Spellbreak is from the creative minds of Proletariat, a small indie studio operating out of Boston. With the power of Discord, I was able to sit down with Executive Producer Cardell Kerr as he guided me through the tutorial and then took both of us into a few duo matches. After my time with the game, I can positively say that Spellbreak brings the magic back to the battle royale genre – literally and figuratively.
The battle broke out as soon as we entered the circle. Giant boulders were being thrown left and right, fire walls were springing up choking our available routes, and plumes of poisonous clouds were mixing with blasts of ice, freezing players solid. It was a chaotic and adrenaline-filled moment – one of many – which I experienced in my hands-on preview of Spellbreak.
In Spellbreak, players take on the role of a mage, wielding unbelievable power and mobility. The goal, much like other battle royale games, is to be the last team or player standing. While the goal is simple, and although Spellbreak is easy to pick up and play, it truly is difficult to master. However, when one does manage to become proficient at slinging spells, you feel like an all-powerful battlemage.
As for how Spellbreak crafts its magic into the battle royale experience, it all has to do with the class system. There will be six classes to choose from at launch covering the elements one might expect: earth, wind, fire, ice, lightning, and toxic.
This setup seems to allow for additional classes to be added. Cardell confirmed as such, and said that while there were no plans at the moment, the team certainly has the room to expand this with either new classes or subclasses. He suggested that perhaps an alternative Pyromancer class would be more of a brawler, akin to the Stoneshaper.
The class you pick is represented by a gauntlet on your left hand. This gauntlet has a primary and secondary spell. Your primary spell can be cast as many times as you can until your mana is depleted and it must recharge (which takes a second or two). The secondary function is a larger spell that has its own cooldown while also using mana. For example, the Pyromancer’s primary attack shoots out fireballs that explode, leaving a burning spot on the ground. Its secondary attack summons a massive wall of fire.
Each class also has four passive abilities that unlock as the game progresses. Every time you move into the new circle, you gain a level. For the Pyromancer, its final passive upgrade makes the fireball explode into four smaller fireballs on impact.
Outside of subtly increasing the intensity of fights as the game progresses, this upgrade system plays an important role in decision making and engagement. Getting to the new circle early means you’ll be one passive ability ahead of the competition. Players could run in, get the skill upgrade, and then slink around the perimeter assaulting the stragglers.
Where things really start to spice up in Spellbreak is with the off-hand gauntlet. Remember how each mage has their primary gauntlet on their left hand? Well, players can also pick up a right-hand secondary gauntlet of one of the other mage classes. While it won’t get the passive skill upgrades your mage class receives, you will be able to use the primary and secondary spells of that element. This is used to weave truly incredible spell combinations.
This is another area that sets Spellbreak above the other titles in the hotly-contested battle royale genre. Many of the gauntlets work in combination with one another to create new types of spell effects. For instance, throw out a toxic cloud with the Toxicologist gauntlet and then hit it with a fireball to make it explode. Or hit that same toxic cloud with a blast from your ice gauntlet to freeze it solid.
In some cases, more than two spells can stack on one another. The Tempest (wind) gauntlet can summon a tornado, which can be turned toxic, which can then be exploded with a fireball. All this leads to some truly intense moments where spells are exploding and shaking the world around you.
But players will need to be clever about their spell usage as some cancel out the other. For example, an ice attack might put out fire, but throwing a fireball on a trail of ice will cause it to billow and smoke, obscuring vision. Similarly, wind will breakthrough a firewall and electricity will send shocks through melted ice.
The real trick comes in working with your teammates. Mana consumption and conservation is going to be important in the heat of battle, so watching what your ally does and then creating a combo off their spell is going to set the warlocks apart from the novice magicians.
Further power is acquired through runes – which can be swapped in and out like a consumable. I got to try out each of the nine runes, which included abilities like teleporting a short distance, flying through the air like a superhero, turning invisible, and reversing your last movements à la Tracer from Overwatch.
All of this combat is supplemented by a speedy and versatile movement system. By holding jump, players can levitate in the air at the cost of consuming mana. The trick is to balance your in-air movement and spell usage, as you will quickly burn through your available mana pool, rendering you vulnerable for the couple of seconds it takes to regenerate.
Players can also improve their mage through a talents system – a new addition to the game added after the first closed beta. In a similar fashion to League of Legends’ Runes Reforged, the talents page offers passive skills that can be selected before a match.
With six points to spend, players can choose one passive for three different areas: mind, body and spirit. An example might be to spend 2 points on Harmony in Mind which makes you immune to slow, frozen, and shock; 3 points on Fortitude in Body which allows you to create a barrier that absorbs a single source of damage before going on cooldown; and 1 point on Recklessness in Spirit which increases your spell damage and reduces mana cost when you’ve got no armor.
However, these talents are locked behind leveling up a mage class. So in order to unlock Recklessness, you will need to level the Frostborn (ice) class to Rank 6. This ought to encourage players to try new mages and experiment with different combos.
To expand upon the leveling, as you rank up classes, you’ll also be unlocking various cosmetic items for your account. Cardell was able to show me some impressive-looking armor that another developer had managed to unlock by mastering the Stoneshaper class. The more you level up a class, the more impressive it’s bound to appear.
There are also items like artifacts that sit on your back, new colors and effects for your levitate and free fall trails, badges and nameplates, and even special emotes that play on an opponent’s screen when you defeat them.
A match of Spellbreak can last anywhere between 12 to 15 minutes with Cardell stating that there is usually 40 players in a match. There’s still the early-game scramble to acquire armor, amulets and boots to increase your mana pool and movement speed, as well as the need to find better versions of your gauntlets (Common through to Legendary versions).
But unlike other battle royales that have you lying in wait and watching the minutes tick by, Spellbreak has immediacy to it. Skirmishes breakout and you can’t help but want to dive in, slinging spells and sorceries at opponents.
Much like Apex Legends, there are a lot of quality-of-life features in Spellbreak. The middle-mouse button is used to ping a location, you can’t replace a high-quality item with a low-quality one of the same type, and there are images on the HUD representing an amulet, armor, and boots so you know if your ally needs an item.
The team at Proletariat has been hard at work on Spellbreak for a little over two years now. As for what the future holds, the team have their eyes fixed firmly on the PlayStation 4 and PC closed betas, which begin on March 3rd – sign-ups now available through the Spellbreak website.
After my play session with Spellbreak was finished, and I bid Cardell farewell, one thing was crystal clear: I wanted to play more Spellbreak. It’s got that breath of fresh air that we all feel when a genre receives a dramatic shot of life. I think there’s really something magical here.