-paced gameplay styles and this year, players have a new island to jump into. Spellbreak is a free-to-play game that’s launched on PC and all major consoles.

Game developers Proletariat officially describes Spellbreak as a ‘multiplayer action-spellcasting game where you unleash your inner battlemage’. The premise is quite simple: as a newcomer, you’ve been tasked to learn and use elemental magic to cast powerful spells and become the best battlemage out there. 

At first glance, Spellbreak looks like a fun and well-polished indie title. The art direction is fantastic, a fun and vibrant style that adds an element of child-like wonder to the game experience. The game has an impressive musical score that sounds like it was recorded with a full orchestra and that’s definitely one of the best parts of the game.

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Spellbreak offers a gameplay experience that’s unique to the battle royale tropes we’ve seen in recent years, by incorporating fantasy and RPG elements into the battle royale game mechanics. This is where the game becomes unique, but you might be put off by the additional decisions you need to consider to play the game well.

The game starts by players choosing six elemental classes, each with their unique starting weapon: Frostborn (Ice), Conduit (Lightning), Pyromancer (Fire), Toxicologist (Poison), Stoneshaper (Stone), and Tempest (Wind).  Each of the elemental gauntlets has unique spells and magic deal elemental damage and cater to specific playstyles. 

There’s a reason why this is the first decision you make as a player because these gauntlets ultimately define how you want to approach your play in the battle royale. Do you prefer to stay clear of the action and win from afar? Then stick with Frostborn’s high-damage Ice lance arrows. Feeling in the mood to harass players early in the game? You’ll enjoy Stoneshaper’s aggressive, close-combat attacks. 

As with every other battle royale title, you squad up with a total of three players. Proletariat recently announced Solos and Duos to provide options for individual or partner gaming, but because of the gauntlet mechanics, squad building becomes a different experience as teams have more opportunities to become more strategic and defined. You can perhaps go for a team built by the dexterity of Conduit and Tempest attacks, or have an all-rounded team with Pyro and Stoneshaper to get that damage early in the round. So many games before Spellbreak define their squad building mechanics as purely a social experience, primarily depending on your friends and whoever’s online to invite to the team. But Spellbreak begs you to ask another question. Sure, your friend can play. But exactly how do they play? And does it fit with the way you play as a group?  

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Proletariat took their time to incorporate these elements into every aspect of the player experience, outside of your primary weapon and attack mechanics. In every match, you have the ability to obtain and carry a second Gauntlet as your secondary weapon. Why? Because Spellbreak wants you to cast multiple spells at the same time. Each element can be combined to create unique pivots and damage to your play. Defeat your enemies with a whirlwind of fire or an electric ball of poisonous gas, or protect yourself from a gas bomb by shooting it with your Frostborn arrow. 

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Players around the world are also seeing some useful ways to leverage each magic spell. For example, every Frostborn arrow you shoot leaves an ice trail that when you pass through, you end up skating and increasing your speed. Tempest whirlwinds not only keep your enemies in place but also help you shoot up in the air quickly. It opens up new ways of using each magic spell, beyond what Proletariat set to accomplish.

The gauntlets of elemental magic are one of the best things to happen to Spellbreak, and it challenges the way we’ve been playing battle royale games so far. Being able to create combinations of elements from your weapons adds a level of strategy and complexity that’s refreshing and fun. And because Spellbreak embeds the mechanic into every aspect of the player experience, you start to really respect their commitment in bringing this RPG element into the genre.

By the way, gauntlets aren’t the only elements that affect your gameplay. There’s a number of additional RPG quirks that might seem complex but feel unusually secondary to the overall play. 

Runes offer spells such as invisibility and flight to manoeuvre into your next battle or escape. These are great fun and they help define your squad and player dynamics, another question to ask the team as you set forth into your pursuit to become the last squad standing. Talents acquired from each class can be set to buff specific elements of movement and aiming. And finally, there is equipment which you’ll need to find early in the match to your speed, mana and armour. Though it feels strange that you need to equip and find a belt before even having the ability to consume armour shards for your shield. 

While it looks like there’s plenty of customisations to offer players, it’s a very linear system and they only provide granular differences. After twenty matches in, it’s pretty clear that the only real difference that makes or breaks your match is the primary gauntlet and rune and there’s a huge opportunity here for the game to update and balance some of the talents and buffs that are offered to players.

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Beyond Spellbreak’s unique RPG quirks, every round takes place in Hollow Lands, a beautifully created map with enough space for a long-range ambush, corners for healing, and buildings to hide into safety. The map has specific geographies across various sections, a style you’ll find similar in previous battle royale games. Players might notice some annoyances with the terrain and opening chests, but these can be easily fixed in the next patch. 

What makes Spellbreak different is how they use the map to incorporate levitation, and the way players progress their gauntlet powers and talents. Every player has the ability to levitate which drains your Mana meter. It takes a while to get used to and can be a steep learning curve as players have to anticipate their enemy’s movement for aiming. Because of levitation, Proletariat uses height as an important element in its map design. You’ll start to notice that buildings and mountains are shaped in a way that’s difficult to hover over and jump through. There’s also a rhythm that you’ll need to learn in order to quickly navigate through the map. This is where you’ll probably depend on your Runes or a Frostborn player to help you out.

Spellbreak also changes the way you depend on the map and the safe zones that take place in every match. Each gauntlet can level up, offering unique skills that make your magic stronger and more effective at defeating your opponents. But the only way to level up is to arrive in the safe zone. This makes players redefine their relationship with the map and the zones that they need to go to. Not only is it a place to win, but it’s the only way for you to get stronger magic. It’s a unique differentiator and one that ultimately invites players to become more active in their playstyle. Because the quicker you arrive at the safe zone, the better your magic will be.

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And it’s quite impressive that amongst all this new design and mechanics, the game didn’t show many bugs or frame-rate issues that would stop anyone from playing. It’s a welcoming experience, especially since free-to-play games have an expectation for being extremely buggy and sluggish.

Unfortunately, Spellbreak loses with its approach to in-game cosmetics and monetisation. The Spellbreak shop is an underwhelming experience. The store only consists of a few skins and cosmetic changes to your levitation and artefacts, even though there’s actually a larger library of skins to choose from. You can receive cosmetics based on your class progression, but there’s no other option besides that and paying for more coins. And while cosmetics might not be for everyone, especially those that aren’t willing to pay, Proletariat could have done a better job of making their cosmetics more accessible to early players.

Thankfully, crossplay is best-in-class and extremely convenient on Spellbreak, supporting platforms include PC, Playstation, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. Because every launch starts with a login to your unique account, every progression you make is carried between devices. It was easy to switch from a PC to the Playstation 4, and then back to the PC again. Cross-play support should be the standard for multiplayer gaming, and the game delivers by opening up to all platforms at launch with no issues.

Community is an important aspect of the battle royale genre, and Spellbreak made the right moves to invest in community platforms to support new players. There’s an official Discord server that’s moderated by the team and is a great place to meet fellow players and squad up. The Gamepedia and Subreddit are comprehensive and a solid reference for new players looking to learn more detailed information on gauntlets, talents and runes. The developers are also active on each platform, building relationships with players and listening to the feedback shared.

Spellbreak is a refreshing entry for the battle royale genre. The combination of magical and RPG elements create exciting new ways to play but also opens up new gameplay learning curves to beat through. And even with their current shortcomings, this unique title has enough potential to become an essential multiplayer game to play overtime. It’s just a matter of how the community grows, how they balance the mechanics, and whether you want to commit with the added strategy and movement complexity.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

It’s still in its early stages, but Spellbreak is worth a try for gamers looking for a new kind of battle royale experience.

Overall
7.3/10
7.3/10
  • Gameplay - 8/10
    8/10
  • Story - 6/10
    6/10
  • Presentation - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value - 7/10
    7/10
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