Developed By: Frozenbyte
Published By: Frozenbyte
Category: Action, Fighting
Release Date: 08.28.19
Nothing says brutal melee combat quite like Vikings, so developer Frozenbyte knew what kind of game they wanted to make when they began development on Boreal Blade for the Nintendo Switch. Heck, boreal means “relating to the northern regions,” just to reinforce the idea that this game is about unforgiving combat in an unforgiving environment. There really isn’t much of a story since the game is multiplayer focused (I say focused, but it’s entirely multiplayer except for the tutorial), but there is a pretty barebones setup about a northern civilization and their customs as they relate to combat. Speaking of which, the combat system is simple but remarkably strategic once you get used to it. For Honor and Mourdhau aren’t on the Switch so there’s not a lot going on in the melee-based multiplayer arena genre there, which leaves a lot of room for something cool and new. Does Boreal Blade offer that something? Let’s get into that now.
Keep Your Combos, We Got Combat
Brutal melee combat is the name of the game here. Learning the basics of the game is not a complicated process; the tutorial covers every action available to you. In terms of movement, you can walk around, sprint, and dodge. For offense, you can swing your weapon, charge it up for a more powerful attack, feint to abort an attack, throw your weapon at your enemy, or do a 300-style front kick. Defensively, as long as you’re facing an enemy you’ll auto-block, but you can also do a charge block which will replenish your health if done correctly. You can pick up different potions to do things like lay down a smokescreen or create a healing patch, too. There are a bunch of different weapons to choose from that each have different strengths according to the game’s copy, but I’ll have to take their word for it as I lost pretty readily no matter what weapon I tried. I got a few kills in, sure, but dying was my true specialty – which is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself. In fact, there’s one thing in particular that I really enjoyed about my time with Boreal Blade.
The Thinking Man’s Melee
Combat in Boreal Blade takes on a fairly deliberate pace. Some would say slow, especially when compared to a lot of 2D fighting games or other multiplayer arena games, and, yes, it is slower than a lot of those kinds of games. That’s on purpose, however, to encourage a more thoughtful approach to combat. You can’t really back out of an attack once it’s been launched (well, you can feint, but you’re still open to an attack if your opponent moves first), so you really need to consider every action. You also need to be ready to react to your opponents’ moves, so you also can’t afford to be too pensive, lest they get the upper hand. The game settles on a very good blend of strategy and action, and that might be its highest recommendation.
Practice Makes Perfect
Boreal Blade’s focus is on multiplayer combat which I generally find to be a double-edged sword; it’s cool to test your skills on players around the world, but sometimes I just want to be left alone to practice my technique. So, I guess my major complaint with Boreal Blade is that I would like a more robust practice mode. There is a short tutorial to play that will teach you what all the buttons do, which is a must for any game, but it really doesn’t feature any combat. There’s a dummy to swing your weapon at in the lobby, but I would really like a way to practice my timing in certain situations that may come up in real action, like pretty much every other fighting game on the market offers. You know, the ones where you set your opponent to do a certain action so you can get used to the timing of certain attacks. Boreal Blade doesn’t feature a lot of combos, but timing is so crucial to the combat, and it’s kind of frustrating to try to get used to it in live action because if you fail and die, you have to wait for the round to end to get another shot at it.
Making the Connection
I never had any trouble finding a game to join while I was playing Boreal Blade, but I did have some trouble staying in those games when I found them. It took me a long time to actually finish a match because of this; I joined three games and got some action in before getting disconnected, and the fourth was the first time I actually finished a game. There were also several instances of my opponents blipping around the screen, so there was some lag as well. I took a quick peek at Metacritic and the reviews there mentioned network issues, too, so I don’t think I’m alone in that. Network issues are nothing new or even unexpected for online-focused games at this point, so hopefully things get hammered out relatively quickly.
Graphically, the game isn’t the most amazing thing you’ll ever see, but it’s far from hideous. The various arenas are attractively rendered, but the character models are a little last-gen, or maybe even the generation before that. As you progress in level, you’ll unlock better armor which you can use to customize your character. That alleviates the problem a little bit as the more advanced armor is pretty cool – or at least I thought the guys cutting me down looked way more awesome than I did. The music is exactly what you’d expect a medieval Viking melee brawl to sound like; dramatic, with lots of heavy drums and horns. It’s well-composed and arranged, perfectly accenting the game’s action.
TL;DR: Challenging, thoughtful approach to the multiplayer melee arena genre that could use some graphical polish and connectivity fixes.
Buy Boreal Blade
*A game code was provided for review purposes.