Realm Royale Early Access Review
Adding defined class roles shakes up the battle royale formula in interesting ways.
Within the confines of the battle royale genre’s defining rules, in which up to 100 players rush to find the best gear and fight to be the last one standing at the center of a shrinking circle, there is a ton of room for variation. Among others, PUBG offers a more realistic and hardcore interpretation while Fortnite cartoonishly lets you build structures instantly and H1Z1 innovated with an exhilarating car combat game mode. Now Realm Royale, one of the latest free-to-play battles royale to hit early access, mixes things up with a fantasy theme and class-based structure with positive results.
What immediately sets Realm Royale apart is that instead of starting everybody with nothing and letting the randomly distributed loot determine who plays what role, here you pick from five classes at the start of a match: Warrior, Engineer, Assassin, Mage, or Hunter. Each has a unique passive buff, two slots for equipping whichever of the four class-specific abilities you come across, an inherent movement ability, and two weapon slots. This totally changes how you have to think about playing – mostly for the better.
Most people pick the Warrior, and that isn’t great for variety.
But not all of them are created equal in the current balance: in the case of the Warrior, he slowly regenerates health over time, can heal allies, and can slow down and weaken a target. The healing and tank-like powers make him more sustainable than other classes, which is good for playing solo or in a support role on a team. That survivability and utility leads to an imbalance, easily making the Warrior the best all-around class in Realm Royale right now. Most people pick him, especially in solo or duo matches, and that isn’t great for variety. All of the other classes fit together as a group well, but the Warrior feels like a loner and needs to be more properly balanced against the other classes.
The Engineer, the other primarily support-based class, may find a shield ability, a healing totem for allies, and a turret, which is all very typical Engineer-sounding stuff. But actually, his best ability is the firebomb, which does huge amounts of damage over time in a big area of effect where it lands. The downside is that his abilities are mostly useless unless you’re on a team, which means he’s rarely seen in solo matches and further contributes to the trend toward a handful of classes dominating much of Realm Royale.
Both of those classes are in stark contrast to the Mage, who is more of a glass cannon. She is my favorite to pick in a group because of her high-damage fireball and area attack abilities. Since so many weapons in Realm Royale are single-shot attacks (such as pistols, rifles, bows, and crossbows) being able to cause splash damage is a big asset in group fights. She’s powerful, but it’s tough to stay alive for long if you don’t have a Warrior or Engineer providing support.
The Hunter is nasty as well, since he can lay proximity mine traps and use a powerful Withdraw ability that sends him flying backwards as he enters stealth to escape a skirmish. I found him most useful as a group’s non-primary DPS role since his skills are mostly built around staying agile. Popping in for some quick hits or surprise shots then quickly getting away is the best strategy. Playing a Hunter well takes a lot more skill and practice than most other classes, though, so he isn’t as immediately exciting.
The Assassin is similar to the Hunter, but even stealthier. He has abilities like Ghost Walk that make him untargetable, and Smoke Screen, which grants stealth and blocks enemy vision. However, that means his abilities are very situational and aren’t as fun to use in actual combat. He’s great for ambushing enemies and can be effective in solo if you don’t mind playing a bit more slowly. If you have great aim and snappy reflexes he can be fun, but once again he isn’t as immediately rewarding to play in the early game and is best used to round out a full squad.
The frantic action feels like a hero shooter or MOBA.
The first half of each match lasts 10 or 15 minutes, and during that time you’ll mostly be focused on gearing up and finding weapons, armor, and abilities. Then, once your loadout is defined the way you want it, it’s all about knowing how and when to use your powers, which is where Realm Royale blazes its own trail. Once you start to understand the nuances of each class the differences really start to stick out.
Big battles in Realm Royale are not as much about bullets and finding cover as they are jumping, leaping through the air, dropping shields, throwing fireballs, and disappearing into clouds of smoke. The frantic action feels like a hero shooter or MOBA in terms of moment-to-moment gameplay, but one where the stakes are higher and there are no respawns. Just like in those other genres, not only does the class I pick change how I fight, but it means that I have to pay attention to my enemies to assess the best way to take them out based on the class that they’ve picked.
Regardless of class though, all loot and abilities in Realm Royale are organized in a tiered system. The lowest tier of a weapon, piece of armor, or ability (white) is the weakest version, with colors like blue, green, purple, orange, etc scaling up with effectiveness. Unfortunately, the system means that end-game combat in Realm Royale has a lot more to do with the loot and gear you have than it does your pure skill.
Part of the beauty in PUBG is that a skilled player with a pistol has a decent chance of taking down an average player with a M249 light machine gun. But in Realm Royale, an average player with a legendary weapon and armor and top-tier abilities can probably run circles around an expert-level player with mid-range loot, especially if the classes aren’t a fair match up.
End-game strategies become less about who is a better shot and more about who got better loot.
The main reason it’s possible to get so overpowered is that not only do abilities get more powerful as they rank up, but the cooldown time is lowered as well. For example, the Hunter isn’t as tanky as the Warrior, but the top-tier version of his Dodge Roll ability can be used every two seconds, which gives him a tremendous speed advantage. And a good Mage behind an Engineer’s Barricade is a force to be reckoned with if she’s got a fully-powered Fireball that can shred through armor and health on impact every four seconds. End-game strategies become less about who is a better shot and more about who got better loot. At that point, the skill that matters most is the foresight to have good team composition.
The armor system in Realm Royale is another one of its small but excellent features. Like the abilities and weapons it’s all about improving effectiveness as the match goes on. You’ve got four slots: head, hands, chest, and feet. All armor is scaled on the same tier system as the weapons and abilities, with each piece contributing to your overall armor amount. It’s sort of like a buffer that takes damage before your actual health does (Quake style) and it can be restored with pickups.
Realm Royale’s movement works quite a bit differently, too: there’s no sprint button and no vehicles, yet the action is always fast-moving and there’s seldom a boring stretch of running from point A to point B. That’s because everyone has a horse that they can quickly summon at will; it takes about two seconds to conjure, leaving you vulnerable in the meantime and you can’t attack at all or enter buildings while mounted, so there’s a significant tradeoff for mobility that makes you consider when to use it and when not to.
But as the match goes on things get a bit more strategic in how you have to approach a fight.
The result is something that feels almost like a mixture of Halo and Fortnite in terms of combat speed and rhythm. There aren’t a lot of automatic weapons in the world of Realm Royale, so you’ll typically wind up using single-shot guns like shotguns, rifles, and revolvers most of the time. At first, that means actual aiming skill is extremely important since everybody has so much armor and health to get through you need to land a lot of shots or a few good headshots do a ton of extra damage. But as the match goes on and people unlock their legendary weapons and rank up abilities things get a bit more strategic in how you have to approach a fight.
If you lose a fight, Realm Royale has a goofy and fun approach to the down-but-not-out mechanic. Instead of going down on your knees, you’re turned into a clucking chicken; if you can survive until the end of a 30-second timer you’re revived on the spot with a little bit of health. On the other side of it, unless you finish off the chicken version of a downed enemy, the kill doesn’t count.
One final seemingly minor twist that makes a massive difference is the addition of Forges. These landmarks are visible on everyone’s map and, if you want to get the best gear, you’ll need to visit a Forge and craft it out of materials you’ve gathered or earned from kills. The beauty of this system is that even after you have a full complement of weapons and abilities you’re still incentivized to keep looting so that you can disenchant things for more shards to take to a Forge. That staves off the late-game lull that plagues so many battle royale games where everyone’s attention turns almost solely to playing cat and mouse.
What makes Forges especially dangerous, though, is that if someone queues up a job a countdown appears on screen for that item’s crafting time. Legendary weapons, for example, take a full minute, while potions and other smaller items may only be 15 or 20 seconds. This is important to note because once a timer starts, everyone can see it, which means you’ve basically alerted all nearby players that not only are you at the Forge, but there’s a valuable prize in it for them if they take you out. There’s a target painted on your back, which ratchets up the risk-reward feeling of the Forges to intense levels.
Finally, though it might not last, Realm Royale’s early access alpha is refreshingly free of microtransactions. Currently, the only items you can pay for are cosmetic-only upgrades in the $15 Alpha Pack. Hi-Rez says that eventually we’ll see a cash shop and battle pass system similar to Fortnite’s, but for now there’s no way to blow much money here.