Hands-on With Bloodline Champions' 5v5 Online Arena Battles
This student-project-turned-full-game out of Sweden is easy to pick up and play – but is there room on PC for a drastically different subgenre of competitive PvP?
You might assume at first glance that this is another Defense of the Ancients clone, like League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth. You'd be wrong, though the highly competitive five-on-five battles share a similar top-down, RTS-like view.
Beyond the team sizes, the cutthroat nature, and the viewpoint, this has little in common with those titles. Bloodline Champions is much more direct than DotA-like games. There are no minions or creeps to fight, just other players. Randomness does not exist; there are no critical strikes, dice-roll dodges, or even damage ranges. And, thankfully, rounds are closer to five minutes than the 40-minute slogs that DotA-likes can often be.
Your view and targeting follows the mouse cursor, while you move with WASD and fire off powers with your two mouse buttons plus the space and q-e-r-f keys. There is no auto-attack; to do anything at all you must use your powers. Fortunately, you don't have anything like a mana bar to worry about – power use is regulated solely by cooldowns.
Every ability in the game -- fireballs, spear throws, plague clouds, even healing spells -- must actually connect with its target in order to do anything. Your shots will go exactly to your mouse cursor's position when the power is invoked, but nearly everything has a travel time or a charge-up delay (or both, for particularly nasty effects). You've got to have the skills to get your attacks (or stuns, or heals, or anything) to land.
Like many fighting games, you have a special bar that charges up as your abilities connect. The superpowers you can summon by expending a full bar are devastating. Meteor strikes, earthquakes, whatever the effect ostensibly is, a single well-aimed super can singlehandedly win a match. Of course, you can counter them by moving out of the way, not clumping up with your teammates to get hosed by area effects, stunning the user as they're trying to charge it up, or other tactics.
I didn't have a chance to play with every class, but what bloodlines I did play with had a variety of core skills -- fireballs, heals, etc -- along with both a movement and a defensive power. The fire mage, for example, has an inferno shield that makes him invulnerable for a few seconds and pushes back any enemy nearby when it fades. He can also do a fiery dash that leaves a burning trail in his wake, damaging enemies who get too close. This diversity is key; it allows every player in the game to pull off some truly amazing feats of skill if they have the dexterity. Like the Funcom guy who came back from a 3v1 to beat us when I could've sworn the match was in the bag, the ***.
Each of the 16 bloodlines has a suite of seven unique powers. distributed to create one of four archetypes: tank, healer, melee, or ranged. Since this is PvP, tanks don't manage threat or anything like that, but they do make life miserable for the other team with a variety of crowd control effects and defensive abilities that perform the same damage-mitigation function that you'd expect out of a tank in any other RPG.
Also unlike DotA-like games, Bloodline Champions has no equipment procurement or leveling up within the match. In the build I played, the bloodline you choose during match prep is what you have for the entire thing. I have to assume that some kind of customization will be added in as the game rolls into beta, but Funcom had no answers for me today. Likewise, the developers would be insane to not build some kind of persistent metagame to keep players coming back -- but again, I have no idea what if anything they'll do.
The core gameplay is already fast, fun, and a thousand times more approachable than many competition-oriented titles. If Stunlock Studios can create an engaging framework around it, I could see the young studio building quite a name for itself in the years to come.