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When I heard that Battlerite was getting a Battle Royale mode, I of course had the natural reaction of rolling my eyes so hard they nearly popped out of my head. The gaming market has a nasty habit of latching onto anybody’s idea that works, no matter how done to death the idea has already become. Still, I’m a fan of Battlerite, and they sent me an early access code, so I decided to see what they brought to the table.

I should start by clarifying that Battlerite Royale isn’t a “mode” in Battlerite, but actually a standalone game. It takes the core concept of a Battlerite match, trades out the teams for solo competition and loot orbs, and tosses players onto a much larger map 30 at a time. Instead of buying skills between rounds, you find them in the loot orbs at random rarities alongside gold, consumables, and gear. If you find a higher quality version of your characters abilities or gear, it’ll automatically upgrade yours and leave the lesser version lying on the ground. Don’t worry; if you find an ability someone dropped, it’ll still work for you. They’re labeled by keyboard shortcuts rather than character specific skills, so you don’t have to worry about finding the ones specific to your actual character.

Next to each player’s health bar over their character is a circled number representing your level. This level is determined based on the number and level of skills you have and your gear. You can see them on your opponents as well, so it serves as a great visual indicator of a player’s threat to you at a glance. Make sure you’re picking fights you can win in the early game; the faster you cut off players who land near you, the better off you’ll be.

Speaking of fights, the combat feels nearly identical to how it does in Battlerite, and that’s definitely to the game’s credit. There wasn’t any lag that I could feel, the framerate was constant, and the overall in-match experience felt very polished for an early access title, which is a damn-sight more than I can say for most of the early access shovelware I’ve been forced to plow through. Like its MOBA namesake, everything in Battlerite is a skill shot, so you’ll have to put in some practice to really get good at hitting moving targets. If you’re new to Battlerite, I’d recommend starting with a melee character first to get a feel for the controls and using skills. It’ll make it a little easier to get comfortable, and then you can transition into some of the more challenging ranged characters.

You’re given full use of your mounts throughout the course of a match, and learning when to make use of them and your consumables is crucial. There are Battle Royale standards like health potions, but also stealth potions, ninja hooks to grab people with, and even fake treasure chests to lay down that damage players who open them. I cannot overstate how important it is to remember that you have these and to learn to use them effectively. It makes a world of difference in your rankings in each match.

Like in Realm Royale, chests will spawn at certain locations on the map after a certain amount of time has passed. These chests offer better-than-normal loot, and are a hot-spot for player activity. If you’re looking to swoop  in at the end of a battle and clean up a few kills to close out a round, this is your place to do it. There are a few spots where the chests spawn with plenty of bushes nearby, so make good use of the cover and strike when people are weak from fighting.

If I haven’t made it clear by now, I want to outright say that I was thoroughly impressed with Battlerite Royale. From a visual standpoint, the game looks super crisp and the bright colors really pop out. The dynamic lighting affecting where and what you can see in buildings makes hiding and exploring a more unique experience than in the genre’s shooter counterparts, which adds a very small new layer of depth to how you approach the game.

Battlerite Royale does still have its flaws, but they’re few and far between. Most of the things I found frustrating about the game aren’t problems with the game itself, but rather minor annoyances with the genre as a whole. It feels like it can take forever to jump into a match once everyone is connected, even if you’re only waiting 30 seconds. The size of the map also means that even with just 30 players, the spread isn’t very far. You’re almost certainly going to be fighting people as soon as you touch the ground. This isn’t a problem, per se, but if you’re new and not great at the game yet it can be frustrating to land in the middle of a bunch of people and get taken out immediately. Don’t worry if it happens to you; it’s all about practice. I got dunked on in my first few games, but after an hour or two in, I was consistently finishing in the top ten. The thing that makes losing early sting less in other Battle Royale games is that matchmaking happens very quickly. You’re never out of gameplay for a super long time. Here, and I’m chalking it up to the game being in early access, finding a match can take upwards of 3 or 4 minutes and it can be frustrating because actually playing the game is pretty damn fun.

For want of a better segue, I want to talk a bit about the user interface. The entirety of the menus, from the home screen to the storefront and champions page has a super clean material-esque design and its easy to navigate. I did have a problem with the quest system and character select screen though. One of the first quests you’re given is to play a game as each of three roles: melee, ranged, and support. The only problem with that is the character select screen doesn’t have a support category, so you need to have a fairly intimate knowledge of Battlerite’s roster and archetypes to complete the quest. It’s a minor gripe, but one that could easily be fixed.

The game does have a cash shop, but the shop only sells cosmetic items for characters. You can unlock all of these items through gameplay, but it can take some time. The game rewards you with loot boxes frequently, but a lot of them contain only the most basic of palette swapped skins, and most of the time they might not be for a character you play. In my first two hours or so I had almost 20 of the things to open. Unfortunately, most of them didn’t contain any of the cooler items. There are also character-specific chests you get for leveling up characters by playing them. These guarantee you’ll get items for that character, so if you find someone you like you’re not left praying to RNJesus that you’ll get something out of the generic loot boxes. Despite all of this, it’s a bit of a shame that the best skins in the game have to be bought outright, and even the palette swaps take a long time to show up even in those character specific chests.

Unfortunately, this brings me to my biggest gripe with Battlerite Royale: it’s a buy-to-play game. The OG Battlerite community is on the decline, with its max player count in the last month reaching just 4000 people, down from its all time peak of nearly half a million. For a development team who is trying to pull in as many players as possible to their game as well as trying to convert or retain players from the original Battlerite, gating off the game, one that would work amazingly as a free to play game, seems like a bad move.

This is to say absolutely nothing of the fact that they are putting a real-cash shop into a game with an up-front cost. Granted, the game is only $10, and even I said just minutes ago that the cash items are only cosmetic. Still, I think Jim Sterling said it best when he posited that microtransactions have no place in a game you have to pay to play, even if they’re just cosmetic. The price you pay to play the game should be the cost of entry. I’d personally rather pay $25 dollars for a game and have the skins unlock as a reward for gameplay at a reasonable rate than pay $10 and have to spend additional cash for each cool outfit I want to unlock that adds up to far more than just paying a bit more for the game up front.

A lot of people on Reddit are quick to call this a greedy cash grab and, normally, I’d be inclined to agree at least a little. Given the state of Battlerite’s community at the moment, and the fact that there’s likely a lot riding on this game for the company, and it’s easier to see why they would try to make some extra cash out of it. It doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it makes it easier to understand. The games cost money to develop and keeping servers running isn’t free, especially when the game you’ve invested most of your time in, Battlerite in this case, is slowly bleeding its player base.

I think Battlerite Royale is a good game. I would even go as far as to say that it’s worth the $20 bucks. I think the microtransactions are a bit much for a game you’re already having to pay to play, but it’s in no way as bad as games that are still charging $60 and still carving out content to shove into boxes. If you like Battlerite and are looking for a unique take on the Battle Royale genre, you should check out Battlerite Royale. It’s damn fun, annoyances aside.

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