Ring of Elysium Early Access Impressions

The battle royale genre has seen an unprecedented surge in popularity over the course of 2018, spawning countless titles vying for gamers’ limited funds and attention. Whereas the frontrunners PUBG and Fortnite have further established themselves as the kings of the genre, there’s now plenty of alternatives to consider if you’ve tired out from the biggest two. For every newcomer to the genre then, the chief concern becomes to introduce enough unique elements to set itself apart from the heavyweights. It is otherwise impossible to compete with PUBG and Fortnite in the playing field, hence Ring of Elysium throws in a few twists to the standard battle royale formula. Released by Tencent Games, the same company behind the mobile port of PUBG, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve loaded into yet another match of PUBG, although it’s quickly obvious they’re not the same titles despite similarity in graphics and gameplay design. Available through Steam Early Access, Ring of Elysium is a surprisingly polished battle royale entry, bringing a mixture of familiar and brand new elements to the table where it’s hard to capture gamers’ extended attention.

Developer: Aurora Studio; Publisher: Tencent Games

Released (Early Access): September 19, 2018; Reviewed on: PC

Testing specs: Core i5-6500 3.2GHz, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1070

Available via: Steam

Instead of 100 players, 60 begin across a large snowy map in trying to escape the deadly blizzard advancing on the area. Ring of Elysium plays similar to other battle royale titles, with objective being to survive until the end, though you don’t have to be the last man standing. Up to four players can be evacuated by a rescue chopper that drops in the area, regardless of whether you play in available solo, duos or squad modes. This changes up the late game significantly, with remaining players dashing for rescue as they watch the seats get occupied, and larger groups especially must work together to secure the landing zone. Instead of eliminating all competition, the endgame objective here is to make it inside the helicopter, which adds tension to the match as you scramble to climb its extendable ladder. There is a lot of opportunity here for strategic play, whether you decide to simply gun it down towards rescue, or stick around to eliminate all other players if you’re skilled enough. It feels refreshing to have a game that doesn’t always follow the genre’s underlying elements, and Ring of Elysium experiments in adding certain twists to an otherwise well-repeated formula of PUBG and Fortnite.

To further set itself apart, Ring of Elysium changes up the starting mechanics considerably from majority of titles it is directly competing against. Rather than dropping into the map from the air, and scrambling to find weapons for defence, you instead pick a spot to spawn in, and can also see the placement of everyone else before you begin. This eliminates majority of random encounters from the get-go, as you have a general sense of where your closest foe may be, though even then it’d take me a few minutes before finding my competition. It’s a much quicker start too, with players able to dash for the loot-filled buildings as soon as the match begins. You’re also equipped with a sidearm to begin with, providing defensive capabilities before you even find a closest building to loot. This starts all players off on equal footing to an extent, although like in PUBG, you’re bound to find campers who’ll snipe you from across the field before you even see them, and furthermore, the starting pistol is no match for a shotgun or SMG.

What’s most unique about Ring of Elysium is its addition of fun movement systems, where you can glide, snowboard and rock climb in addition to using standard vehicles present throughout the map. This provides faster opportunities for getting around the level at the start, although later on you’re more likely to go back and use the cars scattered around the area. Many will also appreciate the realistic feel behind these movement options, as they mimic real-world physics in their execution. The glider can only be used if you’ve reached a high enough elevation above ground, while the snowboard naturally moves faster along a downward slope, coming to a slowing halt on flat surfaces. You can’t have all three tools at once either, instead picking out a mobility loadout before a match starts, although frankly the only useful thing of the bunch is your trusty snowboard. There are some trade-offs to consider here too, as climbing gear for instance equips a shotgun, but then you don’t have access to skiing and gliding. They become a viable alternative to using vehicles, especially at the very start, and two of the three are considerably faster than standard mobility. These movement options aren’t perfect either, and it would have been nice to have combat capabilities while your character is locked into the traversal animation, but their ultimate usefulness to break up the monotony of standard running pays off considerably more. While you also won’t have problems locating a vehicle, it is far more engaging to use the gear on hand.

Otherwise though, Ring of Elysium is a lot alike to PUBG, with a more realistic approach to gunplay than likes of Fortnite. Even the game’s user interface is almost identical, with similar menus, player inventory and loadout interfaces. It didn’t bother me in any way, however, as the game differentiates itself enough to feel somewhat fresh, although I’m also one of the few that didn’t jump on the genre bandwagon throughout 2018. Player equipment works all too familiar if you’ve spent considerable time with PUBG, with attachments auto-equipping to their respective weapons as soon as you pick them up. From there, you can modify the loadout as you see fit, but of course, that leaves you exposed to danger from other players when engaged in the inventory screen. The three weapon slots aren’t restricted by type either, so I’d quickly ditch my starting sidearm for a mix of automatic weapons and a shotgun. This gives players a lot of versatility in their equipment to pick out what works best, though is largely determined by the weapons you find throughout the map. I never had issues finding a good selection though, as the limited 60 player count spread across vast distance usually gives you at least a few minutes to get fully equipped.

Content-wise, Ring of Elysium is pretty basic so far, with only a single map available at the moment, but given its fairly recent release in Steam Early Access one can’t expect to have a ton of features. The central gameplay experience is there with a solid foundation, and character movement works exceptionally well. Ring of Elysium further gives players a big selection of weapons and attachments to go with them, with various shotguns, rifles and machine guns to choose from. Again, if you’ve spent considerable time with PUBG, there are no surprises to be found here, but the realistic weapon arsenal on offer is diverse enough to satisfy most.

In addition to the standard battle royale mode you’ll use these throughout, Ring of Elysium also currently packs in a survival-themed mode. In From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, the mode pits you against not just other players, but also the extremely harsh winter conditions during the night. With freezing cold temperatures that will easily kill distracted players, it becomes important to find supplies for boosting health, such as food and campfire fuel, which you’ll be competing with other players to secure. The objective further being to survive until daytime, it has a more deliberate approach to combat encounters, although doesn’t change things drastically apart from careful health management. The mode runs only at certain times of the day to provide stability, but in the future will likely be featured alongside the standard battle royale clash.  From Dusk ‘Till Dawn provides a refreshing spin on the established genre formula by mixing in survival elements, and further sets Ring of Elysium apart from the competition by building upon the strengths of its setting.

Ring of Elysium’s progression works similar to Fortnite, using an “Adventure pass” to give players willing to pay a premium an expanded list of customization options and XP boosts. You can play it entirely without a single dime spent, though, and get just as much out of the experience. This is a proven formula, setting premium pass players apart from the rest of the crowd without giving them a direct competitive advantage, and with no starting cost to the game, will see large success here. You still unlock some cosmetics through standard progression, albeit at a much slower pace, but if you’re here just for the game experience, you won’t care whether your character is wearing a black or orange parka jacket.

To briefly mention performance, I came away from the experience pleasantly surprised in that Ring of Elysium doesn’t feel like an Early Access title. Apart from limited content in maps and customization for now, the central gameplay loop is well polished, and so is the game’s stability. Whereas matches can take a few minutes to load into simply based on lower player count than in the game’s competitors, once you’re there, it’s all smooth-sailing. There’s no connection issues, and Ring of Elysium maintains a consistently solid framerate with no lag to experience. Graphics are also fully complete, with no texture pop-in or missing textures across the board. It’s fairly impressive for an Early Access title to show such a solid foundation, especially when Tencent-published PUBG was notorious for performance issues on PC throughout its first year.

While it’s difficult not to compare the experience to PUBG, as it looks and plays all too similar to its direct competitor through and through, there are enough underlying differences between the two to make Ring of Elysium stand well apart. When you overlook their design analogies, the latter comes forth as a more fluid experience through its engaging movement system that substitutes traditional traversal methods with gear to match its snowy setting. Ring of Elysium is a solid battle royale shooter already, and all it needs is some map balancing, as the starter map is simply too big for the 60-player count, leading to long stretches of time where you’re searching for other players. Aside from that, though, Ring of Elysium is a solid competitor in the popular genre, and provides a few interesting twists on realistic gameplay to be worth checking out despite now countless alternatives in the segment. A new map is also dropping in January 16th, so we’ll be able to check out a fresh setting very soon.

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