Hands on with the multiplayer melee brawler
Bleeding Edge launched its first open beta last weekend, giving us our first taste of Ninja Theory’s third-person arena brawler. When firing on all cylinders, Bleeding Edge provides gloriously over-the-top melee mayhem. A few characters, however, feel like half-baked designs that didn’t make the cut in other games of the genre. With plenty of time and room to grow, Bleeding Edge has the potential to become your next favorite PVP arena game.
Don't bring guns to a fistfight
Developer Ninja Theory’s last project was Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, almost the polar opposite to Bleeding Edge from a design standpoint. Senua’s Sacrifice tells the dark tale of a Celtic warrior’s descent into psychosis; Bleeding Edge is a game where a cybernetic heavy metal guitarist faces off against a buxom biker girl who’s actually part bike. If there’s one similarity to draw, it’s the melee combat at each game’s center.
Bleeding Edge is a 4v4 arena brawler with a host of bizarre characters, the majority of which are melee-based. Those familiar with MOBAs (and the post-Overwatch ‘hero shooter’ genre) will understand Bleeding Edge’s combat system right away. Each character has a standard attack and a set of unique abilities with cooldowns. Fights are always close quarters and often chaotic. When melee combat is the focus, moving in for the kill makes you susceptible to damage - so you must balance offense and defense on the fly. Of course, no amount of defense can get you out of a three-on-one fight and, despite limited playtime, it’s clear that the best plan of attack is to team up on a single player - taking them out to give you the numbers advantage.
Bleeding Edge is keen to remind you that it’s a team-based fighter and the combat affirms this by removing camping tactics and abilities that would pick off enemies from a distance. It does mean that one-on-one fights are largely non-existent, which stunts part of the adrenaline rush that games like Overwatch and League of Legends have made a name on.
Most of my games in Bleeding Edge were comprehensive victories or losses. There's a great sense of achievement in communicating with your team to systematically wipe out your opponents, but few rounds led to tense closing moments. Hopefully, this is just a product of a small sample size and Bleeding Edge can introduce new maps, game modes, and abilities to create the addictive in-the-clutch moments that form dedicated player bases.
Fighting as a unit
The beta offered up four maps and two game modes: Objective Control and Power Collection. The former is your standard ‘control-possession-of-an-area-for-points’ while the latter is your standard ‘collect-objects-and-deposit-for-points’, while individual kills add points as well. A couple of the maps felt on the large side for a 4v4, but moving around them is quick thanks to your hoverboard. Ground movement, on the other hand, felt bogged down. It was infuriating seeing enemies retreat with a slither of health, unable to catch them without deserting your teammates.
Characters fall into the usual subsets - DPS, Support, and Tank - with the optimal ratio of 2:1:1 (and the more common ratio, if you’re playing with randoms, of 4:0:0). Bleeding Edge is right to express the importance of teamwork, even if its insistence on the matter is brash. Sticking together cultivates the best moments, carnage erupting from a tightly-packed area of the map as all eight players battle it out. Bright settings and bizarre characters amplify the chaos and create scenes that are pleasing to the eye, if a little difficult to keep track of.
Not the sharpest roster
Of course, Bleeding Edge naturally brings comparisons to that other bright, bold and colorful team-based fighter. As much as the Overwatch comparison has already been talked to death since Bleeding Edge’s announcement, it’s hard not to compare the two.
After sampling Bleeding Edge’s 11 characters, I mostly fell into one of two camps. The first is the camp of sharp and unique character design - I’ll play as an Irish witch strapped to a balloon or as a robotic snake that controls a zombie corpse. The other is the camp of uninspired character design, verging on total rehash - I’ll play as the support character who listens to music called
Lucio ZeroCool or the young female in a mechanised suit called D.Va Gizmo. Bleeding Edge has a handful of exceptionally distinct characters, but for each one there’s another that feels like something you’ve played before. That being said, it was at least easy to try different characters - each was easy to get to grips with. Playing a character will level them up and unlock mods that provide substantial buffs, like increased damage, health, or ability duration. Each character has a wealth of mods to unlock but you can only equip three at one time. So, there looks to be a lot of depth to Bleeding Edge’s combat and balancing.
Close to the edge
Balancing, on the whole, seemed to be ok with one notable exception: El Bastardo. It’s a fitting name - he’s listed as a tank that ‘relies on defensive shields’ but also has a spin attack that deals insane damage and a leaping attack with massive range. One overpowered character isn’t bad going at this stage and if Ninja Theory can tweak the balancing and drip feed us more features by the time the next beta arrives on March 13th-16th, things will be trending in the right direction.
Performance-wise, I encountered zero problems which is arguably more promising than balancing issues that are present in practically every open beta. I played Bleeding Edge on Xbox Game Pass for PC and had no issues running max settings at 1080p on a GTX 1070 Ti.
Bleeding Edge doesn’t carve out a new path for the PVP battle arena, but the beta offered glimmers of hope that it could be the next game in the genre to pour countless hours - both happy and mad - into. I’m excited to see what comes next.
Bleeding Edge releases on Steam, Windows and Xbox One on March 24. Xbox Game Pass subscribers will be able to play the game day one on both Xbox and PC.