One of the greatest joys in video games is the feeling that you are in control. That can mean in control of the story, in control of the weapons you use, or the places you go. However, I would posit that the greatest feeling of control comes from satisfying movement. If my in-game character is highly responsive and fun to control, it is safe to say I am going to have a great time playing. This is largely why Spellbreak, the latest battle royale to release on Xbox One, is a total blast that you have to try.
The development team at Proletariat, Inc. were surely inspired by other battle royale games when it came to creating Spellbreak. There are potions for restoring health, shield pick-ups that restore shields, a slowly shrinking storm wall that pushes players together, and every piece of gear that you can pick up is classified as Common, Uncommon, Rare, Epic, and Legendary. These are all implemented perfectly, and they are the part of the game that needs the least bit of explaining. If you have played a battle royale in the last year, you will pick up on this stuff right away. The parts of Spellbreak that work the best are its more original ideas.
That originality begins with Spellbreak’s world. Yes, this game is a free-to-play, competitive multiplayer battle royale, but that does not mean it cannot have an interesting setting. You take control of a battlemage in a land where magic is deemed forbidden by a group known as the Vowkeepers. Rather than buy into that nonsense, you grab any two magical gauntlets you can find, start practicing powerful elemental magic, and become a Breaker. The only real window into the lore of the game comes from the tutorial, but it has a lot of potential for in-game events or cinematics that could continue to build up the story.
You might have caught me saying “magical gauntlets” and are now thinking, “Well, that sounds neat. What are those?”. I am glad you hypothetically asked, dear reader. Magical gauntlets are a battlemage’s weapon of choice for eliminating their rivals. Each gauntlet gives its wearer two different elemental abilities: a primary spell and a secondary spell. The primary spell for each gauntlet will expel a smaller attack like fireballs, bolts of lightning, blades of wind, or splashes of poison. Meanwhile, the secondary spells are bigger displays of magic with cooldowns.
All of this sorcery is much more enjoyable than the average array of assault rifles due to the magic’s interactivity. A secondary spell that raises a wall of fire can be extinguished by some gusts of wind, a noxious cloud of toxins can be frozen to nullify its effects or make some cover, and a tornado can be electrified to make a miniature lightning storm. These different combinations make each fight incredibly unique. Experimenting with the different way that the elements interact feels like you discovered something unique on your own. When you take what you have learned from a magical combination and are able to use it against an enemy player, it feels incredible. Even better are the moments that you use an adversary’s own spells against them. My proudest kill was watching someone try to hide in their own poison cloud for protection before I hurled a fireball in their direction. The resulting explosion and elimination were a delight to behold.
Remember the beginning of this review where I talked about how great it is to feel like you have control of your character? Good, just checking, because moving around in this game is the best part. Spellbreak’s movement and rune system are so good that I found myself wishing the game was a 3D platformer. Of course, this system helps the whole “highly reactive spells of chaos” thing too.
Every player has the ability to jump and float until they run out of mana. At the beginning of a match, your mana pool is pretty small. Once you find the right armor though, the amount of mana and fun you will have both increase. Floating around the map makes navigation and battles so fun. You can scale tall buildings in a jiffy, easily hide from enemies thanks to the verticality of the map, and moving from point A to B feels so much less like a walking simulator chore. It only gets better when you find one of several different runes that are lying around. Some are tactical and allow you to turn invisible or see players through walls. Others are far superior, in my opinion, because they let you teleport huge distances, dash, rocket into the air before gently floating down, or fly. Not glide or double jump – I mean “Houston, we have liftoff” flight. Each one of these movement runes is a bunch of fun since they are so simple to use and leave you lots of control.
As of this review, you have the option to play Spellbreak in three person squads or solo. Solo is what I have played the most of, but I have also enjoyed several great moments with friends. Since you can only wield two gauntlets – the one you select before the game starts is permanent while the second is interchangeable with any gauntlet found on the map – coordinating with teammates for elemental combos makes for a lot of great moments. The roughest part of the game, however, is trying to play a squad match with random players that you are not in a voice chat with. Spellbreak’s ping system is not great. To ping, you must click in the left stick. Compared to how great it feels to control everything else in the game, this just feels awkward and clunky. It is made very annoying, however, when random teammates think clicking the left stick will make them sprint. It does not, and then they do not cancel their accidental ping, leaving you to play the rest of the match with a glowing ping on your screen.
I am not a huge fan of battle royales, because I hate feeling like I have nothing to do but walk or run 80% of the time. Spellbreak on Xbox One has completely fixed this for me. The matches are pretty quick, but even on the occasion that I do not find other players right away, I still have fun playing. Moving around is unadulterated fun: I have not felt like I have had this much control over my character in a competitive game since Titanfall 2. The fact that this great sense of movement leads to refreshingly original, explosive, and engaging battles is just the icing on the cake. As a free-to-play title, I have every hope that Spellbreak makes it big because I cannot wait to see what comes next.