Ever wanted to play a MOBA without all the crap MOBA bits? Battlerite is a great game that not nearly enough people are talking about. So talk about it we shall.
Incidentally, the game is currently on sale at Humble.
Luckily, word of mouth has made it enough of a success to keep server populations healthy, and plenty of competitions have taken it on. But I feel like there's a lack of coverage for this gem... Even before we had this glut of amazing games, it was being neglected. It's a damned travesty.
So let's begin.
First and foremost, Battlerite matches are about five minutes long. That's what got me to try the game, and I imagine a lot of time poor people who like the idea of a MOBA teamfight will like this as well. If you need to catch a bus in 10 minutes, you can't even afford a game of HOTS. But you can get a match of Battlerite in.
All the teamfights without any of the lane stuff
I realise that laning is a sacred element of pure MOBAs. It’s an opportunity for players to demonstrate individual skill, as well as for teams to execute a different brand of strategy than they would in the teamfight phase. I get all that. I just don’t like it.
I’ve also never been a big fan of last-hitting as a mechanic to base a game around. Again, I’m not bagging it, it’s just not my cup o’.
Battlerite does away with all that, and gets straight to the teamfight. You’re dumped into an arena with other competitors and some soft objectives, and you go at it. Boom.
Some of the customisability of gold, items, etc is gone, but each round players select new "battlerites", which are effectively talents, and that adds adaptability and playstyles into the mix.
Every shot is a skillshot
Whether it's an AoE, a straight shot, or a timed ability like a trance counter, everything takes skill. There's no autotargetting in these waters, folks. No tab targetting, no right-clicking. All skill.
Healing only goes so far
I really like this as a way to solve healbot teams that are too hard to kill. I remember the days of WoW Arena as a Warlock, and the only viable competitive setup was the Siphon Life/Soul Link strategy with a shadow priest. It was basically an attrition match that went for 20 minutes. That kind of gameplay is not fun.
In Battlerite, you can only regain a certain amount of health through healing. That means there's a window of "acceptable" damage you can take in the name of trading efficiently. Get hurt any more than that, and some of that health can't be healed. The health orbs around the map do heal some of the "permanent" damage, but it's a small amount and this system does a good job of not just making sure hurt people stay hurt, but creating strategy around how much burst damage people are willing to contend with in a trade.
Heroes look towards the mouse cursor, potentially giving away the direction you’re aiming or focusing. Some abilities add to this telegraphing, like Jade’s snipe pointing a laser at her target. This has led to some top players doing “360 noscopes” just to hide their target. Or, they might aim at one, and then flick to the other, in order to bait out two defensive cooldowns. But even if none of this is in play, we’re kind of trained as gamers to hover our mouse over our target. But this can give away vital information about what we’re focusing on.
While we’re on the topic of telegraphed attacks, we have to mention that you can actually cancel the animation of attacks, putting it on a one second cooldown...
Abilities have cooldowns in Battlerite, so it's a good idea to bait those abilities. To that end, you can cancel your ability's animation to get them to pop a defensive move. You can even cancel your basic attacks, and I've come across players who are fast enough to actually react to quick basic attacks with their own counter abilities.
But even the high level players can be baited...
A returning system from Bloodline Champions, many characters can go into a trance state in which any attack will trigger their "counter" effect. This can be cancelled, and it can be baited. Interestingly, AoE attacks don't trigger the counter -- only direct attacks. Not only do counters negate the incoming attack, the resulting effect is different for each champion. For Shifu, it puts him behind his attacker. For Sirius, it allows him to teleport somewhere close by, healing nearby allies.
A lot of the time you don't even have to cancel an animation to bait their counter. You can just get right up in their faces and let their own anxiety do the work, like I do in this video a few times...
Everything in the air counts as a dodge
This is a really fun aspect that makes for great highlight reels. It's assumed that all attacks are lower than head height -- meaning any kind of jump or airborne move will evade that attack. It's great to master for defence, but it's best used in conjunction with attacks...
Bruce Lee would love it
Many of these airborne abilities are also attacks, giving you the ability to evade and attack at the same time. Your timing and battlefield awareness has to be super sharp, but it is very much the Way of the Intercepting Fist -- attack and defence as one.
Some characters have more of these abilities than others, and while a popular one is the rogue Croak, my favourite is Freya. She was made for highlight reels. When she goes off, it looks amazing.
Smart vulnerability windows
It might seem pointless to have a 0.2 second cast time on an ability, but it actually provides a narrow window for a punish, and I love this. It's a hard punish to pull off, but it feels great when it happens. Say an enemy pops their counter and it's a dud. You're just waiting for the counter to finish, and you know they're probably going to pop their escape ability ASAP. You know the timing of their counter vs your stun, and you time it so your stun hits that 0.2 second window before their escape is cast. Good play.
High tier players now cancel their counters if they're duds so this thing can't happen. Just another continuation of the mind games of Battlerite.
Charged attacks naturally alter the dynamic every few seconds
There are a few different kinds of these. Some characters have weapons that will "charge" after a certain amount of time, and have a special effect. Sirius' sickle will Weaken enemies, reducing their damage and healing output by 50%. However, his animation is about a quarter of a second longer, very clearly telegraphing the attack, so there's both a positive and a negative to this.
Other weapons might become charged after a certain number of basic attacks hit, attaching the bonus to skillful play. And other weapons follow the formula you normally see in games, in which the longer you hold down the button, the stronger (or longer) the shot becomes.
Some have criticised Battlerite for being very much like a flowchart, especially the 2v2 mode. It can get very "If they do this, then you do this". Techniques like animation cancelling and counters help with this, as every time a counter is whiffed or hit, it can reverse the flow and turn the match on its head. It's also possible to avoid damage without using defensive abilities, and pros will juke whenever possible so they don't waste a cooldown. Ultimately, if you're following a plan, you're limiting your own development in the game. And there's always the harder-to-predict 3v3 mode, too!
I've talked about a few design points already, and you might be starting to see how all of this can combine to create some really nice moments of high level play. The below video illustrates this perfectly:
This is the dev philosophy while making the game. This has actually led to unhappiness in some players who really want there to be more stuff to unlock, or graphical updates. But as someone who tends to think about games purely mechanically and is faintly aware of some graphics and progression systems existing, it’s exactly the right thing for me. And it seems to be working for them.
Some features that are essential to competitive multiplayer were dodgy for a while, such as the matchmaking and ladder systems, and I don’t think these are really release quality yet, but they’ve undergone many improvements.
Specific debuffs per character
Some abilities will cause a character-specific debuff, others will consume said debuff for some kind of climax effect. It’s done in an intelligent way. Every few seconds you’re doing new min/max calculations in your head and weighing the ideal damage combo versus what you can more safely get away with.
Above we saw Freya kicking ass, and she's a great example here too. Some of Freya's abilities cause the Static debuff, which causes enemies to take more basic attack damage. Other abilities will consume Static for a special effect. Sometimes it's more damage, but in the case of her hammer throw, the opponent with Static will be knocked back. If they're knocked into a wall, they'll be incapacitated for three seconds.
This causes players to think hard about their ability rotations, and their plan will change every few seconds. I love the interplay between numerical RPG systems and more positional play.
To help ensure matches are quick and there's some kind of endgame/stalemate breaker, after a little while a circle of death will start closing in on the centre of the map. Being forced outside of the circle isn't instant death, which is good because there are a lot of displacement abilities, but you do take regular damage that you don't get back. The circle eventually shrinks down to a tiny dot, and all of the remaining players take damage until there's a conclusion.
Needs no explanation. It's kind of a must for a game like this. Happily, server populations have been decent enough for me to always get a game quickly, even during the wee hours. There are nights when I get matched with/against the same people over and over, but that's only really an issue if there's a wide skill gap.
The last game, Bloodline Champions, was also built for esports, but making a new game from the ground up has allowed them to add in some features that are actually working really well in the Early Access period. For the first while, I was worrying about hitting the Shadowplay record button after good rounds to make sure they could be immortalised later on, but later I realised that wasn't even necessary -- all games are recorded in-engine, and you can load them up later on to record them using whatever you want. There's even a mini video editor in the playback section, so you can make highlight videos and share them with other players in-game.
That's before we get into the really cool stuff, like how it's been built from the ground up so Vive users can operate the spectator cameras. They can zoom in & out, and rotate around the action. Multiple spectator cameras mean you can have multiple angles feeding into something like Xsplit as the action streams out over Twitch. That's cool, man.
The uptake of Battlerite in prominent competitions has been strong, with ESL Play regularly including it and Dreamhack giving it time and space. There are also many more one-offs, including a lot of South American activity. The local Oceanic server has been great, and there have been small Aussie competitions hosted, but it's still a small game in Oz.
The devs care
While the community might not be that great (I'd recommend turning off chat while you learn), the devs have been putting in a lot of effort to stay transparent and communicate with everyone. Player concerns over the "gameplay first" philosophy have caused a lot of angry posts on the game's subreddit, but they've been dedicated to keeping the lines of communication open. Part of this has been more regular updates, part of it is the new blog where they talk about priorities and processes, and part of it is just community involvement.
Whew. I don't even think I got through all of the ways I love Battlerite, and yet here we are. I've run out of time and space. If you're into pvp, you should check this game out, friends. You won't regret it.