Yesterday saw the reveal of Project Loki, an upcoming game made by developers hailing from studios like Riot, Respawn, Blizzard and Bungie. I sat down with my sackful of MOBA fatigue and cynicism to watch the trailer, and was instead reminded of an old flame. The game promises to be a mash-up of "League, Apex and Smash", but I know better: Project Loki carries strong vibes of Battlerite, an action MOBA that had all development stopped in 2019.
Battlerite was—is, kinda, you can play it but it hasn't seen updates for years—an action MOBA that cut away all the chaff from the genre. Instead of last-hitting creeps and split-pushing, you got to the brawling and teamfights right away, duking it out in an arena that'd grow smaller as time went by. It was a smashing game. PC Gamer gave it a glowing review in 2017, calling it "one of the best team action games released" that year.
Then they tried to make a battle royale. The original game already didn't have the biggest player base, with League of Legends and Dota 2 as its competition, so trying to compete with Fortnite at the same time didn't go spectacularly well. Updates on Battlerite slowed to a crawl as both the dev team and the player base split down the middle, which placed both games in perpetual maintenance mode.
Ultimately, Battlerite was a game that dared to try something new, succeeded for a bit, and then tripped on its own shoelaces. It tried to chase a trend it was already being beaten at, even after carving out a niche for itself in a different genre. Sitting down to watch Project Loki's trailer, then, and seeing the same WASD-style movement, skill-shot abilities and chaotic teamfights, I was slapped by a mix of nostalgia and dread.
It looks fantastic, but it's trying to swing in an already competitive ring with precious little brand recognition. Newcomer start-up Theorycraft Games has staff with serious experience in the genre and it's bandying about all the right big names, but I'm not sure that'll carry it through after release. Games like these have a tendency to either become smash hits like Apex Legends, or die after a few painful years like Spellbreak and Battlerite did.
Still, that the devs are proud enough to show off alpha footage of their game—complete with hyped-up voice chat clips—is a good sign. I just hope they can stick the landing. Battlerite brought a dash of fighting game spice to the MOBA genre that's been sorely missed since its slow death, and I can't wait to capture that feeling again. If you're curious, you can sign up for the next playtest on Theorycraft's website.