Thoughts on Battlerite Royale

The ever growing genre of Battle Royale games has seen quite a few entries in recent years, now overtaking the Survival Sandbox genre that came before it, and the wave of MOBAs before that. Starting with H1Z1 and culminating in popularity with Fortnite, the genre has no signs of slowing down as many studios are throwing their hats into the ring. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds was the game that saw the most success early on and was later eclipsed by Fortnite, who tacked on a BR mode to their survival game and hooked anyone with a pulse that’s under 18. Soon, other companies with established IPs have begun to try and jump on the bandwagon, but after playing a few of the first BR games, it was clear something would have to be done to change up the formula a bit. H1Z1 and PUBG are more straight forward shooters, while Fortnite has a cheesy building mechanic. Others that have come along like Realm Royale, attempted to change things up with classes and abilities that are picked up in chests on the battlefield rather than just weapons and I found this to be a suitable idea. They later scrapped the classes idea though, and I lost interest afterwards.

Enter Stunlock Studios and their foray in the BR world. These developers have been around for a while, creating a MOBA called Bloodline Champions back in the early 2010’s that fell a bit short on popularity but was an interesting enough concept. Instead of traditional lanes and towers with a base to destroy, they focused on purposely designed characters in a more arena style brawler. Skill shots and WASD movement powered the combat, and it was a good time but lacked a macro game. Later, the company essentially redesigned their game and called in Battlerite, a game that I picked up and played but apparently only wrote about once. I said then that the lack of a macro game would probably hurt the game’s longevity, and though I played it through Early Access and a time or two after release, I never really could get that into it. I enjoyed the character design and the combat was lovely but unless you dedicated serious amounts of time to it you weren’t going to progress far.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anyway, the company had been talking about adding a BR mode to the game, but then decided to create a spin-off title instead, calling it Battlerite Royale. I’ve known of the game’s existence for some time, but it was not free to play. The original Battlerite wasn’t either, you had to pay to get into the Early Access period but did release as a free to play title after version 1.0. I assume this game will follow the same pattern. I was interested but didn’t want to spend the money on it. However, this past weekend the game was free to play on Steam so I took the opportunity to check it out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As this genre grows it’s become clear that these types of games are made free to play so that they can monetize cosmetics and other account features that don’t really affect the gameplay but give people something to work towards. Battlerite Royale is no exception, but it seems that it is fairly monetized at this point. The various currencies are earned at a decent clip, with diamonds being the premium currency that essentially speeds up your purchasing power. Each round you play will net you some gold, which can be used to buy chests. Chests then contain outfits, mounts, poses and weapons for in-game use, along with avatars for your account. You’ll also earn chests as you level your account and the individual characters. I’ve earned a bunch of cosmetics by just playing the game, so I don’t feel like there is a need to buy diamonds but I’m sure there are people out there who would.

The gameplay is similar to that of Battlerite, in that there are some of the same characters along with the same sort of WASD movement and skill shots. I rather enjoy the control scheme, with abilities tacked onto both mouse buttons, Q, E, R, F and the space bar. This is similar to how I set up my hotkeys in League of Legends so it feels perfect. What’s different here is that you start with a set amount of gold and pop into a lobby. Here you can buy a couple of your abilities at their lowest rarity (green). Each ability can be leveled up to Legendary, a full three tiers higher than when you start. You’ll find your abilities throughout the world in orbs that have to be smashed to reveal their contents, along withe being able to buy the Legendary upgrades at vendors that are scattered around the map. It takes a bit to get your full loadout and then proceed to level up the skills. On top of this there are four items slots you can use, and these items will give you passive buffs, and each can be upgraded through the same four tiers. Lastly, there are consumables like health potions and traps that can be picked up and used in your battles. Games start as you expect, with a drop in method from a flying dragon, and you’ll use your mount to speed around the island, either avoiding others or fighting to the death, all the while trying to avoid the poison cloud that shrinks as time goes on. I’ve almost instantly died and have had my best finish at #3. I believe there are 40 players per round, so not as much as other BR games but there feels like more depth here as well. There are also daily quests and achievements that will get you more currency/chests that will keep you coming back for more.

I ended up enjoying the game so much that I picked it up. It was on sale for $13.99 and I already had some money on my account so I figured why not. I’ve been playing it daily and have moved up to the Silver league and feel like I’ll be playing it for a while to come. I’d recommend it if you like BR games or MOBAs as you’ll probably enjoy it too.

Thoughts on Worlds 2018

I’ve been following the League of Legends pro scene almost as long as I’ve been playing the game. I didn’t get in right when the game released though, my first game was played in 2011, and I didn’t start watching the pros play until 2012. Esports weren’t really a thing here in America yet; definitely not at the level of production that they are now. Being from the US myself, I’ve primarily kept up with the teams from the NALCS and have watched plenty of games throughout Spring and Summer splits that took place on our home turf. I do occassionally watch games from other regions as well, but my focus has always been on my region first, followed by international tournaments. Worlds has been something I’ve looked forward to for years, but always with baited breath. You see, there has only been one champion crowned in the west, and by west I mean NA and EU. Fnatic were the Season 1 champions, but Koreans weren’t even playing the game at that point (unless playing on western servers, with terrible ping). As such, the west has little credit when it comes to being “the best in the world.”

NA and EU have always had some standout performances at Worlds but outside of that first season they haven’t really gone too far. From my recollection, NA hasn’t made it past the group stage in all of the years I’ve been watching, and I don’t think EU has gone past the Quarterfinals — definitely not the Semis. Inevitably the top seed in NA would dominate their competition locally, but when they were at international tournaments they would fizzle out and simply look not good enough. Some EU teams looked a bit better but then still failed to come through. After season one, we’ve have Korean teams with five world championships, Taiwan came away with one, and now China has finally claimed their first crown.

But that’s not the whole story. What’s funny here is that there were Korean teams in the Quarterfinals. There were also two Chinese teams, two European and the lone North American representative in Cloud 9. The top seed from NA wasn’t even present, and many of us thought Team Liquid was the real deal after winning back-to-back splits at home. Admittedly I didn’t really watch the group stages. With the event being held in Asian countries, all of the matches occurred while I was asleep, but I managed to start catching up on the following day once we got to the playoffs. The first Korean team was knocked off by Invictus Gaming, while the European team G2 Esports took care of China’s RNG. Fnatic eliminated the other Chinese team, Edward Gaming. Most surprising was seeing Cloud 9 3-0 the last remaining Korean team, Afreeca Freecs. At this point, an NA team had gone further than any at Worlds, and there was a glimmer of hope that perhaps a western team might finally win a championship.

In the Semifinals, we had two matches that no one really saw coming. China’s Invictus Gaming vs. Europe’s G2 Esports, and Fnatic vs Cloud 9. Who would have thought? Seeing Invictus tear through G2 wasn’t much of a surprise to be honest, but I did not expect Cloud 9 to be 3-0’d by Fnatic — I was thinking it would have been a more competitive match up.

We came to the Finals this weekend. At 1 am this morning the tournament began to come to a close. Of course I was sleeping again, but I got caught up this morning and sadly, the western hopes were dashed once again. Invictus convincingly shut down Fnatic, just as they had done to G2 before them, and Fnatic had done to Cloud 9 before that. One the one hand, congrats to China for finally getting your World Championship! On the other hand, it was a bummer to see things end up the way they did. Had Cloud 9 made it to the finals I would have said they proved that NA isn’t a joke anymore, but they fell short. Had Fnatic taken it all, I would have been happier with the result, but less so than an NA crown. At the end of the day though, China takes it home and I’m still happier with this result than another Korean Champion. Time to let the other regions get some of the action.

State of the Game: Fall Update

I thought I would take today to write about some of the other little odds and ends that I’ve been dabbling with since I haven’t done a round-up post in a bit. The new Playstation Plus titles for October were pretty meh compared to the month prior when we got Destiny 2, but not every month can be amazing. There was one of those asymmetrical horror games, Friday the 13th, but I skipped playing that as I had played Dead by Daylight a few months ago and didn’t find it to be a fun experience. There were a couple of other so-so titles that I didn’t have interest in either, and then there was Rocketbirds 2: Evolution.

Rocketbirds 2:

I played the original Rocketbirds back on the PS3 and if I recall correctly, it was also a Plus freebie. I rather enjoyed it, played it to completion and even downloaded the soundtrack because it was pretty damn good. The sequel changes things up ever so slightly, but keeps the same general formula that made the original good. It’s a side-scrolling platforming shooter, similar to games like Metal Slug or Guns, Gore & Cannoli. It has more similarities to the latter though, a comparison I made when writing about GC&C. There’s a sense of humor here that I enjoy, the soundtrack rocks again, and the gameplay is similar though some new tricks were added. Graphically it looks a bit better but still has the same style. Overall it was a worthy addition to my library and I’m glad I finally got to try it out.

Titanfall 2:

A while back I wrote about a handful of games that I had picked up on sale for dirt cheap. Titanfall 2 was one of them. I worried that the game would have a dead multiplayer community but it turns out that it’s still alive and well. This title, unlike its predecessor, has a single player campaign as well, and it’s been a blast.

I always liked the concept of Titanfall, being a FPS game in the same vein as Call of Duty and others, but having that added element of jet packs, wall running and mechs you call down from the sky to pilot. This is still true in the sequel, though having the campaign to play through is an added benefit. Not only do you get to test out different weapons and mech load outs, it gets you re-familiarized with the controls (and since I played the first on PC, there was a small learning curve moving over to the console) before diving into multiplayer matches (of which I have done as well). I’ve put a handful of hours into it so far, and I look forward to seeing the conclusion of the story.

League of Legends:

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I have been dabbling with League of Legends again. It’s been a fun experience, and though I felt rusty the first couple of matches I played, I am now feeling myself getting back to form. I was never a top tier player, only playing for fun and used to play ARAM and rotating game modes more often than not. When I played ranked I managed to make it into the Silver tier a few times but never any further as I didn’t dedicate that much time to it but imagine I could have made it into at least Gold if I put my mind to it. I still don’t really want to dedicate that time to it, and this season ends next month so perhaps after the reset I’ll try out some ranked again.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to catch up with the changes. Summoner’s Rift is a different place compared to when I last played. The Rune system seems good, but I also don’t like it as much as the old runes/masteries system. I made some generic pages for the different types of champions in the game, but they need to be honed in before I try and play anything more competitive. I’ve made a few purchases with essence (which used to be IP) for some of the champions that released since my hiatus. Of those, I’ve only played Kled, whom I like but was not very good with. Otherwise I’ve played Swain and Graves since their reworks, and they seem fine. Another big change is that they removed the Summoner Level cap, so I’ve rolled over level 30. I’m not sure if hitting a higher level rewards anything, but I’m sure I’ll find out.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!:

Lastly, I’ve played a bit of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! As I mentioned in my last post about it, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start fresh, or try and pick up where I left off. I should also note that I thought I had been playing Jack through that session, but it turns out I was actually playing Wilhelm, who is my highest level character at this point. Jack was only level 3.

I ended up starting fresh with Claptrap, but after playing for a bit I realized that I remembered what had been going on and didn’t feel the need for the refresher. At that point I loaded up Wilhelm and worked through a handful of quests before calling it a night. I plan to add this game to my active rotation and try to clear it out of the backlog!

That’s all for this round-up. I have a new deck idea I want to share sometime over the weekend, so stay tuned for that. Until then, Happy Gaming!

Checking in on League of Legends

League of Legends is probably my most played game of all time. If it isn’t, it’s a close second to EverQuest 2, but I imagine that I have spent more time playing LoL due to the fact that I started playing the game way back in 2011, and only took a couple of breaks here and there for short amounts of time outside of my most recent break from the game. Whereas with EQ2, my only regular play time was from about 2006-2008, and then it was very sporadic and for only a couple of months at a time. My most recent trek back to Norrath was through the end of last year into early this year and only lasted for that short amount of time. With LoL I played nearly every day for years, and then when I didn’t play for like a month I’d be sucked back in by some new champion or event.

If you take a look at my match history, you’ll see that the last game I had played was in August of 2016, until the other day when I played, a full two years and a couple of months later. I honestly don’t know where that time went, outside of the fact that I know what changes occurred in my life around that time. I met my girlfriend earlier in 2016, but we were officially “an item” by August, and from then on I spent less time gaming and more time with her. That’s not to say that gaming has fallen by the wayside, as clearly I have been plugging away at my backlog along with trying new things since then. It’s just at that point I sort of put LoL on the back burner after having played pretty seriously for years prior. And somehow or another, despite thinking about firing it up on multiple occasions, it took me til now to actual do so. But hey, my backlog thanks me for the break, I suppose.

Boy, things have changed. They redesigned the launcher at some point, and apparently I did log in sometime in 2017, as my launcher was already updated there were just the normal game patches to get through. I also earned a few icons that were applied to my account last year so I know I had to have logged in, but I didn’t play as my match history has shown. Now you can see your “collection” of champions, skins, icons, ward skins and more in a handy interface that is less convoluted than it was before. It’s also neat to learn how you earned said skins/icons and when that occurred, something that was missing from the prior version of the launcher. There’s now a season pass sort of option as well, something that we’ve seen in games like SMITE and other lobby games where you pay an upfront fee to access new cosmetic items and participate in a limited-time event. Speaking of limited events, there are also still those good ol’ rotating game modes, but the most recent that I participated in was a 5 player co-op map where you kill a bunch of NPC enemies and that was interesting! I’ve never played co-op in LoL before, and in this instance I feel like you could make a skill based isometric RPG/MMO in this vein and it would be a ton of fun! But that’s a thought for another day.

Another big change is how runes and masteries work. This was a big thing for me, I spent a lot of time trying to dial in rune and mastery pages for the champions I played regularly, and I also gave general advice for building these pages here on the blog. It seems now that runes and masteries are gone as we knew them, instead of being separate pages they are now consolidated into one. This also means that there are a ton of build paths, but you basically pick a major tree, which gives you a four sets of three choices to make, and then a secondary tree that you can pick two passives from. As such, I have made a few builds to test out, each representing the different types of characters you’ll play in the game. It appears that I did not get my tank build uploaded and I’m not at home so I’ll have to add that in later, but above you’ll see ADC, Assassin, Mage and Support builds. I know I built a tank page as well but I guess it’s not all that important. These are first draft builds, so your mileage may vary.

So far I’ve played a few nights now, but I’ve only played ARAM and the co-op mode because I felt like I would be super rusty. It turns out it is a bit like riding a bike, I still have the muscle memory to handle the controls and thus far I’ve performed okay, but as you know in ARAM you get a random character, so some I’ve done better with than others. There are probably a dozen new champions that were added to the game since I last played, along with several re-worked characters, though I am familiar with most of them due to watching pro esports despite not actually playing myself. I’m actually rather pleased with the experience and intend to play more in the coming weeks. I have another post in the works discussing my backlog and play time, and I’ll cover more of why I have time to play LoL again during that time.

Hi-Rez Split: Good or Bad for Gamers?

This isn’t another developer appreciation week post, although I can say that Hi-Rez Studios has provided me with hundreds of hours of entertainment throughout the years. I absolutely love SMITE, enjoy Paladins to a lesser degree and see potential in Realm Royale (though the Battle Royale genre is already pretty stale). I would say I have an appreciation for them, but they aren’t held up on a pedestal like some other developers I’ve discussed on this blog, but I also wouldn’t put them in a pile with Daybreak Games whom have lost nearly all of my respect (save for the Norrath nostalgia I will always carry with me). A mixed relationship, though I don’t have any real ill will.

Recently the company announced that it is splitting into three different studios that will handle each of their titles. Titan Forge Games will continue to maintain and develop the company’s flagship title SMITE, Evil Mojo Games will oversee development of Paladins, and a new studio Heroic Leap Games was created to push Realm Royale towards its 1.0 release. At this point it’s hard to decide if this is a good or bad thing for the gamers who have invested countless hours into the company’s titles. One the one hand, having an individual team that is dedicated to producing new content and maintaining each game with bug fixes and balance changes should theoretically mean each game gets the time it deserves. On the other hand, it’s easy for one company to spread itself too thin with multiple studios demanding development time and funds and Hi-Rez has a bit of a bad track record when it comes to supporting games that just aren’t cutting it.

Another story broke that shows a huge decline in player numbers via Steam tracking for Realm Royale, and seeing as it’s only available on PC at this time that should be a reliable data point. It is only in Alpha testing at this point though so most people probably aren’t super committed to it until launch and the Battle Royale sphere is getting pretty crowded. Signups for the console beta of this game are already ongoing, so there are still plans to bring the game to consoles which has worked well for their other titles though it’s harder to track data about player bases reliably. I can attest to playing their games on console exclusively, and am already signed up for the Realm Royale beta on PS4, as these are great games with low barriers to entry and something I can play with my friends. It is troublesome to speculate on real data as to the health of the player base as a whole for each title due to having methods to track Steam numbers but not those on console or via the Hi-Rez launcher.

Looking at the Steam Charts for each reveals that they do all have player bases, but they vary wildly and it’s hard to say what the company would consider successful. I don’t have raw data on what happened with their handling of Tribes Ascend, but a cursory Internet search brought up this article. It seems that the studio dropped support just a year after “rescuing” the title that was already dead. I didn’t play Tribes Ascend, so I can’t say this bothers me. Looking at it from the outside I feel like it was probably a good business decision and since they didn’t really have anything invested in it they cut their losses. But if we look at the Steam charts for SMITE, it doesn’t seem to have a very large base and yet it continues to soldier on, four and a half years later.

I was surprised by the numbers for Paladins on Steam Charts, considering at the end of last year there was a controversial decision made involving the cash shop for the game. Isey covered this better than I could, I encourage you to read his article on the matter. I have since played the game and it’s not terrible and they seemed to sort of back off of the pay 2 win aspects that made people angry, yet it still commands more players on PC than SMITE. Realm Royale is facing a growing genre that is already dominated by the likes of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, and their Steam Charts numbers show it. A game with less than 5,000 players can easily stay alive, be it a MOBA or an MMO, but if the developers don’t think they are going to make enough money off of that player base, the game is likely to sunset. Games such as these sometimes depend on whales and that’s why the predatory cash shops exist, but even normal players like myself haven’t had a problem plunking down some cash for cool skins or champion bundles. Developers need to make compelling games to get our money, but also need enough money to keep the lights on. A vicious cycle.

Clearly I have no idea if this is a good or bad move for the company or its games. I think Realm Royale has a chance on consoles, because despite my lack of numbers I have played these games personally on PS4 and never had issues with long queue times that are evident in dying games. I would like to see all three of these game succeed, as I think the company has designed interesting games that vary enough from the competition to be as-good-if-not-better in my eyes. I’m not sure if this is the way to secure the future for them, but time will surely tell.