Spellbreak Review

I put a spell on you.

Spellbreak chronicles the arcane struggle between the Vowbreakers and the Vowkeepers. An epic war between two different schools of thought — one which believes that magic should be used freely and another which believes magic users should be subjugated. You, of course, are an exile, an outlaw… a Vowbreaker.

Spellbreak also chronicles the arcane struggle of wanting to be Fortnite without actually being Fortnite. It asks the age-old question of how you can take the world’s most popular battle royale and make it your own. In this case, you strip away the guns, replace it with magic weapons and hope for the best.

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So far, it seems to be working. The colourful chaos of this multiplayer action spellcasting game holds a lot of potential. Once you get past the tutorial, you can play as one of six different classes, and it’s this which determines your main attack. You can be, for example, a pyromancer or a toxicologist — wielding flame or poison magic using a magic gauntlet on your right hand.

As you run around the map — the inexplicably named Hollow Lands — you pick up gauntlets that allow you to cast other spells with your left hand, or upgrade the main spell of your chosen class. This means you can be a pyrotoxicoloist if you want, or a cryolithomancer, a pyrolithomancer or even an electrotoxicologist, if you want to go for something genuinely difficult to say. Some of these pairings are more effective than others, with the fire spells igniting the toxic clouds you can summon, whereas others don’t really do much — pairing wind and rocks, or fire and ice, for example.

This is all great if you’re right-handed, but lefties will find that their primary weapon is in their offhand, with their secondary weapon — the only one that can change – locked to your main hand. You can go into the settings and change this manually, but unless you’re accustomed to digging around the settings, you wouldn’t know the option is there.

The class system is just first layer of depth that Spellbreak offers. Digging a little deeper, you find that each class levels up independently, unlocking perks you can then use across all classes. When you become a Level 3 toxicologist, you unlock a passive skill that gives you (and your teammates) the ability to drink potions faster, regardless of whether you want to play as a pyromancer or anything else. This adds a nice layer of strategy for those who want to play co-op.

The team modes are pretty engaging, working with friends to take down other players, whether in trios or duos (which has just been unlocked today). Playing solo is, as with most battle royales, often a game of running around for 10 minutes, looking for someone to fight, before being almost instakilled by a shot to the back. That’s partly thanks to the rune system.

Scattered around the Hollow Lands, you’ll find runes which grant powerful abilities, like invisibility or the ability to scan for enemies, Predator style; equipment that allows you to run faster, wear more armour or wield more mana; and scrolls that level-up your passives.

The equipment and scrolls are much of a muchness — you either find them or you don’t — but the runes are actually interesting. Since you can only equip one at a time, choosing the right rune, and choosing between your current rune an upgraded version of a less powerful one, adds another layer of customisation and character building to a game which is already building a fair amount of depth.

The problem is the other side of that coin. This is a game with so much potential thanks to the depth of its gameplay, but it just doesn’t feel particularly satisfying.

Everyone likes winning. Everyone loves the fanfare that comes with besting their opponents. I won my first game, systematically murdering my rivals and eventually wound up looking at a screen of my avatar milling around saying I came first. I looked at the screen and thought to myself, is this it? It was only after the next match that I realised the victory screen looks identical whether you come first or fourteenth. A game which feels equally rewarding whether you come first and last isn’t going to get many endorphins a pass to exit your pituitary gland.

Is this winning?

Then there’s the game’s dynamic and evolving story. Sure, a battle royale doesn’t really need a story, let alone a coherent one that makes any sense, but Proletariat promises an MMORPG-style evolving narrative that will induct fans into the fantasy world of Spellbreak. After the first 10 minute tutorial swings and miss, you’ll be left wondering where to find it. The answer, as explained in a Reddit post from March, is that this will come in the form of seasonal ‘Chapters’ that will also provide additional weapon classes beyond the original six, runes and more. As someone who loves throwing themselves into a world’s lore, I’m currently quite disappointed.

So, for the foreseeable future, we’re all left wondering who is a Vowbreaker, who is a… the other one… and why do they all look like Magic’s Jace Beleren, hoodie, face tats and all?

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Summary
Spellbreak holds vast potential and is full of depths to explore, but it’s not quite there yet, despite the 1.0 release. Sure, it’s fun enough to play if you can sit down with two of your friends and bash out a couple hours’ madness, but I forgot what the game was called once I stopped playing. With next to no lore within the game, and with every win or loss feeling the same, there's just not quite enough to make a lasting impression.
Good
  • An interesting battle royale with a surprising amount of depth
  • Good interplay between magical abilities
  • Optional cross-play
  • Lots of potential...
Bad
  • Potential isn't fully realised in the 1.0 launch
  • The spells are so chaotic, you can quickly lose enemies in the fog of war
  • Lacks lore of any real substance (until Chapter 1 is released)
6

1 Comment

  1. I like the chaos. Once you get to the end of a match and everyone’s exploding toxic clouds and launching firenados all over the place, it gets to be lots of fun. Especially when all that chaos is happening around you and you’re trying to revive a team mate and exile another player before they can get revived.

    At least it tries to do something different to the 83 other battle royale games launched this year.

    And nobody needs a story in a game like that. More spells and runes might be nice in future, and a much better thing for the developers to be putting their time into than squeezing in a story.

    Kind of glad it doesn’t have anything fancy when you win too. A quick screen saying you came first (or whatever) and then back into the next match. Have I mentioned how much I hate all the waiting around in something like Fall Guys? And many other games. We don’t need extra long animated winning poses, or taking 5 seconds to open each of the 10 boxes you’ve got.

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