As popular as battle royale games have proven to be over the last five years, their biggest and most glaring flaws as a genre in general are usually a poor narrative with bad world building or overly static and bland content. The gameplay is always solid and the unique competitive “last man standing” premise elevates the concept, but on paper they’re typically pretty bare bones from a storytelling perspective. It’s not enough to just make an amazing map with great weapons and characters these days. That’s been done a thousand times. Nowadays, it’s all about differentiation.
Spellbreak aimed to set the market on fire when it blasted onto the scene earlier this year with its unique blend of magical fireballs and enchanted arrows and it did make a splash, but it still had plenty left up its sleeve. Focusing on elemental-based spells instead of modern firearms is already a major departure from the norm, but the big new change coming with the debut of Chapter 1 on December 15th is something every developer in the battle royale space should pay attention to: quests. Plus it’s launching on Steam the same time that Chapters release with full crossplay between PC via Steam, PC via Epic Games Store, and all consoles with cross-progression too.
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With Chapters, developer Proletariat is aiming to offer something that’s fresh and new on a recurring basis other than simply expanding the number of existing challenges or dailies. New chapters will debut every 12 weeks and they’ll offer three free quests per chapter and three paid quests within the paid Chapter Pass content. The start of each Chapter includes a fully-voiced piece of dialogue with an NPC to kick things off and a bit of a story hook to push you along, then a bookended piece of voiced dialogue at the end.
For example, the Chapter quests that I got to play during the virtual preview event were all based around research. You’re trying to discover as much information as you can about the storms and objects surrounding them.
The first quest tasked us with making it through two of the storm phases “for research” or, in other words, simply make it to the second fully closed circle to complete the quest. After that, we had to interact with three triangular portals to gather readings. These portals were interesting because they would only spawn inside of the spellstorms themselves. So once a circle starts closing you had to keep an eye on the outer edge of the zone and actually venture into the storm to interact with the portals, which would then teleport you into the sky and re-drop you down into the zone. Strategically, it was pretty useful regardless of the quest objective.
The final bit of the narrative content in Chapter 1 required us to erect five Arcane Barometers around Aegis Towers in the map. What I appreciated about the way they’ve approached quests in Spellbreak is that it doesn’t change the game flow at a core level. Even if you don’t care about the quests, these missions are adding new variations to the map that fundamentally iterate on the flow of a match with new mechanics.
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Since the quest content doesn’t take place as an instanced piece of dialogue, a separate cutscene, or take you out of things at all, it feels much more organic than previous efforts at the same topic I’ve seen. Granted, it’s still a very basic implementation. The map-altering narrative events of games like Fortnite arguably accomplish a similar ongoing story goal, but nothing feels like it’s part of a crafted universe with its own lore there. It’s all a bunch of tie-ins to other IP. With Spellbreak, they’ve crafted a unique setting with its own worldbuilding.
As expected, you’ll earn rewards like the typical badges, banners, cosmetics, and so on for completing quests, but notably none of the actual story content is in the Chapter Pass. It’s all free for everyone, similar to the rollout for the four-part Prologue series. Instead, when you purchase the Chapter Pass you simply unlock more quests that are more similar to challenges that thread in more rewards and more milestones to hit, similar to a Battle Pass.
The goal here is to give players reasons to keep coming back to Spellbreak by telling an ongoing story, over time, that gradually adds more flavor and (crucially) content to the game world. In a lot of ways it’s similar to how MMOs dole out updates, but trimmed down and adapted to a match-based battle royale setting.
One of my only issues with the game when I reviewed it in September was that it didn’t have a Battle Pass of any kind and lacked depth in terms of its cosmetic unlocks and progression. The Chapter system seems poised to fix both of those problems and will certainly add plenty of reasons to keep coming back for more. Hopefully it’s a concept more battle royale games adopt going forward.
David Jagneaux is a freelance writer for IGN. Talk video games with him on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux.
Source: IGN Video Games All