The Realm Royale Console Beta is a Fun Misadventure-in-Progress
The current closed beta for Realm Royale on consoles is janky and glitchy, but it presents numerous fun ideas that could be improved upon.
During the heyday of battle royale last year, when PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite were novelties to the general public, everyone was right to assume that the genre would take off and inspire numerous clones in the near future. A year later there are several of these for sure — probably in early access on Steam or mobile platforms — but not too many besides Call of Duty: Black Ops 4‘s Blackout mode have stuck. However, it is now that an “also-ran” in the genre has come to my attention, with the beta for Realm Royale flailing its arms for my attention.
Hi-Rez Studios and its recently-established divisions have always come across as competent, talented developers, who haven’t quite yet made a product to stand out from their competition. Smite and Paladins have always felt like “second place” or even “third place” games in their respective genres and having only played the latter game for a few sessions before dropping it, there isn’t really anything I can fault the title with other than the fact that I’d rather play Overwatch.
Realm Royale, however, intrigued me by its premise alone. Compared to other battle royale games, this take on the genre is more class-based with a fantasy theme. From my time on the PS4 version of the beta, I found a lot of ideas in Realm Royale that I liked, in a gameplay experience that I really didn’t like.
Rather than going with the original hero-based gameplay of Hi-Rez’s original concept, Realm Royale thankfully keeps it simpler by having just four classes. During the beta, I got to try out the Warrior, Hunter, Assassin, and Mage: all have key differences and perks, and interact with the game’s various weapons and abilities quite differently. For example, sneaky abilities like “Hidden” (which gives players invisibility) have a shorter cooldown, and weapons like the sniper rifle can do additional damage.
It took me a long time to wrap my head around the HUD, but a few sessions later, I was in business. Your character can hold two weapons, a special ability, and a movement ability pre-loaded at the beginning of rounds and catered to your class. On the left side of the screen, smaller and harder-to-spot HUD elements informed me of the number of “lives” I had, how many Shards for crafting I carried, and how many armor and health potions I carried. Conveniently, I not only could see my teammates’ health, but also their loadouts and Shard count.
Some of the newer ideas that Realm Royale introduces impressed me: instead of being incapacitated like every other squad-based competitive game these days, your character turns into a chicken upon losing health, and losing one of those lives. Instead of depending on a teammate to go out of their way to revive you, they instead can defend you as you run away as a chicken, reviving yourself within a certain time. And crafting with Shards, which you pick up from chests or from “disenchanting” unwanted weapons and items, lets you forge potions and rare weapons and abilities. Forges can be found throughout the map, and it’s a great idea that allows players more choice—not to mention that it’s satisfying to watch that hammer swing away by itself during the process.
But while all of this sounds good conceptually, nothing in Realm Royale feels particularly “right.” Perhaps it is unfair to compare it after playing hours of the AAA experience in Fortnite, but I had a difficult time determining how the game wanted me to use its weapons. Eventually, I found that leading my shots led to some minor success, but much of it felt like luck. And even for a beta, the map itself looked uninspiring. There are some setpieces like a dragon skeleton and some nice and colorful fields, but many of the ground textures look plain and lack detail—the desert and tundra areas of the map look a bit undercooked, barely resembling their intended environments.
And perhaps it’s because the game is still in an early stage of development, but I was weirdly uncomfortable by the lack of many sound effects in this game. Entering a game lobby has to be one of my favorite, unintentionally funny experiences in this beta, with no noises being made in this dropship other than various, weird grunts. With looting such a big focus in this game, I’m happy with the game’s system of allowing multiple players to get their own set of loot from one chest—on the other hand, I’m not happy that there is no satisfying noise when opening one.
Dumb things like loot chest sounds aside, the Realm Royale beta actually did present some issues and glitches during my time with it. For one, some things that I attempted to craft at Forges simply never showed up, resulting in the unnecessary loss of Shards. This mainly happened whenever I attempted to craft a Rune, and sometimes trying to craft legendary abilities or resurrections would ironically result in creating a Rune instead. My Fortnite buddy Pete also encountered a problem, where being at the start menu in the waiting area had him stuck on it when it was time to drop—he was unable to manually drop from the airship and control his character after landing.
There was some fun to be had from the jank—jumping around the waiting area like total morons had a limited amount of enjoyment, as did running around backward, sometimes accidentally triggering the forwards running animation to make it look like we were moonwalking. My buddy and I kept wondering why the waiting time would be over a full minute when the player count indicated 100—we later theorized that since the waiting area did not look like it had 100 people, that the rest of the count must have been bots, and the waiting time was in case any more human players joined in to fill their spots.
Once we got the hang of it though, we were able to expertly maneuver our way around the map and found loadouts that worked for us. I became fond of the Mage class, which featured a flying ability that I hope never gets nerfed. We survived tense moments that had us survive as chickens and make unlikely absurd comebacks, and we always placed at or near the top at every game. Of course, I assume this is because some of these players are probably bots instead.
But now that I’ve had a taste of Season 7 for Fortnite, I am left questioning what developer Heroic Leap Games has in store to make Realm Royale potentially a sustainable platform. It’s silly to say this of a game in beta form, but Realm Royale needs some serious refinement if it wants to compete with the bigger games in the battle royale genre.
Offering fun cosmetics is always key, but the Fortnite team not only knows how to cater to their fanbase but constantly iterate on and add to their existing systems. A year ago, I wouldn’t imagine that Fortnite would have biplanes, dimensional rifts, and an appearance from Thanos. Hi-Rez certainly doesn’t have the same budget and resources as Epic Games, so their offering feels more like a little engine that could. I don’t know how Realm Royale can hope to survive, but if they don’t constantly update and add to retain a fanbase, the competition between battle royale games will seem less like a battle royale itself, and more like a sword versus gun fight.