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Spellbreak Review: Magical Mayhem

With immediately impactful combat, a complex combo system, and deep tactical options for cooperative play, Spellbreakers is an excellent action game that stands out in the crowded Battle Royale genre.

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Developer: Proletariat | Publisher: Proletariat | Genre: Battle Royale | Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows | Reviewed On: PlayStation 4

After launching to little fanfare at the beginning of September, Spellbreak has exploded in popularity. What was once basically an unknown IP has quickly grown into something of a phenomenon with over 5 million players now taking part in the game. It’s a good thing too because Proletariat’s new Battle Royale deserves the attention. Fun, frenetic, and free to play it’s a game every gamer should at least try.

Much like Fortnite and Apex Legends, Spellbreak is a Battle Royale where players, either alone or with a squad, get dropped into a large ever-shrinking map and fight to be the lone survivor(s). What sets Spellbreak apart from those other games, though, is its emphasis on magic. Instead of conventional weaponry, each player is armed with two gauntlets that shoot spells, one chosen at the start of the match as their primary class and the other found during the match. There are six gauntlets in total and each controls differently. For instance, the fire gauntlet shoots fireballs at a consistent rate akin to a semi-automatic rifle while the frost gauntlet acts like a sniper rifle with players firing a slow but powerful ice arrow. In fact, every gauntlet feels akin to some kind of a gun: the rapid-firing, but hard to aim, shock gauntlet mimics machine guns, the stone gauntlet decimates at close range akin to a shotgun, the wind gauntlet cuts through enemies like an SMG, and the toxic gauntlet acts like a grenade with poison effects.

While gauntlets have a recognizable feel, they still stand out as unique weapons thanks to the elaborate combo system. Every gauntlet can interact with another gauntlet in numerous ways. Some attacks complement each other, while others negate one another, and it isn’t as simple as one element completely negating the other (with the exception of fire and ice of course). This is because each gauntlet comes with two attacks: a spell and sorcery. For example, the toxic gauntlet’s spell, a splash of poison liquid, can interact with the wind gauntlet’s sorcery, a tornado, to create a vortex of toxic gas. However, the toxic gauntlet’s sorcery, a poison cloud, can negate, or be negated, by the wind gauntlets tornado. But, it doesn’t stop there. The wind gauntlets spell, mini-blades of air, can pass through a poison cloud and become toxic, increasing their power. Fire too many blades, however, and they will dispel the cloud. The gauntlets each relate to one another with such complexity that turning an opponent’s spell or sorcery against them, or empowering a team member’s attack, is an achievement, a thrill, unlike anything else in the Battle Royal genre.

Deepening Spellbreak’s spell system are the classes, which are far more intricate than they first appear. At face value classes are simply the primary gauntlet the player chooses. Unlike the secondary gauntlet, which must be acquired during the match, it cannot be switched out. However, the commitment comes with perks as the longer you survive the stronger your primary gauntlet becomes, increasing its combo potential. For example, the frost gauntlet, on its own, fires ice arrows (spell) or does an area of effect freeze attack (sorcery) that are effective but hard to combine with other gauntlets. However, if the player chooses the ice gauntlet as their primary it evolves in profound ways. First, the ice arrows leave behind an ice trail that enhances mobility (players can skate on the trail) and increases attack power as the trail can be electrified to shock enemies or blown up with the stone gauntlet’s shock wave spell to create an area of effect attack. Plus, the sorcery becomes more than an attack but a means of defense as it renders the caster invulnerable when using it. The ice gauntlet has the most drastic class enhancements but every gauntlet comes with substantial perks that not only improve their performance but alter the way they play.

Aside from the gauntlets, there are two other significant areas of customization in Spellbreak, the first being traits. Traits are passive perks the player chooses at the start of each match. There are three categories of perks and players can pick up to one perk from each category, unlocking more in each category with increased play. The perks primarily enhance stats so they don’t add any real variety to gameplay but they are powerful since they can be enhanced by finding scrolls during matches. For instance, there is one trait that speeds up the use of consumables. Normally it’s borderline impossible to use a potion or armor shard during combat but with this perk activated players can do so with ease, especially if a couple scrolls are founds.

Runes are the other primary means players can customize their character. Runes are stones found throughout the map that bestow an extra ability onto the player. There are a number of Runes but only a couple are actually useful with many coming off as weaker versions of the best few. For instance, flight enables players to zoom across the map making it easy to reach the safe area when the map shrinks or escape from a fight while dash provides a quick burst of movement that recharges quickly. Compared to flight’s power, dash is pointless. That said, the few powerful runes do provide options and often come with perks when paired with certain gauntlets. The invisibility rune increases the damage of the toxic gauntlet class when active while the feather-fall rune (a high jump with a slow fall) increases the ice gauntlet class’s Zelda like sniper ability where time slows when aiming in air.

The customization options available around the gauntlets is impressive and makes the combat an absolute joy. especially when working in a team, but the actual survival mechanics of exploring the map are bland and monotonous. With the exception of a couple areas, like a cool stone maze, the map looks basically the same with green fields and ruined castles making up most of the landscape. Also, apart from the runes and secondary gauntlets, everything found in the map only increases the player’s stats, like boots increasing movement speed and belts providing increases in armor. The pickups are helpful, and often vital to success, but the lack of anything other than stat boosts makes scavenging uneventful.

The other major problem with Spellbreak is its immediate lack of personality. Battle Royales are not known for their stories, but Spellbreak feels especially bland. The game looks nice and sound effects are excellent but it has no character. There is no voice-acting, not even grunting, and no context is given aside from some opaque references to Vovbreakers and Vowkeepers. For a free-to-play game that depends on players buying cosmetic items, there is absolutely no encouragement to do so. Games like Overwatch and Apex Legends have characters that exude personality so players will happily pay some money to make their favorite avatar look unique and stand out. There is expansive lore available on the Spellbreaker website but without any enticing characterization, there is no reason to care. That all said, the game is all about pummeling other players with cool magical powers and in that department the game excels.

Spellbreak’s deep combo system, punchy combat, and strong team play make it an easy recommendation, even if it wasn’t free-to-play. Players looking for a quick fight can jump into a free-for-all and use the simple, but effective, combos taught in the tutorial while more grizzled gamers can get together with friends, plan out strategies, and discover the multitude of combat options available. If Proletariat can add some more personality to the map and characters, Spellbreak will undoubtedly continue to soar.

Nicholas Straub is a contributor and former Game Informer Intern. He graduated from the University of California San Diego with a degree in philosophy. He loves delving into what makes art, especially video-games, so moving. You can find more of his writing at https://www.gameinformer.com/user/ncstraub and his newest thoughts on twitter: https://twitter.com/Ncstraub.

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