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Spellbreak Review: A Fantastically Fun Battle Royale

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At the time of writing, Proletariat Inc.'s Spellbreak has only 11.2k views on Twitch. That's less than dozens of games that have been out for years, including the brand new streamer-favorite Among Us and mainstays like Fortnite. Spellbreak brings a new spin to the battle royale genre with its gorgeous visuals and god-like magical abilities, and Spellbreak deserves better.

Set in a fantasy world left in ruin, it's hard not to draw comparison between Spellbreak's map and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and other epics. The cell-shaded and cartoonish style is pleasant to look at, and a welcome change from the realism of Warzone. The backstory under the surface of the battle royale may also seem familiar to fantasy fans, but there's enough of a spin on it that it's at least engaging at first blush. Why exactly 42 players in groups of 1, 2, or 3 are forced to fight each other in an expansive brawl is never quite explained, but in any good battle royale, that justification is never as important as the feeling of coming in 1st.

Spellbreak is, from a certain perspective, identical to most basic battle royale setups. Players drop down onto a large map that shrinks over time. In fact, Spellbreak even refers to this zone as "the storm," hoping to appear similar to Fortnite in lexicon if not in function. Players collect various health and armor potions, opening chests and looting across castle grounds. When not actively in a game, there's a store to buy cosmetic items with in-game currency, some of which can be gained through completing objectives.

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And that's where the similarities end. Spellbreak eschews guns and ammo for the mage equivalent: overpowered magical abilities. Players shoot lightning from their hand in an arc, or set up a flame wall to provide cover while brawls take place over huge mountains, with players flying around peaks or going invisible into the valley for a flank. Every single ability feels way too overpowered to be in a game where a player fights other people, yet in this power struggle there's a fairly even playing-field. If an opponent's abilities can seem unfair and so are the player's, a certain type of balance has been achieved after all.

It's hard to say if Spellbreak is balanced overall, though. Players start each match with one gauntlet: two magical abilities related to an element, each with a primary and secondary attack. This gauntlet is chosen based on the class of the player's preference. There's a class that shoots ice arrows, or one that can create a tornado, and each avatar tells their own story. In a sort of League of Legends-like fashion, players can improve skills of their preferred class by playing as them and leveling them up. This adds bonus attributes like shorter cooldowns on abilities and can be the saving grace in a particularly close fight.

Once players drop into the arena, they quickly search for a second gauntlet, bound to their other arm. So even if a someone plays as a pyromancer, there's nothing stopping them from also equipping an toxic gauntlet to pair with it. These elements can combine together for deadly combinations. For example, the aforementioned toxin can be launched at a fire wall to turn it into a wall of green (presumably toxic) fire. These abilities turn the castles and sprawling fields of Spellbreak into a colorful and deadly warzone.

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Aside from picking up secondary gauntlets, players also can experiment and swap out different runes, providing movement options like teleportation and flying. There's a short cooldown on these abilities, as well as secondary gauntlet powers, but in favor of the game's fantasy, they are not quite as long as they should be. Fights with good players can last several minutes, and more often than not, other teams will show up to third-party. Right now it is simply too easy to disengage from a fight and the time it takes to kill players is far too long, even when chance is involved.

There's always a bit of randomness to battle royales, of course. Spellbreak is no different, though the leveling up of classes provides a nice progression. It's too early to tell if the differences in a high-leveled character versus a low-leveled one will be so unbalanced as to provide a huge advantage to those committed, but the skill-ceiling appears to be high. Mastery of cooldowns and finding a class that suits one's playstyle can take time, and hopefully Spellbreak will prove worthy of this kind of exploration as it ages.

Though it has been in testable beta for years, Spellbreak officially launched at an unfortunate time. It went up against Marvel's Avengers and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, not to mention launching just as Fall Guys usurped the battle royale crown. The battle royale genre is a crowded one, and it can be hard to stand out, but Spellbreak is deserving of that chance, at least. With the potential on display between its epic fights and already-present cross-play day one, it's hard not to feel optimistic about Spellbreak as long as it manages to hook players in the early-going. As a free title, there's almost no reason not to give Spellbreak a spin, and battle royale veterans might be pleasantly surprised by what they find.

Spellbreak is available on Steam, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PS4 and is free-to-play.

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