Though E3 2019 had its fair share of surprises, a leaked trailer before the show caused a stir all its own. That trailer was the first glimpse many had at Bleeding Edge, Ninja Theory’s passion project that they’d been silently chipping away at for years alongside Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. The leak (and subsequent announcement) were met with both shock and trepidation; could Ninja Theory, who had established themselves as masters of narrative-driven, single-player experiences, really pull off an online-only multiplayer brawler?
What You See is What You Get
Bleeding Edge is a hero brawler where players form teams of four and battle it out in one of two modes: Objective Control and Power Collection. The former is a traditional king of the hill-style mode where players fight to occupy and defend up to three points on the map until one reaches the 600-point goal. The latter is broken into two parts: a collection phase where players rush to collect power cells scattered around the map, and a drop-off phase where players deposit their spoils and try to stop the other team from doing the same.
Outside of the main game, there’s a smart tutorial that runs through the basics of gameplay, a robust training area called the Dojo where combat and matchups can be perfected, a workshop where various upgrades and cosmetics can be purchased and applied, and a “Watch Zone” where live matches and fighter guides can be viewed.
In terms of actual content, Bleeding Edge is a little lackluster. Aside from the slim mode selection and lack of casual/ranked matches, there are only five maps at launch–and not all of them are winners. To their credit, each has its own unique gimmick that impacts how matches unfold; for instance, Aqueducts has mobile objectives that constantly rotate on a conveyor belt, whereas Sky Gardens boasts gongs that players can hit to set objective points ablaze and disrupt enemy defenses. Wrinkles like these ensure that maps never feel too samey, but since objective points remain the same regardless of mode, the lack of variety gradually begins to wear.
A Gift and a Curse
Creating a competitive online game–especially a team-based one–is no easy feat. The best of the bunch walk the paper-thin line of strongly encouraging teamwork without penalizing teams too heavily for struggling with it. One way to solve this is by dividing the more serious players (i.e. those who assemble squads, practice regularly, and always use voice chat) from more casual players just hopping online for a good time. It’s precisely here where Bleeding Edge’s greatest weakness shows and why players’ experiences will vary so wildly.
Microsoft’s newest IP stands out from the pack for one key reason: it’s a team-based brawler. Save for a couple of exceptions, most fighters primarily duke it out in close quarters and have abilities to support that. Be it pulling opponents in so they can’t escape, stunning opponents into a standstill, or slowing them to prevent easy regrouping, fighters have every trick in the book at their fingertips to create some truly nail-biting moments.
By largely removing the ability to attack from afar and escape quickly, Ninja Theory has created one of the most teamwork-centric games in the genre. However, the choice to lean so heavily into melee combat often results in rampant juggling and ganging up on solo players. There’s a dedicated parry button to mitigate some of this, but the precision with which it needs to be pressed makes more sense for a 1v1 2D fighter than a chaotic team-based brawler.
In other team-based titles like Splatoon and Paladins, a seasoned player can often hold their own and even completely turn the tide of battle regardless of whether their team is on the same page or not. Since Bleeding Edge is so heavily focused on close encounters and lacks the mobility of something like a Splatoon, however, going it alone is rarely a viable option; it’s far too easy to get overwhelmed. Couple this with very few ways to escape combat, and it’s clear that Bleeding Edge is designed to be played a specific way, for better and for worse.
Bursting with Personality
Where Bleeding Edge stumbles in terms of content and accessibility, it overwhelmingly succeeds at bringing its roster to life. At the time of writing, there are eleven wildly different fighters (with a twelfth on the way) that are divided into three roles: Damage, Support, and Tank. Experimenting and finding a main is one of the greatest joys Bleeding Edge has to offer, and it’s all thanks to the sheer amount of personality Ninja Theory has injected into every combatant.
For example: Daemon’s part-graffiti artist part-samurai persona plays out both in his paint-splattered design and his moveset that emphasizes stealth and one-on-one combat. Gizmo’s obsession with robotics extends from her cybernetically-enhanced limbs to the battlefield where she sets up mini turrets and enters a haphazard mech as her super. And Granny Maeve’s lifelong love of Irish folklore coalesced in her turning into a witch herself, magic and spellcasting included. Despite lacking the top-notch cinematics Overwatch has become known for, the characters of Bleeding Edge are still lovable in their own right, and players are sure to find at least one to confidently call their own.
Despite its rigid structure and lack of appeal for single players, I found myself pulled back to Bleeding Edge whenever I had a spare moment. Overcoming the odds of winning with a team of strangers is exhilarating, and the loop of grinding to earn in-game currency for upgrades and cosmetics is as addicting here as anywhere else. Though there are only eleven of them, every fighter offers completely new ways to play and a myriad of strategies to toy with. All the pieces are in place for a great living game; it just needs a bit more time in the oven.
This is why Bleeding Edge feels like a distinctly Game Pass-oriented experience despite being worked on for years before the Microsoft acquisition. The Sea of Thieves comparisons are inevitable; they’re both online-focused, had a rock-solid framework hampered by a lack of content out of the gate, and benefit from having a built-in player base that’ll keep servers busy for years to come. If later content updates add separate ranked pools, tweak the parry system, and spice things up with some new modes, Bleeding Edge just might have the long tail Sea of Thieves has enjoyed for the last two years.