Spellbreak Review

And so, another Battle Royale game comes crashing down into the party. It’s a popular genre – clearly – and one that I was initially sceptical of. However in recent times I found them to be among some of the most fun times I have gaming, and so when Spellbreak dropped I was keen to give it a try. Happily I can report that it is not only great fun, but has the potential to rise in the ranks should the community get behind it as it has done for some of the other titles out there.

It’s a fairly familiar set up to start with; pick a mode (solo, duo or squad of 3) and, once all of the players have settled in, drop from the sky, land in a place of your choosing, and loot as fast as possible while also fighting off other players and avoiding the ever closing circle of doom. There’s no points for originality in this aspect, but then why mess with a tried and tested formula?

Where Spellbreak differs is in the surrounding elements. Rather than starting with nothing we get to choose from one of a few classes. As the name might imply we play as Mages who wield magical gauntlets that can cast spells. Classes include the fire-based Pyromancer, ice-based Frostborn, rock-based Stoneshaper, poison-based Toxicologst, electricity-based Conduit, and the wind-based Tempest. Each has two basic attacks by default; the Pyromancer for example has a fireball and an Area Of Effect wall of flame. We start with the common variety of gauntlet, but in the field it is possible to find the usual array of rare, epic, and legendary types as well, offering up better damage and speed etc. I like this approach as it sets all players off on a better footing, much as arena shooters of old tended to do. We’re not limited to only one per squad either, so it you want to run with a team of 3 Conduit’s then have at it.

If you do though you’ll be missing out on a big part of what makes the combat in Spellbreak unique and fun – spells from not only your character but also those of your team (and enemies) can be combined for extra effects. Chucking a whirlwind spell at a flame wall sees a fiery tornado created that sucks in anyone nearby, while electrocuting a poisonous gas cloud stuns anyone caught inside it preventing them from escaping quickly. It’s this mechanic that is core to the appeal of Spellbreak and, while it can get hectic when there are a few teams fighting at once, there’s a lot of potential for team play and tactics beyond what you might find in a more traditional shooter-based BR game.

The same is also true for nullifying the effects of spells. Chuck an ice blast at a fireball and it’ll harmlessly be quenched, while a wind blast will send toxic fumes floating off into the distance. It’s a smart mechanic that is all the more interesting when you add in friendly fire; not working together well enough will basically see your attacks nullified before any damage can be done. And while each player starts with a class of gauntlet, they can also pick up an additional one each for the left hand; effectively a team of 3 can cover almost all of the classes should they plan things out and find the appropriate gauntlets in the world.

In addition there are Runes to pick up that grant an extra ability. One sees us able to teleport vast distances in an instant, while another bestows the power of flight for a short time, among other effects. These also come in a variety of tiers, with the effect or duration increasing the closer we get to Legendary. Rounding things out are amulets, belts and boots which grant extra mana, shields, and speed respectively and again fall under the tiered system.

Surprisingly, this was my first game result!

Mana is used to control attack ability, with the harder hitting ones draining the bar quickly. The same bar also governs the default ability to hover for a short while, so attacking while in the air sees it drain very fast indeed. The amulets increase this on a per round basis, with it being wise to hunt higher tier ones out as soon as possible. With an extended mana bar we can hop up the side of buildings or over huge gaps with ease. Great for ambushing someone, but also a brilliant way to give the person being ambushed a fighting chance as they can easily get on level ground with their attacker.

Much like Apex Legends the game blocks us from picking up lower tier loot by mistake, telling us we already have better equipment. This is very handy as often there’ll be a sprawl of icons clustered together and trying to pick up individual ones can be fiddly. Instead we can just hoover up anything of use and leave the rest behind.

Health and armour spells can be picked and stored in a similar manner to Fortnite, with a 4 slot bar letting us tab between items and a press of Y consuming them. There are also Scrolls to be found; these increase one of three stats for that round – mana, speed and damage, each up to a level of 3. These are harder to come by, often appearing in Epic chests that themselves are harder to find.

All in all then there are a lot of familiar systems in play here if you’re a BR veteran but they are presented in a way the makes Spellbreak quite unique. Getting into a fight with a few teams and seeing the spells flying all over is quite a spectacle, and the action is fast and responsive enough that it’s rare I felt as though I didn’t at least have a fighting chance. Rounds are fast, with just a few minutes between landing and the initial circle closing in. Even this first shrink is hazardous, as the circle closes at a much faster rate than other titles in the genre. If left too late there’s very little chance you won’t get caught out, though thankfully the damage isn’t too great – to start with. The map also isn’t overly large, though it is packed with locations to visit. There are Vaults that appear at random locations holding high tier loot, and are natural hot beds for action as teams race to unlock them from the drop. The take about 20 seconds to drop the loot within, so there’s plenty of time for a fight – or a nerve-wracking scan of the area hoping you’re alone.

After each successful circle evasion our character also gains an extra ability according to their class. Sticking with the Pyromancer, after the first circle we gain an ability to walk through our wall of flame unharmed, as well as getting the ability to fly for a few seconds. It’s a smart way to reward players for surviving, and only adds to the end game carnage as powered up mages battle it out.

Being a Free to Play title Spellbreak naturally comes with some of the associated trappings in order to make some money. We were granted access to the Founders Pack for this review, giving us around 15000 in game coins (rough math puts this at about £90 worth) as well as some cosmetic items; à la carte items such as skins and accessories can be purchased, with a rotating store selection on offer. Of course these aren’t cheap (a skin will set you back around 1200 coins) but if you’re invested then they are on par with what you’ll find elsewhere.

Special commendation must go to the presentation of Spellbreak; the visuals recall a mixture of Fortnite mixed with Breath of the Wild, while the map has very distinct areas that look great, if a little repetitive at times. Models for castles and such repeat, but there are also enough unique areas to balance out this repetitive filler. Audio is top notch as well, the score as we drop does a great job of rousing the spirits for battle and honestly could stand up against some single player RPG’s in terms of quality. Effects work really hits well, the spells cracking, popping and whizzing with dramatic flair. Chests emit a light hum to notify us of their proximity, and it’s easy to detect nearby players when they’re engaged in a fight – though the bright, colourful flashes of the spells are a better indicator!

The game is currently labelled as Game Preview on the store – I’m told that this is in error and will be removed soon. There are still a few technical issues that I came across in my time though; dropped connections to games, parties not showing correctly for those in them, and a few hard crashes too. Of course like most online focused titles some teething issues are to be expected, and I’d hope to see things like this disappear over time.

Conclusion

I came into Spellbreak hesitant for yet another entry into the Battle Royale genre and yet I’m sitting here writing this a convert; it looks and sounds great, and the core gameplay is unique enough among its peers that it is easy to recommend if you fancy something that doesn’t rely on traditional gunplay. Of course, the usual FTP monetisation is present, but it’s a small (optional) price to play for what is an incredibly fun game.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.
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Good
  • Core gameplay brings a brilliant, unique spin to Battle Royale
  • Plenty of classes to choose from that encourage teamwork
  • Lovely visuals and audio
  • Rounds are quick
Bad
  • The usual FTP monetisation, though it's no more egregious than other titles out there
  • Some connection issues at times
9
Excellent
Gameplay - 9
Graphics - 9
Audio - 9
Longevity - 9
Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan

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