Remember Bloodline Champions? It was a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) in the truest sense of that phrase: players jumped into an arena to do battle. Bloodline Champions was well received upon its 2011 release, but faded away for numerous reasons. The game’s business model being one of them.
Around the time of Bloodline Champions’ release, League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth were capturing the imagination of the MOBA audience, and, while Bloodline was solid enough, it found it hard to break through and capture a large enough audience.
Now, Bloodline developers Stunlock Studios are back with Battlerite. This new release adopts a similar style of gameplay to the original Bloodline Champions, only this time Stunlock appear to have refined the formula.
Like Bloodline, players are thrown into a PvP Battle arena with a selection of different champions to master. Each of these comes with six abilities and an ultimate. That’s standard MOBA fare, but in Battlerite there’s no messing around with minions or lanes. This has been designed with full-on PvP combat in mind. Enter an arena and duke it out until death.
Stunlock have also added ‘Battlerites’, buffs that are selected by the player at the start of each round of the match. There are three Battlerites to choose from for the first four rounds and two in the final round. These buffs are added to one of the champion’s given abilities; so anything from more cooldown to bonus damage.
The preview version we’ve been messing around with comes with fourteen different champions and they’ve been lovingly crafted to fill most typical MOBA roles. They’re a cheery looking bunch, with the kind of cartoon-like features which seem to be all the rage these days.
Playing through the tutorial brought back memories of Bloodline Champions, which is not surprising. Battlerite appears to be a more polished version of Stunlock’s previous release. It’s quite swish, with the over-the-top voice work being a stand-out feature when battling it out against the other champions in the arena, and improved visual design too. Controlling the Champions is also simple enough with WASD for movement and QERF and the mouse to fire off abilities. If you play MOBAs then all this is easy to grasp.
The tutorial eases you into the game with some basic skill practice, before pitting you against an AI opponent. That happens to be a tank called Tourok, who gets progressively harder with each round. The winner of the match is (by default) the first to make it to three victories, and each round lasts just a few minutes.
Battlerite is a game of skill and reaction; ideal for competitive play. Like other MOBAs, knowing which skill to activate at precisely the right time could either win or lose you a match. Click the wrong skill or mistime a move and it should be game over against a savvy opponent.
The skill element becomes apparent very early on in the tutorial. Bakko loves bearing down on you with a leap and popping up a shield to reflect damage. Playing as the more nimble gun-toting Jade you need to know exactly when to go invisible, when not to fire, and when to dodge out the way. It’s quite tricky.
Private Matches can be set to 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3. The number of rounds that need to be played to get a win can also be lowered or raised up to five. The match times can also be changed with the shortest matches being only a minute long and five minutes being the max.
The automated matchmaking system currently offers 2v2 and 3v3 modes, but don’t expect long drawn-out battles. Stunlock are keeping these nice and quick. If the tight time limits weren’t already enough, as the round reaches its climax the map starts to shrink, bringing even more urgency to the proceedings. You need to get the job done quick.
In 2v2 and up modes, if a player dies there’s no re-spawning back into the action. Die, and your teammate is going to have to use all their skill to take on the two or more opponents. That places a huge emphasis on working as a team. Your teammates won’t thank you if you die early on and they are left to try to win it on their own.
Dotted around the maps are health orbs and orange orbs. When enough orange orbs are collected it activates a champion’s ultimate. Keeping an eye on health, watching what your teammates are doing, and where the enemy are on the map is important when choosing the right moment to pick these up. They do respawn, but you may not have an ultimate ready when you need it most. This adds an element of strategy to the proceedings.
Stunlock will be making the game free to play, and, as with most free to play games, there are in-game rewards for levelling and reaching certain achievements. The studio is using the Overwatch model and there are two currencies in play. ‘Battle Coins’ are used to unlock chests and are obtained by winning games or levelling champions. The other currency is ‘Tokens’, which are used to unlock cosmetic items and earned by levelling or given out when duplicate items are found in chests.
How the currency model will play out remains to be seen, but based on the fact that Jade has a cosmetic pose called ‘Over the Shoulder’, it looks like Overwatch may have had some influence over their rewards system too.
Stunlock were a young team and a new studio when they launched Bloodline Champions and their relationship with Funcom might have prevented the game really taking off in 2011. Battlerite is their chance to capitalise on the now more mature eSports scene, and bring their original vision to new players. It does have a chance because it’s fast and fun, but whether Stunlock can make it big this time remains to be seen. The game will need time to grow by adding more modes and Champions, and the packed MOBA market is not a gentle one.
Battlerite will launch in Steam’s Early Access on 20 September.