Spellbreak has a pretty appealing pitch: it’s Battle Royale but everyone’s a wizard. This means that in traversal you can loft yourself into the air for a short period, which meshes well with your surprisingly brisk running speed. It means that you have a huge fantasy isle of Hyrulian hills and honeyed stone to gad about. And it means that when you reach the last two minutes of every Battle Royale game where people emerge into the same tiny patch of ground everyone’s a wizard.
Seriously! These final moments. I’ll be standing on a bluff, wizarding around, and then a huge wall of flame will emerge from the east. Lightning will zap through the air from the west. The south will become a swamp of toxic green goop, and the north will shake with seismic activity. It’s an end-game that truly feels like the world is ending – perhaps only the luminous Atomega can beat it in that category. And deep down there is an intricacy that has kept me at it for ages.
Let us step back a bit before I get to that. Spellbreak’s Battle Royales tend to be around half the size of Fortnite’s, which makes for a game in which you spend quite a bit of time by yourself. That’s fine, I guess, because you’ll be scavenging loot and opening chests, and there’s a lot to unpick here. You choose a class before launching into the game, and this just means that your right hand – and the right trigger and bumper – will be themed to a specific elemental attack. Fire, lightning, stone, wind, that sort of thing. All elements have their own quirks and a spammable attack on the trigger with something bigger that needs a charge on the bumper. Fire is a fireball on the trigger and a wall of fire on the bumper, for example. Ice allows you to hold the trigger and snipe, zooming in. Rock has you either sending a fissure through the ground or lobbing a massive boulder. It’s fun!
You’re not too hemmed in by this choice, of course. As you open chests you’ll come across elemental gauntlets for your other hand. They’ll never be quite as fully-realised as the one on your right, but you can still have toxic goop and ice and you’ll be off to the races. Throw in gear that allows you to run faster or wear shields, throw in potions, throw in special spells that can be swapped out, granted periods of invisibility, say, or a mega-jump, and there’s lots to engage with.
The genius though is the way the magical elements combine.In Spellbreak, elements react with elements. This makes it feel a bit like Magicka with those brilliantly fussy dial-a-spells that meant you could accidentally blow yourself up at the worst moment.
So conjure a wall of flame. Fine. Then fire toxic blasts through it and the wall of flame is a toxic wall. Fire and wind make for a flaming tornado. You can have an electrical tornado or a frosty tornado. Fire poison gas and then freeze it and you get a big toxic lump you can jump onto. Fire toxic gas and then set fire to it and it explodes.
This is enormous fun. But now and then Spellbreak will allow for something that properly blows my mind. If you have ice as your main, each blast sends a little channel of frost along the ground. I was wizarding about yesterday and realised that as I had lingered, the ice had melted to water. Someone came over the hill and fireballed me and suddenly there was a wall of steam between us. STEAM.
Isn’t this great? It’s still early days for Spellbreak, and there are some odd things about it. The biggest shame at the moment is that the pretty world around you isn’t particularly reactive to the spells and stuff you’re chucking about. The landscape looks nice but is a bit inert. There’s a balancing challenge here for sure, but it would be nice if the place you play in felt a bit more present.
There is time to change all that, though. Fortnite has proven that if the players turn up a Battle Royale game can become a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I hope that happens here.