by Lewis Burnell on Nov 21, 2017
On September 16, 2016 I wrote my first impressions of Battlerite, and for more than a year, I’ve continued to sing its praises to all who will listen. It isn’t often that I’ll encounter a game where my sense of journalistic integrity goes out the window, but in this case, I’m more than happy to constantly fly the flag for Battlerite and Stunlock Studios.
Battlerite is undeniably good. In fact, it’s without question the best team arena brawler on PC. Having closely followed and invested a lot of time into its competition (notably MXM and Gigantic), it’s not entirely surprising to see Battlerite do so well. Peaking at over 45,000 concurrent players only a few days after launch, it’s clear that many others agree.
Where Gigantic stumbled out of the starting blocks due to a lack of key features and some awful Hero balance, and with MXM failing to even register on many people's radars, despite having launched over 5 months ago (it has already been marked for closure), Battlerite has exceeded all expectations.
Considering the pedigree of Stunlock Studios, and their creation of Bloodline Champions (a game I still count as one of the best ever made, and one that was years ahead of its time), Battlerite had all the potential to be something truly special. It’s with relief, then, that Stunlock Studios haven’t just realized this potential, but cornered the market to the point where there is little, if any competition.
Destiny "The Sky Ranger" is the newest Champion set to arrive in Battlerite and like every other, looks incredible.
Unlike many MOBAs, Battlerite places skill at the forefront of its design. There’s no auto-targeted basic attacks or generous telegraphs here. Instead, your ability to succeed is entirely based on your ability to aim and position your Champion. It’s a simple concept, and while many champion titles such as Heroes of the Storm or League of Legends offer a competitive environment, both, I would argue, pale in comparison to Battlerite. When basic attacks are auto-targeted, or movement restricted purely to mouse-clicks, you begin to chip away at any potential skill ceiling a game might have. I make no suggestion that League of Legends or games of that ilk lack skill (quite the contrary). However, Battlerite undoubtedly expects much more movement and twitch responsiveness.
With nothing like it on the market, there’s little wonder that its competitive nature, natural movement and aim requirements has resonated so well with players. With players able to dive into a game in seconds, and with matches lasting as little as 6 minutes, even those with little time on their hands can achieve something of value. Forty minute marathon matches with an often dull laning phase are thrown aside in favor of seeing players dive straight into the action.
Make no mistake, Battlerite is an incredibly tense game. Even in short doses, and after 500 hours invested, I’m often a nervous wreck. With matches so reliant on your ability to land attacks, avoid incoming damage and control the central Orb, the smallest mistake is punishing. Even so, such knife-edge play also lends itself to some incredible comebacks if you play out of your skin.
At no point playing Battlerite have I ever felt one Champion was downright broken, or that a match couldn’t be won. Quite the contrary: every match is undoubtedly a win as long as you and your team play to the best of your ability. The difference between a win or a loss can be as little as snagging a last-minute Orb, not firing your frantic basic attack into a wall or landing a well timed Ultimate ability. I’ve yet to find such intricate intensity elsewhere and even the likes of Gigantic or SMITE, despite coming close, have a variety of issues that never quite get the blood pumping (notably a lack of kit depth and blatant imbalances).
It’s on that point, then, that Stunlock Studios should be commended. Not only have they managed to create a game that’s highly competitive, but one that’s undeniably fair - in all areas. Its free to play model is accessible, easily understood and with sound pricing, while its Champion pack offers amazing value. Its Loot Chest system, at a time where the likes of EA are well and truly under the media cosh, is also generous. Loot Chests are distributed liberally, premium tokens easily obtained, and skins are provided in abundance. Even the small things, such as not being punished if your teammate disconnects or being joined by someone in Placement matches, are not just welcome, but long overdue.
Although I’ve near universal praise for almost everything about the game, it isn’t without minor niggles. Simple things are missing, such as Champion names not showing on the in-match UI or inviting players to your friends list after a match, while the main menu, even with Battlerite installed on an SSD and a top-end rig, is incredibly slow when it comes to viewing Champions or opening Loot Chests. If there’s any major hurdles however, it’s the new user interface. There’s no doubting it looks better that what was before, and has a much more polished presentation, but it’s also much heavier when it comes to menu layers. Previously you could do everything from a single screen, whereas now you have to dive deep into menus in order to find what you’re looking for. It’s not as intuitive, and some key information is often hidden (such as chests or quests) when you’re away from the home screen.
As one example of where there’s room for improvement, if you want to equip a new mount, selecting “Collection”, followed by “Mounts” and “View All” doesn’t allow you to do it. Instead, you have to click on a game mode (such as “League”), “Champion” (on a small box in the lower left corner), “Customize”, “Mounts” and then the mount you wish to equip. Such convoluted navigation is frustrating and at times, nonsensical. Why isn’t there simply a “Customize” button on the main menu, alongside the quest and chest icons? Better still, why aren’t such icons constantly in view when there’s permanent dead space in the upper left of the screen? With the new UI looking so good, it’s also odd to see that the in-match UI remains the same as its first iteration. Both styles are fighting with one another, and I would hope that eventually, the new UI style is applied across all areas of the game.
Implementing a new UI just before launch was always going to bring a handful of problems. Fortunately for Stunlock Studios, they have both the time and design understanding to rectify these kinks. If nothing else, casting their eye over Heroes of the Storm and its new user interface might go a long way in streamlining the user experience.
The new UI is undeniably attractive.
If I have any other complaints about Battlerite, it’s simply that Stunlock Studios need to decide which game mode they value the most. As it stands, there are 2 v 2 and 3 v 3 queues, alongside Battlegrounds. Many players, including myself, consider 2 v 2 to lack the strategic depth 3 v 3 offers, while many matchups in 2 v 2 feel lopsided in certain compositions due to the fact some Champions simply don’t shine in that environment. 2 v 2 also, I suspect, will lead players to believe that Battlerite isn’t balanced, when it has to be said that Stunlock Studios have done an incredible job of ensuring every single Champion is viable (honestly, Champion balance in Battlerite is fantastic).
Should Stunlock Studios insist on keeping 2 v 2 in the competitive queue, the only way to encourage more players to participate in 3 v 3 is to ensure their season rewards are far greater. Ideally, I’d like to see player ranks split so that 2 v 2 and 3 v 3 are entirely independent, rather than merged together. That way, players can choose to pursue certain ranks in specific queues, with unique rewards in mind.
With so much I still haven’t spoken about (the central Orb mechanic which anchors every fight, the tension of Ultimate and EX abilities, or the narrowing of the area walls as the timer ticks) it’s fair to say that Stunlock Studios have created something truly special. Battlerite is a game that deserves both your time and money. It can only improve from this point forward, and already has a framework vastly superior to all its competition. Considering its free to play, with a generous free to play model, there’s absolutely no reason not to dive in. If you like competitive games with a steep learning curve but a rewarding experience, coupled with an array of Champions that suit all play styles, you honestly needn't look much further. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better game.