A new take on the battle royale genre: will it be able to create its niche?
Genre: Battle Royale
Release Date: 3 Sep, 2020
Spellbreak is a new Battle Royale title were, instead of guns and grenades, players have to battle using magic. In Spellbreak, there are six different kinds of magic, which can be combined to create powerful effects and defeat other players. The last mage alive will emerge victorious… but should you even try it?
Remember, No Magicka
Before the actual release of Spellbreak, many described it as a Battle Royale with a spell system similar to Magicka’s. I’ll start the review by saying it’s nothing of the sort: while in Magicka you can mix different elements before casting the spell, here you not only have just two elements at any given time, but you can only combine them after having them cast. Spellbreak has six different elements, namely fire, frost, lightning, stone, toxic and wind. As you may anticipate, each one plays differently and has some strength and weaknesses: rock, for example, is great at damaging enemies up close, but lacks crowd-control.
On this regard, elements are not all equally powerful and most of the time you see players equipped with the same gauntlets: these are special gloves, imbued with a specific element, that allow you to cast the corresponding spells. Each gauntlet has two different cast types: the first one is usually a projectile, like a fireball for fire or a series of venomous splashes for toxic, while the second on is element related, is stronger, but also has a longer cooldown time.
No Time for Combos
As I already hinted in the paragraph above, Spellbreak combos work not by combining the different elements before casting the spell, but by casting one spell into the AoE of another one. This magic system is the very foundation around which Spellbreak is built and advertised, but it’s also incredibly flawed and ruined by some weird design choices. First of all, some spell combinations just don’t make sense: zapping fire with electricity, for example, just creates a blue fire, not really something someone would expect. The limitation of having just two elements equipped at any given time is also, well… quite limitating: with this spell system, why would you let me use just for spells at a time? The game would’ve been much more complicated and interesting if players could’ve used more, if not all, elements during fights.
But these do not include the biggest problem when it comes to the magic system: the incredibly frantic fights. Mages are fast, can hover around the battlefield and use special teleport and invisibility abilities, which make element combos almost impossible. Instead, combat reduces to shooting everything that moves with the basic abilities, without exploiting the various elements interactions. This makes fights an almost mindless spam of abilities, where the magic system gets thrown into the trash in favour of a barrage of fireballs, rocks and icicles.
looking away from combat and the magic system, things aren’t shining either: the map, for example, is incredibly forgettable and has really no interesting location, unlike other famous Battle Royales. The territory has different rock formations, with pieces of castle walls or medieval buildings scattered all over without any real logic. This makes locations forgettable, uninteresting and too similar to one another.
The drop system works, mainly because it relies on an already tested system of item tiers that makes rarer equipment more powerful. This obviously attracts players (and thus, fights) to the bigger chests, which also require some time to open and are marked on the map, leading to ambushes and quite interesting invisibility approaches.
Spellbreak isn’t a completely bad game, but it’s filled with weird design choices that I really cannot understand. A slower pace during fights, along with a more complex magical system, would surely improve the game and help its various features emerge. Right now, though, the spam-based fights and uninteresting map make me incline for a PAUSE.