When hero shooter Paladins announced a battle royale mode, it felt a bit like a tacked on extra to a game struggling for identity. That battle royale mode has transformed into a standalone game, Realm Royale. While it's still in alpha and rough around the edges, Realm Royale has a few good ideas that could help it stand out in the growing crowd.
In a lot of ways, Realm Royale feels like an off-brand Fortnite Battle Royale. The world is colourful, shooting is snappy, and most weapons fire hitscan projectiles that strike targets instantly. A tiered loot system allows players to upgrade their weapons and equipment with higher quality versions.
Playing Realm Royale, there's a familiar trend towards the fast pace that makes Fortnite so popular.
To differentiate itself, Realm Royale doubles down on loot and adds numerous player classes and abilities, mixing the sensibilities of a hero shooter or MOBA with battle royale. While the gameplay never quite compares with competitors, the emphasis on upgrading your character's armour and abilities brings some interesting tactical choices.
There are five classes to pick from in Realm Royale: The beefy Warrior, turret-building Engineer, sneaky Assassin, fireball-hurling Mage and swift Hunter. It's a mix and match of the fantasy and hero shooter fare that players are used to by now.
Having a field full of 100 players of varied classes means that each encounter with an enemy is something of a guessing game, where you need to learn what your enemy can do and how to counter it. Maybe you run into a hunkered down Engineer camping a building, or maybe you have to deal with a Mage chugging extra effective healing potions. The variety helps make up for floaty and less impactful gameplay where gunshots never hit as hard as you'd expect.
Each class has access to different skills. My preferred class, the Hunter, starts with a dodge roll and a small flare that highlights enemies behind cover, but it can also find plantable mines and gain a quick backstep that tosses them into stealth.
New abilities are found in crates throughout the world. Assembling ability loadouts and experimenting with powers helps Realm Royale feel distinct and gives players more ways to express themselves than in other battle royale games.
The end game of a Realm Royale match can feel like a wild battle between superpowered gods. That's because loot is a major game-changer.
Finding armour in the early game is essential, but upgrading is equally important. That means searching for better drops or heading to forges in major towns to increase your gear's effectiveness.
It's a bit of a risk/reward gamble. You need better gear but need to stop to get it, dropping items and waiting for upgrades to complete. You'll spend a lot of time mixing abilities and running to forges to upgrade armour to prepare for a ferocious endgame of clashing, well-equipped players.
It's very different than the sneaky, heart pounding duels at the end of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, or Fortnite's wild build-fests.
I've only played a handful of matches of Realm Royale, and while I think the game will have an uphill battle to establish a foothold against heavy hitters such as Fortnite, I appreciate that it's trying for something a little different.
As more games such as Call of Duty or Battlefield toss in battle royale modes, the genre will be awash in military shooters and bloody gunfights in dusty towns. Finding a place at the table means playing around with mechanics and coming up with something unique.
Boss Key Productions' ill-fated Radical Heights opted for style over substance and couldn't last. Realm Royale's clearer mechanical identity - the gear-focused, ability-melding power struggles - shows promise, even if the game doesn't quite feel right to play yet.