Every time I load into a battle royale (opens in a new tab) I feel a little anxious. There’s the uncertainty of the early game, then later the feeling of being surrounded as the walls close in – I always end up feeling a little stressed. This is not the case with Rumbleverse (opens in a new tab), the new battle royale brawler on the Epic Games Store. I go into every game looking forward to battling a bunch of crazily dressed goons. When a match starts well, I land on top of a skyscraper, immediately open a crate to grab a special move, and knock out someone from 100 floors up.
Now I know: Another one battle royale? Hear me out though – Rumbleverse takes the best bits for playing wrestling games with your friends and drops them off the top rope straight into a Fortnite match.
Rumbleverse stays pretty true to the basics of battle royale. 40 players arrive, circle still closed, last man standing, yada yada. But instead of going down with nothing and scrambling for gear, you can start unraveling right away with a surprisingly technical set of fighting moves pulled straight from pro wrestling. It takes the worst part of your typical battle royale – running around for 60 seconds, finding nothing, and getting crippled by someone who already has a shotgun – and removes it entirely. You jump right into the action and everyone is on an equal footing.
However, you find some brilliant stuff to make you stronger. After a giant cannon launches you across the huge map, you can run around and smash crates for a variety of goodies. Powders increase your maximum health and stamina, consumables restore them, weapons like broken wooden planks and folding chairs are applied directly to the face.
The funniest things to find are special moves. From Ryu Hayabusa’s Izuna drop to the hilariously named Rekt Shot (looking at you, Tidus), these moves give you buffs over your usual drop kicks, suplexes, and Irish Whips.
The combat is inspired by fighting games, but with a rock-paper-scissors approach: blocks beat strikes, strikes beat throws, and throws beat blocks. Special moves take priority in a matchup with regular moves, and a powerful move like a running dropkick can trump even some specials. It all adds up to a satisfying stew, unsurprising given Iron Galaxy’s pedigree with Killer Instinct. I found myself having technical chess matches with crafty opponents: I would dodge a combo cancel to bait it into a throw attempt, counter it with a whip to smash into a wall, only to have someone third the two of us by dropping an atomic elbow on the nearby freeway overpass.
It’s still grappling, even if it feels like a one-on-one fighting game.
It’s fun and chaotic, and every system in the game directs you to the action. Players who squirm and avoid engagements can collect the maximum 10 powders and two special moves, but they won’t get any combat experience. Every point of damage you inflict or receive adds to an XP bar which translates into some great perks: increased hit damage from explosions, reduced stamina costs, meditation mode that lets you heal yourself while standing still. In the final circle (which often has up to 10 players), if you don’t have any of these buffs, you’ll be at a serious disadvantage.
The ever-present battle royale circle is also a bit different. It encompasses a smaller part of the map than you might think, and being outside does no damage. Instead, in true wrestling style, the caller starts giving you a count of ten, after which if you’re still out of bounds, you’re out. This leads to some super fun cat-and-mouse moments that draw people out of the ring and eliminate the annoying bleed damage that so many battle royales have made standard.
For people who are really into customization, there’s an in-game store with the kind of microtransactions you’d expect: luchador masks, wrestling singlets, giant chicken heads. They are on the expensive side and the store is quite spartan so far, but I expect that to improve over time.
My main issue with Rumbleverse is its lack of a decent tutorial. You have to wait in a queue to load the practice map with other players, which is annoying, and the information is spread all over the map. It doesn’t take long to figure out, and once I started turning people around, I didn’t want to stop.