When it was announced that Paladins, a competitive hero shooter with suspiciously close similarities to Overwatch (opens in new tab), would be updated to include Paladins: Battle Royale, a new multiplayer mode with equally suspicious similarities to PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (opens in new tab) and Fortnite (opens in new tab), the reaction ranged from mild bemusement to mocking dismay.
It's fair to say that Paladins: Battlegrounds has changed a lot since then, as developer Hi-Rez Studios has taken the mode and turned it into its own standalone title, complete with a whole new look, feel, and name. Yesterday, Realm Royale released in Early Access for free on Steam (opens in new tab), and you'd be forgiven for thinking it had nothing to do with whatever Paladins: Battlegrounds was going to be.
The visuals are now decidedly skewed towards the Fortnite audience, with comic book-style humanoids dropping into a huge, colourful map to acquire tiered loot and fight to the death as the island arena continues to shrink, but there's more to Realm Royale than meets the eye.
Weirdly enough, having played a couple of matches, I can't help but be reminded of the early days of World of Warcraft's PvP, in all the right ways. Players can choose between five different classes at the beginning of each match, which determines the type of special abilities and stats they're able to make use of during fights.
Engineers can deploy turrets and shields for a defensive last stand, for instance, while Mages are most effective when fighting at mid-range, chucking fireballs from afar. This already brings a new dimension to the battle royale formula typified by Fortnite and PUBG, boiling down MMO-style class combat to a simple pick-and-mix system that diversifies every match, but the fun doesn't stop there with Realm Royale.
Loot is tiered in coloured rarity, as you might expect, but Realm Royale features both ranged firearms and melee weapons - including broadswords, daggers, and axes - all of which can be found in chests alongside potions, skills, and armour. There's even special Forges dotted around the exceptionally large map, where players can use their shards (acquired by dismantling loot) to craft high-tier gear in preparation for the endgame.
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Not only is the map huge, but it's filled with a multitude of different biomes, from frozen lakes to verdant jungles, and everyone has their own mount to ride from A to B at the press of a button, meaning its only your own fault if you get stuck in the enclosing storm. As a squad-focused game, you can only play in teams of four (either with friends or randoms) right now, with the clear impetus to get players supporting each other with different class roles, so lone wolves may want to look elsewhere.
Also, you can turn into a chicken. Yes, if you get knocked down, you're transformed into a white flag-waving hen and given a chance to run away from your aggressor before they take you out for good. Survive long enough as the chicken, and you're back in the match, ready to fight another day.
Considering its wild, brief development history, Realm Royale is surprisingly good, and just a lovely battle royale environment to be in, not to mention pretty well optimised for an Early Access product. It's free, too, so you've no reason not to give it a shot right now, though Hi-Rez Studios has stated that the game will be coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at some point in the future, if you want to wait until then.