Battlerite Review – Arena Brawler

In 2011 Bloodline champions came out.  The concept was simple, turn World of Warcraft’s arena combat into an entire game. This was accomplished by taking elements from MOBAs, fighting games, and top down shooters.  I always felt like this game deserved more attention than it received.  For new players and viewers, it’s easier to understand than a MOBA or RTS, but features team based matches that fighting games lack.  By utilizing the best elements of other competitive games, this game seemed poised to be the next big thing.

But it wasn’t meant to be, for whatever reason the game never caught on.  Outside of a vague feeling that the game should be bigger than it was, the only other thing I remember about the game was its unique tribal art style and theme.  Fortunately, Stunlock Studios didn’t die out, and now they are back with BC’s spiritual successor Battlerite.  This game recently launched as a free to play title.  With fond memories of the old game I grabbed some friends to try it out.

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Battlerite is an arena fighting game: two teams enter, one team leaves.  Matches can be 2v2 or 3v3.  You control your character from a top down perspective.  WASD controls your character’s movements and moving the mouse lets you look around and aim your abilities.  Where your looking is extremely important because you cannot see what your allies see. If they are out of your vision you won’t be able to see them at all.  This makes voice communication very important, but with none built into the game.  While playing with randoms can still be fun, the game is best played with your friends on voice comms.

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Before entering a match, each player selects their characters.  Battlerite has 21 different characters, each sorted into one of 3 types: Melee, Ranged, and Support.  Melee and Ranged roles are primarily damage dealers.  Ranged characters include the free character Jade, a gunner with a powerful snipe move and the ability to go invisible, and Ashka a little pyromaniac who turns into fireballs.

 

The Melee role is made up of a few different unofficial sub roles: assassins, bruisers, and tanks.  Assassins have high damage but low survivability,  like Croak a frog ninja.  Bruisers have medium damage and survivability.  My favorite of the bruisers is Freya who dual wields hammers and slings lightning.  Lastly the Tanks are very durable, but deal less damage.  Currenly only Bakko fits into this role. He is a dude with a shield almost as big as himself.

 

In most games supports are the boring role, generally relegated to healer status with not much diversity among classes or characters, not so here.  Battlerites supports have much more diversity in mechanics and themes than the other two roles.  Some examples of interesting supports are Pestilus, a large bug infested guy who heals allies with moths but can also control an enemy’s movement with a brain bug.  Poloma the Psychopomp can link her allies with a soul bolt to spread out heals, as well as link enemies to spread out the damage.  All that functionality is built into just 1 of her 9 moves!

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Each character in this game has 9 unique moves, quite a step up from the usual 4 in most MOBAs.  Fortunately, the game helps ease you into different character by putting similar moves onto similar keys across the board. Left and Right click are your primary and secondary attacks.  Spacebar is a mobility skill, like a jump or dash.  Q tends to be a defensive ability, like a counter attack or block, although sometimes it can be a crowd control (CC) ability as well.  E is often CC or some other utility skill.

 

The next 4 skills always require Energy to use. Energy is accumulated through use of other attacks or can be picked up on the field.  This acts a bit like a super meter in a fighting game.  First is R, which usually costs 25% energy and is often defensive.   F is your character’s ultimate ability and requires a full energy meter to use.  Ultimates are large and high damaging abilities.  They are also the least creative moves with many many characters having some variation of standing still and shooting 3 large projectiles in a row.

 

Lastly there are the EX skills.  These are tied to 2 of your other skills and requires you to hold down shift to activate, changing that ability and adding an energy cost. These are different for each character, so be sure to double check where the EXs are when picking up a new character. Here’s an example: Ashka‘s normal spacebar move is Searing Flight, which turns him in to fire and flies to a target location.  By holding down shift then hitting space, this move becomes Searing Fire which turns him to Pure fire, and flies to a target location.  The new move will cost energy, but lets his normal attacks heal him after he lands.

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Bear in mind these designations for keys is more of an outline than a hard rule, not every character’s Q will be defensive.  I really like this set up, it makes picking up new characters easier because you have at least a general idea of what each key will do.  My only real issue is with the EX skills, which I find myself having a hard time utilizing effectively.  Those skills seem to be the least necessary to the character’s kit, so if you’re just starting out its probably OK to ignore them for the first few matches.

 

Learning the 9 moves for each character can be quiet daunting, then the game layers Battlerites on top.  Battlerites are different options enhance different abilities or add passive effects to each character.  They are chosen after the game loads in, but before the match starts. 5 are be selected.  These allow is for more customization to the way your character plays outside of execution.  Fortunately for new players each character has a suggested build.  At first, I found this aspect intimidating, but after playing around with it for a bit it really isn’t bad.  It just requires you to be familiar with the character’s base playstyle before you fiddle with it.  For advanced players Battlerites are selected after the enemy team is revealed, allowing you to try and adjust your set up to counter them.

 

Once you’ve got your team set and Battlerites selected, now it’s time to fight.  Matches are played in a best of 5 rounds, 3 wins secures victory.  Everyone runs around the arena, trying to damage their opponents while avoiding taking damage. Rounds end once all members of one team are eliminated.  The game utilizes a couple different features to prevent matches from dragging on forever.  The first is max health damage, taking too much damage lowers max health, preventing healing from being too effective.  You can regain small amounts of max health through health pickups on the field, as well as through the Energy Rune aka “middle orb”.  This thing has 60 health and can be damaged by both teams, but the team who lands the killing blow gets a boost to health, max health and energy reserves.  If the match hasn’t ended after the match timer runs out, the Death Vortex will spawn in.  This is a big blue area that drains the health of anyone who stands inside it, just like the blue wall in PUBG.  The Death Vortex acts to quickly end the match by restricting play area.

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Each character has different strengths and weaknesses, to succeed you must work closely with your allies.  It’s especially important to remain in sight of your allies.  Remember that vision is not shared, if you become isolated your team may not be aware until you die.  One thing that’s surprised me is the viability of different team compositions.  I assumed the optimal set up would be 1 melee, 1 ranged, and 1 support. So far I’ve found success with many different compositions.  Although, that obvious 1 of each setup is the easiest to coordinate. If your team can compensate for their weaknesses it’s possible to obtain victory.  Recently I played a match where our team was 2 ranged and 1 support (me), versus a standard comp.  We won by utilizing our movement and CC abilities to maintain range and poke them to death.  The enemy team would occasionally gain an edge by isolating our relatively weaker characters through displacements and body blocking.

 

While playing it’s important to think on your feet.  During a match, I was playing as Jade, a gunner.  I would attempt to open each round by using my Snipe ability on their front liner.  Snipe has a very long and obvious windup animation, but if its hits it stuns the enemy and deals heavy damage.  Their front liner was Raigon. When he saw the laser sight of Snipe he would activate deflect, resulting in me stunning myself and taking large damage, starting the fight in a rough spot for my team.  After this strategy failed two rounds in a row, I realized I could cancel (c key) my snipe animation after he activates his deflect, effectively wasting his deflect and allowing me to line up a second shot.  Using this strategy, we took the next 2 rounds.  In the final round, he caught on to my strategy and activated deflect during my 2nd snipe, fortunately I reacted quickly and canceled the 2nd snipe.  That entire match was very tense, but my team won out in the end.

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As a competitive game Battlerite feels great.  When I lose, I understand why.  Maybe I made a bad play, or the opponents were just better.  Nothing in the game feels unfair, or out of the player’s control (no RNG).  So far in this early stage of the game the meta feels open ended, most team compositions feel viable.  I wouldn’t be surprised if as time goes on and more people get better and better certain comps and builds will become cookie cutter, but we aren’t there yet.  Looking at the current tier list champions seem relatively well balanced against each other, with none going below B tier.

 

Battlerite isn’t just fun, it’s free.  So, it’s easy to get into, and hopefully easier to recruit some friends for voice chat sessions, which is where this game truly shines.  I think if it sounds at all interesting at all to you it’s worth checking out.

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