Reviewed for the Xbox One.
I’ll be honest, I have a genuine and whole-hearted disdain for Fortnite. Even before it was overrun with hateful adolescents, I just didn’t like the game. So, when I heard about Spellbreak, I figured I would feel the same way. But apparently, when you take the often-cloned Fortnite formula and slap a coat of wizard paint on it, I go absolutely bananas for it. Spells over guns, always. We have a forum now, so challenge me if you believe otherwise. While Spellbreak is just in Game Preview, and very clearly in its infancy, it remains an excellent distraction from the dumpster fire that is the earth right now. Read on in my Spellbreak review, or skip down to the final verdict at the bottom if you’re feeling lazy. I don’t judge.
Clever Art Style
Spellbreak has a pretty nifty art style. The style somewhat resembles that of Fortnite in it’s cartoony-ness, but I enjoyed Spellbreak‘s a bit more. The biomes of the map are diverse and engaging; players can tell which area they are in just by glancing around, for the most part. While there is a lack of polish on certain textures, the vibrant colors give the whole map a fun vibe.
Spells and effects have interesting elemental graphics associated with them. Nothing that’s too out of left field, but they felt right and packed the appropriate punch. I particularly enjoyed the way the ice trails of the Frostborn class melt after a while. Vivid colors dominate the environment, which makes for a pleasant gameplay experience. A colorblind mode for the HUD would be appreciated for the color-vision deficient among us, as reds tend to blend into the surrounding environment.
During my playthrough of Spellbreak I couldn’t help but notice that the character designs are not incredibly unique. I was reminded of the 2008 MMO FreeRealms (shut down in 2014, RIP) whenever I looked at the characters. This isn’t necessarily a good things though, given that Spellbreak is releasing 12 years later. What was odd to me was that once you settle on a character skin, it cannot be changed until much later. These sorts of games are not known for their character customization, but a little mobility in customization would be nice. Of course, there are the obligatory costumes you can grind many hours for. Or you can just pay for them out of pocket.
Barebones Sound Design
It is abundantly clear that developer Proletariat spent the least amount of time on sound design. The entire experience of the game is almost devoid of any background music, save for a few pieces in the menus. Since the game is relatively new and there aren’t a ton of players (I never started a match with more than 45), wandering around a mostly empty map with no background noise is a little odd. This in itself isn’t a deal breaker, but it certainly doesn’t make the game feel nice and glossy. Then again, it is a free Game Preview title, so you can’t expect perfection at this point.
Other various noises such as spell sounds are relatively well produced, but definitely lack polish. The barebones sound design didn’t detract considerably from my experience in Spellbreak, but I would expect improvements in the near future.
Engaging Yet Somewhat Unpolished Gameplay
Spellbreak takes a familiar but often overwrought genre, and spins it in an enjoyable way. From being shot into the map from above, to the frantic search for resources as soon as you hit the ground, Spellbreak mimics the undeniably successful Fortnite formula in many ways. Players pick whether they would like to play singles, doubles, or squads. Then, they are appropriately matchmade into an open game and get to run around in a practice area for a few moments before the start of the round. Players choose the general vicinity on the map they’d prefer to go skydiving in and terminal velocity their way to the ground. From there, the optimal approach is to immediately look for improved equipment, and begin to start killing your fellow wizards.
The Classes Make the Game
One departure from the Fortnite formula is the concept of playable classes. These determine the elemental spells and other various perks players earn throughout the match. Classes allow the player to take command of elemental energy, with each class suited to an optimal style of play. For example, I chose the Frostborn class, which is best suited for long-range attacks and running away quickly on the sheets of ice they lay down. This contrasts with the Tempest class which uses wind to deliver quick volleys of low-impact air gusts for frenetic and close-up conflict.
Once on the ground, players can adopt a secondary element to control with their free hand by acquiring gauntlets. These gauntlets allow players to access the elemental powers of other classes and mix and match to their hearts content. This is where the real fun comes in. Different elemental attacks can be combined to more powerful forms. For example, a Conduit with a secondary Pyromancer gauntlet can throw up a lightning storm and then set it on fire. This creates a giant flaming ball of electricity that decimates the life force of whatever it touches. Fun stuff! Despite typical battle royale roots, Spellbreak carves out its own niche in its ability to mix and match elemental spellcasting classes.
Intuitive Control Scheme
The control scheme in Spellbreak just makes sense. Throughout my playthrough of Spellbreak, it took no time at all to master the basics. I am not particularly good at most competitive online games, but I managed to win my very first match. So I imagine no matter your level of expertise, Spellbreak should be pretty easy to pick up.
The controls of the various elemental moves in Spellbreak are intuitive. Powers balance between both hands, with the right controlling the main class attacks, and the left taking on the additional gauntlet powers. The control scheme reflects this, as the right and left triggers control their respective hands. Traversal in Spellbreak is simple, easy, and downright delightful at times. I got a real hoot out of scooting around the map on trails of ice laid down by my Frostborn mage. In case you ever forget what a button does, the on-screen HUD references the controls too.
Let’s Talk About Lag
I greatly enjoyed my review of Spellbreak. For being in Game Preview, it is a ton of fun to pick up and start “wizarding” it up. However, the main issues I have with this title are in it’s glitches and lack of polish. Yes, I get it. It’s not a finished game. But, I’m here to discuss the quality of the game, and that’s what I intend to do.
Spellbreak suffers from major lag issues. My internet set up is pretty darn good, and lag isn’t usually a problem for me. So I have a feeling this issue has to do with the game itself. The lag isn’t necessarily game-breaking, but at times it definitely causes problems. Especially when lining up the perfect sniper shot. Not the end of the world, but distracting nonetheless.
Aside from the lag, the online components work rather well. Matchmaking was quick and effective, and I never encountered major connectivity issues. A few other gripes include some issues with glitching through solid objects and tripping over apparently nothing.
Overall, Spellbreak is an excellent game to pick up and play quickly. Matches don’t typically last more than 15 minutes, so it’s easy to play a round or two if you don’t have much time. Combat and traversal is engaging, and the gameplay is unique enough that it doesn’t feel like you might as well just play Fortnite. The game needs more polish, with some improvements to graphical quality and sound design. With how early we are in the life-cycle of this game, it will certainly be interesting to see what content is added over time. If you suck at competitive multiplayer, now is the time to pick up Spellbreak, as it hasn’t been overrun with incredible players yet. Basically, everyone is still new and learning. Best of all, Spellbreak is free, so there isn’t much of reason not to check it out.
[Note: This game is part of Xbox Game Preview. We received a review code for it from developer Proletariat.]
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