This MOBA gets battle right.
There’s only one way to win in Battlerite, and that’s by directly taking down the enemy team. Behind the colorful art style is a free-to-play MOBA crafted specifically for intense, ultra-competitive teamfights. Its solid balance, skill-based combat, and ever-growing cast of champions go a long way to ensure every trip to the arena breathed new life into each match and kept me coming back for more.
The first thing I noticed when I hopped into Battlerite was that, much like its now-defunct predecessor Bloodline Champions, it condenses much of what I love about MOBAs into a faster-paced format. Long gone are elements like lanes of automated minions and critical hits; in are WASD movement and a laser focus on engaging combat. It may seem like MOBA blasphemy, but cutting out the extras and focusing on teamfighting makes each match feel like a quick cage fight rather than an hour-long endurance test.
Matches are played in rounds that are on a two-minute timer, with the first team to reach three wins taking the match victory. If both teams have players alive when the timer hits zero, a battle-royale-type mist quickly shrinks the arena down until the remaining combatants are forced to fight for the win. This meant that most matches I played were over before they reached 10 minutes, which made play sessions short and sweet relative to the 30 minutes or more you can invest into League of Legends or Dota 2. That may seem overly simplistic at first, but Battlerite’s appeal is in its brevity and the relentlessly fast pace of its combat.
The action takes place on one of five maps that all at least look unique due their starkly contrasting and distinctive themes. The stonework teeming with lush jungle overgrowth in the Orman Temple felt vastly different from the underground lava flows that lead to the dark and brooding Blackstone Arena. But that’s about the extent of their creativity, because their layouts are nearly identical, built to play largely the same: a tense tug-of-war to control the Middle Orb in the center of each map. Once destroyed, it gives the team who struck the last hit extra health and energy. It’s this secondary objective (the primary being to destroy the other team) that serves as a lightning rod for all of Battlerite’s brawls.
All Fight, No Flight
Battlerite currently sports a relatively shallow 24-champion roster, but the steady addition of a new character every couple months keeps things just fresh enough. Each of them brings something different to the arena, so whether I was using Ezmo’s re-castable double-jump to dodge around and create space, or the club-wielding Rook to get in the face of the enemy and stun them, there were tons of varied ways to play. On top of each champion’s set of seven skills, they are also given an additional two skills that can be cast with energy. Learning how and when to use all nine abilities was daunting initially, but it makes mastering champions a fun and rewarding experience.
On top of that, champions are given even more depth with adjustments called — you guessed it — Battlerites. You can add up to five Battlerites in a loadout pre-match, with each of them slightly augmenting a champion’s existing skills. The tweaks seem minor at first, but when I spent some time learning how to configure myself and stepped into the arena for the first time with my newly decked-out skills I felt the difference immediately.
The movement and positioning of your champion is just as important as landing blows against your opponents.
For instance: I tend to hit Freya’s Thunderclap ability pretty consistently, so I opt for a Battlerite that gives me a 15-health shield for each enemy I hit with it. This helps me shrug off damage when I inevitably dive too deep behind enemy lines. It’s not a huge change from the traditional MOBA item shop customization, but one that lets me slightly tune Freya before a match to better fit how I play rather than stopping to do it during the action, which is in keeping with the quick pace of battles. Battlerite’s tutorial doesn’t expand enough on this system, though, and I could’ve benefited from a bit more explanation to help me better understand the decisions I was making without having to consult third-party guides.
All of these interconnected systems and abilities were intimidating at first, but after a few games I began to read opponents’ moves and even started to gain a bit mastery over the champion I had grown to enjoy: a little soul-stealing fire… thing named Ezmo. As I moved beyond button-mashing my confidence slowly built up, but it was crushing when I won enough to get bumped up the skill ladder and was matched against players that could blow me away. The learning experiences came fast, and sometimes they felt like getting hit by a runaway freight train — but unlike in Dota 2 or League of Legends, in Battlerite I wasn’t stuck in a 50-minute marathon game just to learn my lesson.
Once you learn the basics, the dance of combat is where Battlerite truly shines. Every dash, spell, and key click feels consequential because the movement and positioning of your champion are just as important as landing blows against your opponents. The difference between life and death can come down to a single frame, and using WASD movement allowed me to precisely sidestep enemy spells while using my mouse to simultaneously aim my retaliatory volley. This extra layer of movement made me feel completely in control, so when I pulled off a last-second dodge and transitioned it into a clean kill I couldn’t help but feel like a hero. Those are moments I can replay in my head, where I sat back in my chair during the brief respite between rounds and think: “That play was absolutely sick.”
Loot boxes? Oh, Crate
Battlerite respects your time, but beckons you to put in the effort needed to grow. That push to get better, unlock a new champion, or to hit the next competitive rank are the real and satisfying means of progression — and they contrast strongly with the tacked-on and frustrating progression outside of the arena. Sure, it has leveling in the form of account and champion levels, but these are lacking at best, didn’t add much replayable value to the mix, and are built on a shaky foundation.
The free-to-play setup meant these level-ups reward you with either an extremely small amount of currency or a loot crate that, when opened, unleashes the full force of slot machine-style cosmetic gambling. To be fair, developer Stunlock is pretty generous with the number of crates you can earn through playing, and thankfully there’s nothing inside them that provides any sort of advantage during a match; the problem is that I have come to dread opening them. I can’t remember the last time I rolled an item I actually wanted, and that’s not something I want to say about any progression system, regardless of a game’s business model.
It wouldn’t feel as awful if there was a way I could just straight-up buy the skins I wanted without grinding an insane amount for tokens, but loot crates are unfortunately the main way to “earn” unlockables like Ezmo’s Christmas outfit “The Grinch” and Croak’s ninja-themed “Shadow Blade” outfit. It’s even worse for totally free-to-play players (I played with the “All Champions Pack” which grants access to all champions, existing and future, for $29.99), who will often roll items for champions they don’t even own, effectively holding the reward they earned ransom until they buy or earn the associated character. I guess it’s better that randomness reared its ugly head here rather than in gameplay.
Still, because they’re cosmetic, these progression systems don’t detract from the rush I get from playing match after match. I continue to measure myself not by my cosmetics or meaningless account level, but rather use personal improvement as Battlerite’s true progression system. The rest just feels like half-hearted fluff. Fortunately, Battlerite strikes true where it counts, and that’s in the arena. The teamfighting hits hard at the core of what makes competitive gaming so engaging hour after hour. I didn’t play for the glitz and the glam, I played to get better and style on my enemies in the process. There’s nothing quite like it out there right now, and I’d be kicking myself if I’d missed it.