Roller Champions has been a thing for quite some time, but not too many players have had the chance to try out Ubisoft's take on the futuristic sports genre dominated for the past few years by Psyonix's Rocket League. Ubisoft Montréal's game, first announced during E3 2019, has been delayed multiple times. Players were losing hope, as multiple delays are never a good sign. Development on the game continued, however, and on May 25th, 2022, Roller Champions' arenas finally make their grand opening on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles.
A couple of days before the game's release, I have been given the chance to try out Roller Champions for around three hours, getting a feel of the gameplay, progression, and customization systems. While three hours are absolutely not enough to write a full review, especially considering the game is a free-to-play title whose popularity and ultimate success will depend on how it will be supported from now on, they are more than enough to understand if Roller Champions can be a fun multiplayer experience and if it can hold up even without all the customization and progression systems that have become an integral part of any modern live service game.
The first time I was able to try out Roller Champions was during the E3 2019, and I thought the game had quite a lot of potential, even in its very early stage. The premise for this futuristic skating sport is straightforward: all regulation matches are played inside arenas featuring the same dimensions and mechanics (but different aesthetics) by two teams of three players, whose main objective is to launch a ball through a goal after doing at least a single full lap of the arena. This doesn't have to be accomplished by a single player, so teams can coordinate to get as many laps as possible done, as the more are completed, the more points a team will get for scoring. Completing three laps, which can make a team earn five points when scoring and win the match with a single goal, isn't easy at all if the opponent knows what they are doing, as there are plenty of offensive techniques that can be used to steal the ball, such as multiple tackling maneuvers and an uppercut. These techniques can also be used defensively in some interesting ways that spice up the experience a bit. Alongside these techniques, players also need to master navigation techniques, like the pump mechanic, which can be used to gain speed and altitude. While all of these mechanics sound complicated to master on paper, they are pretty easy to understand and put into practice a few matches in, so Roller Champions is definitely a very accessible game for many of its mechanics.
However, mastering these techniques alone will not get you very far in Roller Champions, as teamwork is essential to winning. Players can not only pass the ball to another player or call from it when a teammate holds it, but they can also grapple onto one to gain speed and even use a double jump that has plenty of different applications, both offensive and defensive. The experience can be tons of fun when everything comes together, although a bit more gameplay depth wouldn't have hurt. When I tried Roller Champions for the second time last year, I highlighted how arenas with different mechanics or more specialized Champions may have spiced up the experience a little, which still stands for the final release. It is, however, a precise design decision from the developer to make the game as fair as possible, and it kind of makes sense, as the main goal is to make Roller Champions as accessible as possible for all types of players.
I do have to note how the game feels much better to play now. For example, it is easier to speed up using the pump mechanics and teamwork maneuvers than in the pre-release versions. Things get very scrambly every now and then, but that undoubtedly is part of the fun.
The decision to keep all characters equal and arenas all the same, while good for accessibility, however, comes at a cost, especially if you are playing with random players that do not engage in teamwork. In such a case, you can expect the experience to turn frustrating and a little stale fast, even though the developer will attempt to keep things a little fresh with Seasonal Limited Time Game Modes, such as the 2v2 and hot potato modes for the Kickoff Season, and time-limited mini-games for the Skatepark, Roller Champions' social hub.
Releasing as a free-to-play game, Roller Champions comes with features that have been central for such games in the past few years, such as a progression system that allows players to unlock plenty of rewards by playing matches, and gain XP, which is presented as Fans in the game, to unlock Tiers in the free and Premium Roller Passes. The Premium Roller Pass for the Kickoff season features a total of 42 rewards, and the total amount of wheels, the in-game currency, obtained for unlocking all 30 tiers will be enough to cover the purchase of future passes, so players who spend a lot of time with Roller Champion won't have to spend real money to get all rewards, which are cosmetics and bring no gameplay advantage whatsoever. Customization options also look acceptable, as every character gets 12 customization slots, divided into Outfit, Signature, and Emotes. A special customization category called Superstars allows players to turn their characters into one-of-a-kind heroes. During my three hours with the game, I could unlock very few cosmetics, so it definitely feels like a more significant commitment is needed to get more of them.
As already mentioned, live service games live or die depending on how they are supported, so it is difficult to say if investing time in Roller Champions will be worth it in the long run. The game is solid and feels good to play. The plans for the game's first year sound interesting, with each Season introducing new content revolving around a theme and new quality of life features. Hence, the ball is literally on Ubisoft Montreal's court now. Will they be able to complete their three laps of the arena and score five points? We will just have to wait and see.
Reviewed on PC during a dedicated event.
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