The elevated viewpoint and number of heroes to choose from means that Bloodline Champions initially looks like another take on the Defense of the Ancients style of real-time strategy game. The fact that it's free-to-play only adds to this impression. In reality, however, this is a straightforward action game of fast-paced arena battles between teams of three to five players. You take charge of one of 20 champions and must crush your enemies in quick and bloody rounds with teamwork and lightning reflexes.
Each champion has seven unchanging skills. There's no character loadout to alter, and no levels or experience points to spend, but within these confines the champions are enormously varied. Most share similar ability types, such as a fast move skill on the spacebar, but while the Vanguard has a jump attack, the Gunner will use her huge rocket launcher to blast herself away from enemies. Control abilities can freeze foes or drain their life, while projectiles can heal or harm, all depending on the character selected.
Rounds are over in under two minutes, and pass in a screen-wide kaleidoscope of quick-fire abilities, area-of-effect spells and giant laser beams. Movement uses the WASD keys, abilities are tied to keyboard shortcuts and, crucially, every shot must be carefully aimed. Bloodline's scraps require good reflexes and some deft mousework to keep up. Be prepared to spend a lot of time dead.
Learn or burn
Instead of a traditional mana bar, skills are restricted by cooldown timers. Many abilities take a second or so to cast, an irritation that constantly interrupts the fluidity of the combat. It's impossible to keep track of the cooldown remaining on each ability. Instinct and guesswork are required to know when your skills are ready to use again, and that comes through experience.
Bloodline Champions is really about finding your favourite fighter, though. With no levelling or loot to keep me interested, it was only an urge to master the intricacies of the team-healing Astronomer that kept me playing. Each character is just different enough to require time to learn, and the singleplayer bots aren't sly enough to present a challenge for long. This means it's necessary to go online and get kicked around a lot while you learn the ropes. It's a competitive community and the learning curve is steep.
It doesn't help that only four characters are unlocked to begin with, and these four change every once in a while, making it hard to settle on a favourite. Many people will give up in frustration long before the 17,000 in-game points needed to unlock a character have been earned, and the £4.30 required to buy one using Funcom points is a little steep. Still, the initial download is small, and the action's slick and well balanced enough to make Bloodline Champions worth a punt.