‘Battlerite Royale’ Ditches Esports for Fantastic, Frivolous Fun

Jeremy Ray
Games Indie Games
Games Indie Games PC Gaming

It’s been many months since Fortnite‘s meteoric rise to power, catalysing a worldwide “pivot to battle royale” in every project fresh enough to add to its feature list. We’re now starting to see the fruits of that labour.

Battlerite, the fantastic arena combat game built from the ground up for esports, was arguably too far down its path for such a change – indeed, it was akin to reversing on a highway to take that offramp after all – and it’s the cause of no small amount of community controversy.

But just as a joke can be as borderline as it wants as long as it’s funny, Battlerite Royale will get away with much in the coming months. Because Battlerite Royale is hecka fun.

Fixing the Battle Royale Formula

Battlerite was a game beautiful in its simplicity. A small arena housed 2v2 or 3v3 battles in which every ability was a skillshot. No auto-targetting, no random number generators. It was pure, skill-based, competitive RPG brawling.

Now that 30 players are dropping into an oversized map, changes needed to be made. Healers are almost non-existent. Some walls you can jump over, and some you can’t. Characters will have new abilities to balance them out. But the biggest change of all is the concept of levelling up mid-match, and acquiring gear.

In Battlerite Royale, your “level” is decided by the quality of the gear you’ve picked up in that match. Even your abilities are treated as gear — players start with only a few abilities and must complete their kit by breaking chests (or breaking other players) and picking up the rewards.

It’s like starting a game of LoL with only your “Q,” or Mortal Kombat with only your jab. Getting “kit complete” is the first priority before worrying about what tier of Breastplate of Vitality or Boots of Speed you have.

There’s genius at work here. This is a very RPG-ish solution to the camping problem that battle royale games have had since the start, and only some have successfully addressed. Whether scavenging from chests and corpses, or brawling as much as possible, you’ll get the gear to increase your level. But if you just hide all game? By the time the circle closes in, you’ll be bringing the equivalent of a knife to a gunfight.

Items are also there to mix things up. If you’ve already used your escape ability to engage (rookie move), you can pop a Warp Stone to gain some distance, or drop a Meteor between you and your enemy. Maybe you’ll drink a Stealth Potion to enjoy ten seconds with the element of surprise.

Or maybe you’ll just disguise yourself as a barrel while two other jokers battle it out. Which brings us to the problem of swooping in on other players’ close fights…

It’s No Esport, and That’s Okay

The phrase “Killing spree” is regularly shouted by the announcer, and it’s usually not due to feats of skill. At least, not the skill you’d think.

With so many players squished into a small map, and even smaller buildings housing the valuable items you’re after, a true 1v1 is rare. More often, it’s 1v1v1v1. Far from the original Battlerite, which was based on fair, competitive matches, it’s the norm in Battlerite Royale to closely battle an enemy down to 10% only for a third player to swoop in and clean up.

We’re not sure what the official aim is from Stunlock Studios, whether it has esports ambitions for Battlerite Royale, as it did with Battlerite. It doesn’t much matter, because it undoubtedly carries that random nature synonymous with battle royale games, and gets away with it because it’s a hilariously good time.

It’s a funny kind of randomness, that battle royale trademark. Not quite the same as your fate being decided by a random number generator, though one may wonder if the jumbled decisions of 30 players in a tight space is, practically, any different.

Shove six players into a small room, and even the best of them won’t be able to manage the mob with reliability. How can you predict enemy moves when often they don’t even act in their best interest? In such a claustrophobic bloodbath, an experienced player would still back their skills over a die roll — if only slightly.

It’s tougher than the first-person shooter battle royale games we’re used to. In RPG land, your health matters. Your level matters. Your gear matters. It’s not like Blackout, or PUBG, where even an injured player can manage a quick flick of the wrist for a snap headshot. Kills take longer in Battlerite Royale, and whittling your opponent down while on low health is a whole new level of clutch.

It Creates Some Great Moments

We forgive Battlerite Royale its randomness because of the hilarious moments it creates. The larger map has open spaces and tight corridors, allowing for plays you wouldn’t normally see in arena mode.

Destiny is a Samus Aran-like character whose ultimate pinballs off of walls, and we were able to melt other players’ HP if they could be baited into tight spaces:

The Sheep Medallion, in particular, creates a highly entertaining moment upon death when the killer has to score a few more hits on a sheep before the kill is complete. If you can juke & jive your sheep form for a few seconds, you’ll get a second chance with about 20% health.

These, and moments like hitting barrels towards the end of a match to make sure people aren’t hiding in them, are funny as well as fun. Not competitive, but just a good laugh. And although some regions might have problems with player populations that make duos difficult, it’s even better if you have a friend.

In fact, we think Battlerite Royale might be more balanced in duos — you’ll still come across multiple enemy teams at once, but the ability to save each other might minimise the randomness somewhat.

Battleright or Battlewrong?

It’s been months since Stunlock made the decision to throw out its development roadmap – which people had based purchasing decisions on – to develop a separate, paid game with the battle royale format. Owners of the original game still have to pay if they want to play Battlerite Royale. It was kind of a dick move.

That said, this raises interesting questions about what players are actually entitled to. When this decision was made, Battlerite was post-release, in a good place balance-wise, and had enjoyed a healthy stretch of new champions. How much more do the developers owe players after a version 1.0?

We’re inclined to say nothing, except for the fact that promises were made to keep updating the base game, and players made purchasing decisions based on that plan. Since the pivot to battle royale, the base game has gone quiet.

Battlerite Croak pose Dab of Pride and Accomplishment
So much pride. So much accomplishment. So much shade.

These are all questions that will be asked more and more as the lines are blurred between Early Access, 1.0, and post-release. Does a “Version 1” mean anything anymore? What are consumers entitled to afterwards?

We enjoyed Battlerite so much we were happy to buy cosmetics purely to support the developers, so we’re not too phased by having to buy Battlerite Royale. But everyone will navigate this uncharted swamp with their own price/value judgements. For now, we at least know it has the most important redeeming quality: it’s a damn good time.

Jeremy Ray
Managing Editor at FANDOM. Decade-long games critic and esports aficionado. Started in competitive Counter-Strike, then moved into broadcast, online, print and interpretative pantomime. You merely adopted the lag. I was born in it.
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