Battle Shapers: Early Access Preview
Another day, another rogue-like. We are getting absolutely inundated with games that fit into this genre. They come in all different shapes and sizes, from sprawling sci-fi epics like Returnal to 2D Metroidvania’s like Dead Cells, but they all have one thing in common. You die, you upgrade, you get further, then you die again. It seems to be a bit of a “go-to” genre at the moment, the flavour of the season so to speak. The thing is, as the genre gets flooded, it is getting harder and harder to stand out among the crowd, tougher to appeal to a group of players who have been feasting on high-quality experiences. Enter Battle Shapers, a new FPS rogue-like that aims to win the hearts and minds of gamers by leaning on something that has been loved for generations now… The classic Capcom franchise, Mega Man.
Intentional or not, it is hard not to feel the Blue Bomber’s influence in this game. From the art design, to the abilities, to the upgrades that come after defeating bosses. There is a clear parallel to be drawn betwen the two franchises despite the different genres. The cool thing is, it immediatly gave off a sense of familiarity that welcomed me instantly. I felt like I knew the score, knew what was going on and how things should unfold. It didn’t matter that gameplay-wise things are very different (one is after all a challenging 2D platformer while the other is a fast-paced FPS) because that familiarity was there, that warm comfort of recognition that guided my feelings towards the game.
But familiarity only gets you so far. Gameplay is king and from my time with this early access title, Battle Shapers is heading in the right direction. At its core, it is a tight, fast-paced FPS with a huge focus on mobility. The mechanics are tuned to perfection and there is a wonderful flow to the combat that is almost trance-like. It doesn’t quite reach the adrenaline rush of something like Doom Eternal, but it isn’t far off either. One huge trick up its sleeve that really encourages movement is that when an enemy is damaged to a certain point, it may enter a stunned state. If you can melee an enemy in this state you will replenish some of your shields. This simple mechanic forced me to be aggressive, and be on the move. Sitting back and taking long-distance shots is not a valid tactic for long-term success.
The rogue-like elements are what you would expect from a game like this. There are in-run upgrades and permanent upgrades that can be accessed when a run is completed. The in-run variety ad things like reflective bullets, more health and faster movement, while the permanent upgrades, which are purchased with items collected during the run, focus on things like new abilities, boosted shields and new weapons. The weaponry in particular deserves special mention, there are a host of shotguns, pistols and rifles, all with secondary abilities or elemental effects. During each run, randomised versions of the weapons show up with added bonuses that change how they feel so it pays to pick one up and give it a try. It will almost always be better than what you already have.
The special abilities are also fun to play with. There are electric grenades that pulse over an area for a period of time, power slams that set everything around you on fire and waves of energy that shoot out and bounce around the room to name a few. These work on a fairly fast timer so using them often is encouraged. There is also no ammo for weapons, only a reload, so you never have to worry about having enough bullets for your next encounters.
The boss battles at this point feel a little unbalanced. They have some seriously damaging moves that can wipe you out in short order should they connect. It is on the brutal side at the moment, though the developers have noted this so I expect it to be fixed as a part of the early access process. Speaking of early access, things seem to be running pretty well right now. It is a smooth experience that works just as well on my ROG Ally as it does on my gaming PC. There have been no instances of frame rate issues or glitches so rest assured that if you do splash out on the game you are not getting an unpolished product waiting for fixing. It is clear that this early access period is primarily to balance the game and tailor the content because the tech behind the game feels rock solid at this point.
If there is one thing I would like to see happen is a little more environmental variety. At the moment, things can feel a little samey no matter which arena you are fighting in. There are exceptions to that, for example, there is one area that features a giant tree and a series of winding paths around it which is fantastic, but on the whole, everything feels a little too similar. This is a common issue with randomly generated levels and I am not sure if it is possible to fix, but I feel like it is the one thing letting the game down at this point in time.
Battle Shapers is… shaping up to be a cracking adventure. Even in its current early access phase, there is a lot of content, solid tech and a warm feeling of familiarity thanks to its (intentional or otherwise) inspiration from the Mega Man franchise. There are balance issues and some repetitive environments but really, these are small issues that can easily be fixed during the EA process. Battle Shapers is looking to be another great rogue-like in a sea of great rogue-likes so it is hard to say if it will hit big, but I hope it does, the gameplay deserves to be in the spotlight and not lost in the pile of competitors on Steam.