Battlerite Distils MOBAs To Action-Packed Teamfights

If you’ve ever enjoyed a teamfight in a MOBA, I can guarantee you’ll get a kick out of Battlerite. That’s a bold opening statement, but Battlerite distills those clashes into tense, 10 – 15 minute matches where knowledge and reaction speeds are equally vital. Even if you wouldn’t touch a MOBA with a ten foot barge pole, this might still be for you.

Battlerite is Stunlock Studios’ follow up to Bloodline Champions, with the same basic structure – and the essence of many of the heroes – ported over. That means it’s a topdown game in which you fight in teams using abilities triggered via a skill bar. The game’s played either 2v2 or 3v3, with a best of 5 round structure. Each of the 15 heroes has 6 unique abilities, including an ‘ultimate’ that’s especially powerful but requires an energy pool to be filled first by using other abilities. There are also two additional EX moves that use that same energy pool, which are usually alternate versions of normal abilities with souped up damage and/or added effects, though some of them are entirely new. It’s an idea borrowed from fighting games like Street Fighter, and it fits perfectly. On top of that, at the start of each round you get to pick one of three battlerites, each of which enhances an ability (or provides some other buff) that tailors your champion to a certain playstyle over the course of the game. More on those later.

There’s no denying things are overwhelming at first, even for veterans of Dota/League/Smite or WoW’s Arena. It’s a strange feeling, being catapulted back to the equivalent period of my Dota career where every hero and spell was a complete unknown. There’s a tutorial that does a decent job of showing you the ropes for one champion, but you’ll need at least a basic idea of what all of them do before you can start to excel. You’ll lose your first few matches, and likely keep losing every time you try a new champion. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For a start, losing is fun! Unlike with Dota’s hour long slogs, Battlerite’s brevity makes facing up against a much better team far less demoralising. In 10 minutes you’ll be in another game, and this time you’re going to remember to use that ability you keep forgetting about. There’s no XP or items to worry about either, meaning you’re just as powerful as your opponents from start to finish. The level playing field means there’s always the possibility that a great play can turn the tide, imbuing every match with a tension that’s sometimes lacking from the game’s inspirations.

The fact that practically every ability (and every default attack) is a skill shot makes those game-changing plays far more prevalent, too. Of course, every hero has at least one mobility spell as well, meaning skilful dodges are a possibility as well as skilful attacks. Spectating from beyond the grave as two experienced players dance around each other is a treat to watch, as they anticipate and counter their opponent’s moves. It’s testament to Battlerite’s future as an esport, which the devs have said they’re keen on pursuing once they’ve grown a big enough community. I’ve no doubt that there’s enough depth here to sustain a competitive scene. Beginners might struggle, but that’s part and parcel of any game with a skill ceiling as high as Battlerite’s appears to be.

Let’s talk about the champions themselves. It’s a diverse line-up, as you’d hope: stealthy murder frogs fight alongside time owls, spirits, gunslingers, trolls and more. Impressively, I’m yet to find one I haven’t enjoyed – which is remarkable considering I only play about 5 heroes in Dota. Despite my usual preference for agile damage dealers, I’ve found tanky characters and support focussed ones are just as much fun to play. That’s partly because every character is an agile damage dealer to some extent, and they’re all capable of holding their own when it comes down to a 1v1. Also, healing allies is challenging and engaging for exactly the same reasons that damaging enemies is, since you need to accurately aim your healing abilities.

There’s good design baked into the core of the game, and battlerites are the icing on the cake. Choosing just one of the three available to you at the start of each round is an interesting strategic decision in itself. Do you want Croak’s poison spit to heal you for twice as much, or do you want to move 15% faster while stealthed? Do you want to increase your healing by 15%, or do 20% more damage to low health enemies? Many champions have particularly powerful synergies between different battlerites, which are a thrill to discover for yourself. I’ve just begun shaping my choices around which champions the other team has picked – there’s no drafting phase, unlike most MOBAs – introducing yet another layer of skill to the game.

The good design decisions don’t stop there. All of the damage numbers are kept low, so it’s easy to keep track of how powerful each ability is and the impact that taking certain battlerites has on them. The champions’ health pools are all at that sweet spot between ‘boringly large’ and ‘liable to explode in 1 hit’, preventing slow wars of attrition while allowing abilities to feel impactful. The arenas are small, but not too small, with an orb that periodically spawns in the centre that grants a bonus to the team who destroys it. It’s a neat way of focussing the action, with many decisive plays revolving around a well timed ‘last hit’ on the orb.

So, what could be improved? For a game that’s only just opened up for public early access, there are remarkably few obvious issues. I’ve a minor quibble with how small the arrows are that indicate where off screen players are – I didn’t even notice they were there until a friend pointed them out to me, several hours in. A more detailed tutorial would be welcome, to explain how the orb mechanic works as well as highlighting the synergy between each champion’s abilities: knowing how to combo certain skills together can make a massive difference. I’d also like to see the tooltips for each ability update as you pick battlerites. Oh, and the 2 games I played with the chat enabled were downright toxic. You’ll probably want to leave it off, and ideally find some more amiable friends to play with. None of that holds the experience back significantly – it’s mostly a case of making the game more accessible to players that don’t have a history with MOBAs. Even then, a couple of hours should be more than enough to learn the basics.

As with Dota, Battlerite’s already starting to feel like a different beast as I rack up hours in it. Improving at one element of the game frees up another to focus on, allowing me to incorporate more and more information into the decisions I’m making at every second. I’m not sure how deep this rabbit hole goes, but I’m hoping I’ll still be exploring it for many months to come.

Battlerite is available on Steam early access now for £15/$20/€20. When the beta is over, the game will be free-to-play.

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  1. Aldehyde says:

    I’ve played and loved first HoN and then Dota 2 for years now but this game might be the one to take me away from the lane pusher genre.

    It takes the fights that I love and gets rid of the, to me, boring grind from Dota (or any other lane pusher).

    The fact that games last such a short amount of time decreases my feeling of time wasted in losses. When you get trashed, you lose quick, and close games are close. In Dota, you can be stuck in a pretty much impossible-to-win game for two-three Battlerite games, easily.

    This has made it easy for me to behave as I should in the game. Dota brings out the worst in me, this doesn’t. I even thought this was true for most people because I have actually not had the displeasure of running into one of those truly toxic people in Battlerite yet. My friend, however, has. To the point where he doesn’t play solo anymore.

    Not sure this post is very coherent but whatever.
    Fucking love this game.

    • Moraven says:

      Heroes did that for me. I like the various maps and the team objectives which bring about constant team battles. Rarely do I stay it a lane that long.

    • Zankman says:

      Why are you comparing this game to DotAlikes at all?

      It isn’t really similar at all.

      This is an actual “MOBA”, not a DotA or LoL-like game.

      • fabronaut says:

        I think a lot of those comparisons have come from the marketing angle. It could be due to userbase overlap, but some of the messaging seems targeted at people who play MOBA style games.

        I’ve only ever really played Dota 2 after a friend sucked me into it years ago. I picked up 2 copies of Battlerite on a whim, since it looked interesting and scratches a similar competitive itch.

        It’s an utter godsend that matches are over so quick. When I try a new character and get utterly destroyed, it’s still mildly annoying (but entirely my fault for not playing it against AI for a few rounds). Contrast this to a game like Dota, where matches in the current meta seem to run somewhere between ~35 – 60 minutes, and in previous patches, might’ve run 60 – 75+ minutes on a fairly regular basis.

        I can’t speak for other MOBAs, as I only play Dota, but there’s something inherently soul-crushing when you end up stuck in a match long past the point where you have a decent shot of winning. Some matches feel like they’re entirely lost before they’re even begun, due to sub-optimal drafts, lack of team coordination, or a number of other factors that aren’t always strictly related to being outplayed.

        I love Dota for what it is, but I’m really happy to have this game around. It might seem a bit odd that it’s being pitched to the same sort of people that like MOBAs given that it’s a much more streamlined experience, but I think that’s actually a huge selling point. I can pick up the game, start playing a new hero, and after a few matches / an hour or so, feel like I have some handle on things.

        It feels like a very different game, but I’m sure there’s some overlap in terms of the sort of person who’s really hooked on Dota, League of Legends, or Smite, and the kind of person who would be keen on giving this a whirl.

        I’m really enjoying the fact that it feels very “pick up and play” friendly, while still having quite a bit of depth. The market doesn’t need another “me too!” clone of a polished formula, so this has a good shot of carving out its own niche.

        Perhaps give it a shot when it goes free to play eventually. I haven’t played anything quite like it before, and even if you can’t stand learning all the minutiae of the bigger MOBA titles (I’m invested in one of them and will not even consider touching one of the others), you might find something to love here in a relatively bite size, digestible format.

        Oddly, it makes me think of the Marvel VS Capcom games. I’m utterly atrocious at fighting games, but those always seemed to strike a nice sweet spot between being fairly “pick up and play” friendly, while also having a ludicrous amount of depth to those that wanted to go deep down that particular rabbit hole.

  2. Reefpirate says:

    I really have tried to like the lane-pushers. I played HoN a bit, and actually did end up spending quite a bit of time with Smite. But the genre never captured me like it seems to capture so many others.

    Battlerite, on the other hand, is fantastic and I’m enjoying the hell out of it. I like the Street Fighter comparison in the review. It feels less like HoN and more like Diablo meets Street Fighter.

  3. Hunchback says:

    As the OP stated, a very important part of this game and BLC is that almost all skills are skill-shots, except some AOE stuff. You can’t “click your target”, you have to aim with your skill (like some of the more potent skills in DOTA etc).

    BLC/Battlerite are kinda inspired by WoW arena i believe, but it offers far fewer skills to use. I am definatelly gonna play it once it goes F2P, but watching Twitch streams of the game it looks fantastic.
    Only things i am not very sure about are:
    1. The name. There’s something seriously wrong with game names lately, especially online games. All those “composed” names that include battle, face, combat, ultimate etc etc… are very annoying.
    2. The art style a la Borderlands and Torchlight seems a bit silly. I’d so much rather play an online arena in a cyber punk setting… but allas.

    • Tenerim says:

      Some people have made the comparison to WoW arena, in my mind this is more a fleshed out version of the Warcraft 3 mod Warlock. I loved BLC and felt really sad when it didn’t get the impact it deserved. Then Funcom made some questionable decisions regarding the financial aspect which pretty much ended up killing the game. It seems the team is free to make their own decisions regarding payment model (purely cosmetics dropped from crates which you can buy or earn, like in Overwatch) which I feel is a good way to deal with a (eventually) f2p game. I’m just sad that my man Glutton (Rook in Battlerite) is not as good as he used to be.

      The game is great, if you ever liked the Warlock or to some degree Pudge Wars/WoW arena mods back in WC 3 days I think this will tickle your fancy.

  4. TR`Ben says:

    Battlerite is so great! I’ve never been so positive about competitive multiplayer game. I’m still learning the game, and excitement will probably reduce over time. But man, that’s a good piece of software.
    Combat is fast and reactive. So much room for some fine plays. Two minute rounds fly by so qiuckly. And then the arena gets smaller and smaller, and then you fight 1v1 on a tiny circle. And wining a match is a matter of one hit for both of you.
    I didn’t have as much fun in Overwatch after 30+ hours, then i did in Battlerite. And loosing never makes me frustrated.
    It does need some changes in UI and usability, but in terms of the gameplay itself this game is briliant.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Herzog says:

    I just chime in with the positive comments before. I had fun from the first online match. Very polished for a first early access release and looking forward to play more!

  6. Budikah says:

    I’m having an absolute blast playing this game lately. I’d love to see it really take off as it is a nice change of pace from the usual MOBA genre.

    – Controls are tight
    – Balance doesn’t seem horrendous
    – Run by what appears to be a decent company
    – Matches are short, so losses aren’t 50 minutes of your life gone into an abyss.
    – Very intense, skill based.

    I bought into it and I’ve even loaded up my stream a few times to showcase it. I’m “Budikah” on Twitch.TV as well if anybody ever wants to bump in at a random time and see some average Battlerite action.

  7. Yecob says:

    I’ve seen a few toxic players but have also met a lot of nice people and made friends on Battlerites so far. I feel it’s hard to judge from only playing two games with chat on.

    • Dragon Master says:

      Because it is. I’ve seen a lot of biased people stereotyping the community into dota’s or lol’s, effectively becoming toxic themselves. I feel Matt is in that category. I play Paloma a lot, one of the healers. In Battlerite all healers have a special “trick” preventing them from spamming heals all the time as that was an issue in BLC. Her trick is that she can’t heal herself. She has to hela teamates and gets a percentage off of that. One game I was matched with a guy in placement, new ofc. When asked if he had played before(the first round had passed and we lost it) in a polite manner, he took it as a personal offense snapping back at me. The second round I asked him “mate, do you know how my hero works?”, since it was obvious he didn’t know about my hero’s trick and I simply wanted to explain him, as many people who don’t pkay the hero do not know. The response was “god, do I have to turn off the chat? Done!” and that was it. Doesn’t help much for a friednly community, people like that. So Matt, do not judge with such haste and such limited experience, please. The Battlerite community is downright friendly if you give it a chance.

      • fabronaut says:

        I’ve only had one instance of a player (on my team or otherwise) behaving badly so far, which is FAR from my experience with something like DOTA.

        I’m not sure if having chat off by default helps in any regard, but having the option to disable it is nice. Perhaps they’ll make it a bit more granular in the future (DOTA allows you to mute individual players, with voice chat and text chat mute as separate options).

        I don’t think there’s any voice chat currently implemented in the game, which is unfortunate. I’m definitely less inclined to solo queue, since there’s no way to “ping” or hint at what you might want to do, and the game is so fast paced there’s no chance to type things out, except for perhaps general strategy before the match begins.

        The upshot is that the standard 2v2 mode means it’s pretty easy for me to find a buddy to play with, and I just use one of my various VOIP clients to chat with them while we figure things out.

        In general, people seem a LOT friendlier in Battlerite, whether they’re on my team or not. I can’t help but wonder if having a ~$20 USD buy in for early access helps this to some extent. I certainly hope the well doesn’t become poisoned once the free to play floodgates are opened, since it’s clearly a brilliant game. It would be a shame to see everything fall apart if trolling and general asshattery were to become the new norm.

  8. AngoraFish says:

    It has last hits? Counts me out then. :(

    • Bremze says:

      No creeps, no towers, no gold or items. Every 40 or so seconds, the middle of the arena spawns an orb with 40 hp which grants you a team-wide heal and energy boost if your team can score the killing blow on it.

    • fabronaut says:

      As mentioned, the only thing you can last hit is the orb in the middle of the arena. Or enemies when you land the killing blow, I suppose. :)

      The orb does a great job of drawing the action into the centre of the arena, forcing careful play and a bit of feint and jab while trying to control the area, hoping to bait someone into making a mistake.

      Without the orb, I suspect there’d be a lot more spam and boring “poke and kite” style matches, which would make the melee characters a lot less fun to play.

  9. Lim-Dul says:

    I love Battlerite but then again I used to plaz Bloodline Champions quite a bit back in the day before it became awful through Microtransactions.

    I immediately bought the ultimate fan pack because I wanted to support the devs as much as I could. I found it absolutely criminal how BLC didn’t take off but it came out at a very unfortunate time. League of Legends has already become large enough for every top-down game with “heroes/champions” an skills to be dismissed as a clone even if it was competely different and Dota 2 was lurking around the corner further reinforcing this coincidence.

    Then Dead Island: Epidemic was canceled and I felt as if Stunlock Studios were on the brink of bankruptcy if their next game didn’t take off.

    Still, it’s funny to see how timing sometimes means everything in the gaming world. It’s a similar story with Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars and Rocket League really.
    A game with exactly the same core gameplay but a little bit of polish and some improvements (and hey, BLC didn’t lack polish to begin with) is hailed as a revolution and the next big thing while the previous one was overlooked.

    Anyways – when it comes to the community I am so far positively surprised. I think the 12-year-old trolls haven’t invaded the game yet due to it not being free to play. At slightly higher grades (I’m grade 10 at the moment) I have only met two really rude guys (gals?) with 141 games played.
    In fact I have had many extremely polite players. The secret for me has been to avoid ever, ever making comments about how bad my team-mates are even if they really do suck.
    It’s such a volatile game, it’s really hard to judge if someone is truly awful or not – one missed escape and you can get utterly destroyed within seconds.
    Instead, I’m focusing entirely on my own game and writing stuff like “sorry, my bad”, “entirely my fault” or “nice one, you really carried me here” in chat even if it isn’t quite true. Staying humble triggers a very positive reaction in most people. It also helps that you can ALWAYS point out something you did wrong or sub-optimal in Battlerite since you will always miss SOMETHING and that SOMETHING might have made the difference in that round.

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