As the entire video game industry continues its search for the next free-to-play mega hit, we’re starting to see a lot of developers get a little more creative. The Battle Royale craze is far from dead, but with games like Fortnite and Apex Legends at the forefront many devs are choosing to seek out different free-to-play genres to try and gain an audience with. It’s still competitive multiplayer, but there’s typically a twist to it. For Ubisoft, their latest attempt is a fun but also limited game in Roller Champions.
We got a chance to play Roller Champions ahead of its May 25 launch and while it likely isn’t going to change the free-to-play genre, there is the potential for a very dedicated niche audience if Ubisoft is willing to give it the support that it needs.
What Is Roller Champions?
Roller Champions was first revealed to the world during E3 2019 when a short cinematic trailer was played during the event. After that event though the game went silent and had for the most part faded off into obscurity until it was suddenly re-announced with an all-new trailer and release date. An odd strategy to create excitement around a relatively unknown free-to-play game, but sudden announcements and releases have worked for other IPs in the past.
As for the exact kind of game Roller Champions plays as it’s described as being one part roller derby, one part American Football, and another part hockey. The base of the game is two teams of three are put in a cylindrical arena with a single ball. Once a team takes possession of the ball they have to do a lap around the arena and only once that lap is complete will a goal open for the player to shoot at. Shoot the ball through the goal and your team has scored. First to five points or whoever has the most points at the end of the time-limit is declared the winner.
Competition Is The Key To Fun
With such a simple premise there were really only two directions the devs could have taken this. Either lean into a party game atmosphere and make sure it’s pure chaos at all times, or play it straight and turn this into a game with extremely competitive aspirations. Ubisoft went with the latter and it resulted in a game that is very fine tuned in what it does well but doesn’t do much outside of that core gameplay. Early on, this is not a game that is meant to offer a variety of gameplay features to players but instead expects them to really dive into the mechanics of the game and master them. To the game’s credit, when that competition aspect clicks and there are two very evenly matched teams there is something magical there. The competitive spirit comes out and every possession feels like it could decide the game.
It manages this through gameplay that is best described as tough to grasp and even tougher to master. This doesn’t mean that the game is difficult to control. Far from it, but the skill gap between a player that excels at its mechanics, such as movement, is blatant. If Roller Champions manages to build a strong and dedicated community then the players that are really good at it are going to be flying across the arena in ways that at the moment feel impossible. That is going to be great for people who fall in love with this game to a hardcore level, but reaching that level of fun may take some time.
Is Roller Champions Worth Your Time?
Roller Champions is a free-to-play game so it’s hard to tell anyone to not at least try playing it because the opportunity cost is so low. So instead let’s focus on if this is a game that is going to be worth putting the hours into getting good. Since it is a free-to-play game that means it’s going to have everything someone can expect from that kind of game such as a battle pass (Roller Pass), in-game currency (wheels), and plenty of microtransactions. On the plus side, everything was cosmetic so nobody has to spend any money they don’t want to spend.
Level ups in this game are based on how many “fans” the player character earns throughout their in-game career and as you get more fans you level up. When the player earns enough fans to reach level 10 they can enter ranked play and play competitive matches. This is where everyone’s teamwork and skill will be really put to the test and also where a group of friends are going to have the most fun playing this game. With friends is also the best way to try and play Roller Champions. I played with a designated team for most of my session and had a good time with them, but I don’t think it would have been as fun without voice comms to communicate with each other.
If you’re someone that really enjoys competitive multiplayer games, or have a group of friends seeking out a new game to play together, then this very well may be the game for you. Just be ready to fully commit to it if you want to see what Roller Champions has to offer.
Note: We played Roller Champions on PC through Ubisoft Connect. Our version of the game had a handful of technical limitations such as teammates experiencing frame drops, game crashes, and server disconnections. While we expect most if not all of these issues to be patched by launch day on May 25, we wanted to be completely transparent about our experience.