Battlerite review and critique of the early access version

Back in the ancient times of 2011 my main multiplayer obsession was Bloodline Champions, a game so well designed I felt I could never truly master it. All of the characters were almost perfectly balanced aganist each other, pretty much every team composition worked as long as you played with its strengths in mind, and to top it all off, not a single element of gameplay was in the hands of random chance! Alas, due to publisher greed and a couple of misguided patches Bloodline Champions abruptly transformed into something... different. Something I and many others simply couldn't enjoy any longer, and so with a great deal of sorrow I ended up leaving a game I spent a good hundred hours with.

While Bloodline Champions still remains a mere shadow of its former self, I am glad to say that there is hope on the horizon as Battlerite is about as close as you can get to the original Bloodline Champions without wearing its skin as some sort of freaky mask. It features the same cast of diverse characters, the same intricate balance, the same frantic combat, and most importantly, a pretty damn good matchmaking system that actually managed to consistently pair me with equally skilled players.

Battlerite is currently in Early Access, however, so while all of the gameplay mechanics are present and accounted for there are still some missing features and a definite lack of polish. With that in mind, allow me to show you what exactly Battlerite does right, and what still needs to be improved.

Battlerite screenshot showcasing three different heroes

One of these is not like the others

First things first, what in the world is Battlerite anyway? Well, the best way to describe it would be to say that its what World of Warcraft's arena would turn into if the entire game was focused around PvP and PvP alone. Or in other words, Battlerite is a PvP arena/brawler hybrid that has two teams face off against each other across numerous skirmishes. There is no auto-aim to rely on, no god of randomness to pray to - its just you and your team against the enemy in a battle of pure skill.

It all comes down to mastering your favorite characters, learning how to dodge enemy attacks while attempting to land your own, and ensuring that you use your abilities in the best way possible as any mistake you make is liable to be punished by death. Its brutal, its challenging, and as the quickly increasing hours on my Steam account confirm - its all good fun!

Battlerite screenshot showing two laser projectiles

Don't cross the streams!

Given that Battlerite is a purely PvP game there is one element of gameplay that takes priority above all else - the balance! Since Battlerite released only a couple of days ago I won't go as far as to say that I've managed to figure out the entire metagame, but from everything I've seen so far there are no characters that stand out as either overpowered or completely uselessly. There are some characters that appear to be weak on first glance, mostly because their skill floor is placed so incredibly high, but in the hands of good players even they can be an absolute monstrosity. This to me is a telltale sign of a healthy balance.

None of this should come as much of a surprise to Bloodline Champion veterans given that Battlerite had an exceptional role model to base all of its balance on. However, while Battlerite definitely takes most of its hero design from Bloodline Champions, there are some subtle but incredibly significant changes to nearly all of the heroes. For example, the Ranid Assassin (or Croak as he like to call himself these days) has lost a significant amount of his burst damage in exchange for even better mobility. Since I've spent well over a hundred hours playing the Ranid Assassin this instantly felt weird and wrong to me, but after poisoning people with Croak for a couple of hours I've come to realize how enjoyable these changes have ended up being. Instead of constantly having to walk out of the fight in order to deal with the clunky jump mechanics I am now able to more reliably weave in and out of combat, spread toxin with precision strikes, and only commit to the kill when the odds are stacked in my favor. Just like a true voodoo midget assassin would!

Battlerite's Croak hero

Running away is not an option against Croak

And if that's not enough changes for you, Battlerite also features a brand new card system that lets you choose one out of three predetermined ability enhancements before each round begins. Now before you run away screaming it would probably be useful to know that these 'cards' (or battlerites as they are called) are completely predetermined and aren't being sold for any type of currency, real or not. They are simply there to give you a chance to adjust your tactics depending on your opposition.

I must admit I expected this system to be pretty damn useless since World of Warcraft has long since thought me that one choice always tends to dominate over all others, but thankfully this was not the case. There are obviously some battlerites you will always choose if you're just looking to dish out the biggest damage numbers, but they are often counterbalanced by defensive or utility battlerites - things you need in order to live long enough to actually do that sort of damage.

So if you're in a group with no healers it would probably be prudent to pick up a couple of battlerites that either help you survive longer, or just burst down the enemy even harder. If that plan ends up failing spectacularly and you realize that your opponents are constantly running away from you, why not take a battlerite that helps out with mobility next? These sort of adjustments mid-match might feel a bit imbalanced, but you are always able to see what your opponents have chosen, and as such can easily modify your own plans to counter theirs. While I'm still not sure if all of this is going to create any balance issues in the future, right now I couldn't be happier with how the battlerites have been implemented.

Battlerite screenshot showcasing the various talents

Believe it or not, all three are perfectly viable

The one thing I am a bit displeased with are the arenas, and its not because they are poorly balanced, but quite the opposite! Every single arena consists of the same bends and turns, corners to juke the enemy in and hopefully lead them into traps, and a couple of health/ability powerups that spawn near the middle. All of this is perfectly fine as far as balance is concerned, but the problem is that all of the areans feel exactly the same to me.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting to see arenas that suddenly kill players for no reason, but some sort of extra mechanic would've been interesting. Instead of having every arena be the same, my ideal version of Battlerite would have each one require slightly different tactics. This could potentially be done by reshaping the terrain in order to create unique obstacles, placing a bunch of powerups in 'deathtrap' locations so that the battles get a certain ebb and flow to them, and things like that. The current arenas are certainly not bad, after all they provide for a perfectly symmetrical and balanced experience so they're already quite high up on the rankings, but I'd just like to see them have a bit more personality.

Battlerite Arena screenshot

The arenas are perfectly balanced, but lack a bit of 'oomph'

While besting your opponents in honorable combat is certainly an important part of any PvP game, it is not the most important one! What really, truly matters is that you look damn good while doing so, and it is here that Battlerite still needs a lot of work. There are plenty of extra skins and weapon appearances to unlock, so you would think that this isn't going to be too much of a problem, but they are all just plain ol' boring!

No matter which character you select, all of their skins are simple recolors that might look great in the preview screen, but are mostly invisible in the game itself. Since you're expected to either unlock these through hours upon hours of gameplay or through the mighty swing of the credit card, it is a serious issue to have the skins be so low key. I can certainly understand the developer's desire to keep the skins tame so that each character is easily distinguishable in the middle of combat, but there surely must be some sort of a middle ground that can satisfy both sides. 

And speaking of microtransactions, its probably high time I've mentioned that Battlerite is going to be a free-to-play game once it finally releases. This doesn't mean your Early Access purchase is worthless, however, as it does bring with it one amazing benefit - the ability to play all current and future heroes without the need to unlock them first. In my eyes this is the best possible system for a free-to-play game, though I might be slightly biased here given how much I despise any competitive game that locks away heroes behind expensive purchases. Whether this is something you agree with or not, it is still extremely good to have such an option available... even if its most likely going away with the end of Early Access.

Battlerite Croak's cosmetic skin

This is about as good as it gets right now

Closing Thoughts

Battlerite has decided to undertake the rather difficult task of emulating Bloodline Champions, and much to my surprise, it has managed to not only replicate the gameplay, but also improve it through a variety of small tweaks! The combat is fast paced and most definitely enjoyable, the characters are just as deep and complex as they ever were, and top it all off, Early Access isn't being used in order to peddle a half-finished product given that Battlerite feels nearly done outside of its menus.

If you are a fan of Bloodline Champions, or if you enjoy games with a heavy focus on teamwork and personal skill, then I can comfortably recommend you Battlerite. Just make sure you're prepared to deal with a couple of bugs and missing features as Battlerite has only recently entered Early Access.

If you're interested in some gameplay to go along with your review - here you go!

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