Roller Champions E3 Preview

When E3 started, Ubisoft confirmed that they had been working on Roller Champions, a new title that seems like it wants a piece of the Rocket League pie. The demo that I used to play roller champions was released on uPlay, free to play during E3 – June 10 to June 13

Roller Champions is a competitive multiplayer future-sport, which very closely resembles Roller Derby, but with an added ball and goal.

This demo of Roller Champions is apparently pre-alpha, so keep that in mind, but despite this label it is extremely polished and a pleasure to look at and play. Many of the features are not available, as all you can do is hit play, and the game will matchmake you against another team of 3 players.
There will be customisation options in the full release of the game, and I would imagine that there are likely to be options for custom games, and additional playlists with different sized teams, although that’s just speculation on my part.

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The demo has a nice tutorial that runs you through the basics of the game. In order to score, your team must gain possession of the ball, and proceed to complete a counter-clockwise lap of the arena. Once a lap has been completed, players can decide whether to try to shoot for a goal, or to continue to complete another lap or two before scoring.
Scoring is quite simple. When the ball is launched into the goals, the score is determined by how many laps are completed.
1 lap provides 1 point,
2 laps provides 3 points, and
3 laps provides 5 points.
The game ends when one team scores 5 points, or after 7 minutes of playtime, with an optional 3 minutes of overtime if scores are tied or if the losing team is in possession of the ball when time runs out.

At first, it may seem best to go for 3 laps and then score to end the game immediately, but Roller Champions is a contact sport, and if you are tackled, you’ll drop the ball, allowing the enemy team to gain possession, resetting your team’s progress toward being able to score.

In addition to covering the rules, the tutorial also teaches you how to navigate the arena, which is of great help as every button on the controller is used in one way or another, and it wouldn’t be clear how to play properly without some direction.

During my time playing the demo, I used an Xbox One controller, but Roller Champions can also be played with mouse and keyboard on computer, but the devs highly recommend playing with a controller for the best experience.

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In order to gain speed effectively, the player needs to make use of a movement technique known as pumping. Skate whilst on flat ground or going uphill, and pump when moving downhill to gain speed. Getting the hang of this technique, and learning how to utilise the shape of the arena will be key to mastery of Roller Champions, and during my short time with the game, I was able to learn to make use of this, but I would describe myself as very clumsy even with a bit of practice.

When a teammate has possession of the ball, you are able to request that they pass to you. If you don’t make the request, your teammate isn’t able to make a pass at all. If you are in possession of the ball, when a teammate requests you pass, you only need press the same button and your champion will pass the ball towards them.
I found a lot of the time that my passes would not be accurate, and even though the tutorial teaches you how to pass, it does not explain exactly what to do to make it more likely that the pass would succeed.
With some testing, it seems as though the closer you are to your teammate and the more ‘predictable’ their movement is, the more likely that the pass will succeed. If the teammate is far away or moving erratically, it’s likely that the pass will miss and you’ll need to chase down the ball to hopefully recover it before the enemy team does.

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The final trick to master is tackling and dodging. If you have the ball, you can dodge enemy tackles, and if you don’t, you can tackle the enemy team. From my experience, the dodge has invincibility frames, and you can dodge right into an oncoming attacker, even if they tackle, and you won’t get knocked over. You can dodge quite frequently with only a short amount of time between dodges, so in order to tackle a champion successfully, you’ll need to bait them into dodging before you tackle, or have teammates to tackle in succession to ensure that you take them down.

I played the demo of Roller Champions for around 2 hours, and found that it played very well. The gameplay loop is fun, and I imagine that it would be even more fun if you were playing with friends on your team.
There is a lot of satisfaction to be had with outmaneuvering a group of opponents to get clear of the field and make a multi-point score, and taking out more than one enemy with a well-timed, perfectly executed tackle feels great. Even just getting some serious speed by pumping at the right time has a great feel to it, but unfortunately, not everything feels great in Roller Champion’s current state.

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In the E3 build, when approaching the ball, it feels as though the ball is magnetic, forcing me toward it to grab it. In most cases, this is okay as I’m trying to grab the ball anyway, but I found that the steering assist took away from my sense of control, and that makes the game feel more restrictive. Thankfully, the auto assist seemed to only take place during and slightly after executing tackles or dodges.
There are times when you gain possession of the ball whilst heading in the wrong direction, and the game automatically turns you around on the spot to be moving in the correct direction. Again, this small interaction takes away from my sense of control, making me question the consistency of the physics and underlying movement systems.

Finally, if you’re playing well, and have built up a lot of speed by making use of slopes, but then need to perform a dodge, the player immediately loses all of their built-up speed and is put into a slower dodge action. This immediate loss of momentum and speed is very noticeable, and feels particularly frustrating, and also dangerous. Enemies approaching you from behind can slip stream to catch up to you, so being above the max skating speed is extremely important.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Rocket League, which really respects the player. There is no in-air magnetism that sucks you toward the ball when performing aerial maneuvers, and your sense of speed and control is consistent, even when performing actions, such as jumping or sliding, and I would love to see Roller Champions take this approach too.

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Keep in mind that Roller Champions is in a pre-alpha state, and that a lot of the game is likely to change. I’m hopeful that the steering assistance that Roller Champions provided in this build was mainly to benefit the crowds of people attending E3 to help them pick up and play a game or two without struggling, and that this feature will be removed for later releases.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Roller Champions, and am looking forward to seeing what extra features are announced as it gets closer to release, which is currently slated for sometime in 2020. The skating feels and sounds great, and the concept of rounding the ring in order to score more and more points provides a great risk vs reward gameplay mechanic. In my short playtime I’ve seen the importance of teamwork, as well as making use of the design of the ring to build speed or evade opponents. There’s potential for this to be a great casual and competitive game with a high skill ceiling, but only if Ubisoft is willing to remove the training wheels and let players skate on their own.

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