by Jordan Helsley
reviewed on PC
A change of scenery
In a rare break from the formula, Dragon Ball: The Breakers is a franchise game that is not interested in retelling the story fans have known for years, and it is better for it. It allowed the developers to take a few extra chances, I'm sure. The concept of the series' fantastic villains versus seven lowly civilians still fits in the universe, while also providing a unique spin on this increasingly popular genre.
Comparing The Breakers to the rest of the franchise is ultimately irrelevant, though, as there’s only a basic story here to begin with. Your tutorial provides players with the basic information: your civilians are unlucky enough to get sucked into a world out of time, where villains past, present and future are present and deadly. Your only (realistic) chance of survival is to collect various time keys, activate a "Super Time Machine" and escape. You don't get to go home, however, because you're susceptible to being brought back. Naturally, this means you'll exist in a purgatory until they solve this problem. They feed all this information to you, of course, through the time traveling Saiyan Trunks. A game like this doesn't need this backstory, but they put in the work.
The comparisons that The Breakers cannot avoid, however, are those to other asymmetric multiplayer titles: namely Dead By Daylight and Friday The 13th, which we will get to in time. When you first load into Dragon Ball it's hard to think of anything else though. It is a game full of complexity, both in and out of gameplay.
As a survivor, you have various tools to assist you in your games, most of which you will use to hide. Stealth is of the utmost importance, especially early in your playtime and if playing solo, as a run in with a raider (the villain you're matched up against) without preparation or skill will cause a swift death, often before you even realize what's happening. It makes sense. You are a lowly human trying to match up against Cell (or Frieza, or Buu) after all. First, you'll be learning your starting skills: things like a grappling hook and a smoke bomb to help you escape. These skills are part of a loadout you can grow and adjust as you level up. Then you will learn about your pickups, ranging from offensive to supportive, with some more obscure than others. Players will find these in chests or in the pockets of NPC civilians you can rescue. They will also find Change Power, which levels you up on a per-match basis. Using this, you can transform into one of Dragon Ball's many heroes for a short time. There's three tiers of transformation for survivors, and each of these has a load out as well.
Playing as a survivor means juggling a lot of mechanics and information. It feels like a meshing of systems that could work in the game's favour, if it wasn't for some gameplay shortcomings. Transforming into a hero is primarily an escape technique, unless you're squaring off with your fellow transformed survivors. The camera doesn't do you any favours when either hiding or fighting. They rarely centre your character in frame and it has no built-in awareness of the geometry, leading to blocked vision far too often. Even when you engage in a fight against the raider, it is difficult to tell if you're being effective if you're not staring at their health bar. The soft-lock that steers attacks leads to enough misses that knowing when you actually hit takes an entirely different level of concentration. The entire game just lacks a level of feedback that makes your actions feel impactful.
The same gameplay ailments affect the raider, but the sheer power differential makes them much easier to ignore. You're strong, like really strong. This game could easily have been initially a 4 or 5 survivor affair, only for the developers to realize the games lasted a mere five minutes. It feels unfair in most matches. It makes sense in the world, but it doesn't make the game any more fun. To add to the power fantasy, raiders can destroy entire sections of the map when they level up, and can even destroy the Super Time Machine.
The tide is heavily in the raiders favour, and can be exacerbated even further. It wouldn't be a Dragon Ball game without the titular dragon balls and the ability to summon Shenron. If a raider collects all seven and summons the wish-granting dragon, the option for an immediate level increase makes an already tough game for the survivors nearly impossible. Conversely, if a survivor does the same, an ultimate transformation is on the table, turning the tides a bit with a permanent, powerful change into a fan-favourite hero. This, of course, relies heavily on communication, as you are very unlikely to gain the dragon balls yourself, so you'll have to convince your fellow survivors to drop theirs.
Outside of the gameplay, back at your new purgatory home, player will find common staples of these types of games. A (free) battle pass, a shop where you can spend premium currency for cosmetics, load out editing options. Most offensive, however, is a gacha mechanic gained with either earned or purchased funds. To make matters worse, inside of these loot boxes are gameplay relevant items, not just cosmetics. This might be acceptable in a free to play game (probably not) but it definitely isn't in one that comes at a cost, even if it is reduced.
Dragon Ball: The Breakers will probably live or die based on its initial release window. It is a game of growing pains so severe that it might scare off much of the audience. What that could leave is akin to a late-stage fighting game: the only players left are very good, forcing away even more newcomers. If players can get over this hurdle, and the one that simply playing the game provides, there's a depth to the mechanics that are satisfying to master. It is a game that offers a bit more complexity than competitor Dead By Daylight, but would have to sustain a player base to truly match it. Failing that, it could end another Friday The 13th; a totally fine game that can only be enjoyed with friends. As it stands now, though, a private game cannot exist without a full lobby of eight players, so even that might not be a realistic option. In a world with a glut of this genre, it doesn't do quite enough to require your time.
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A different take on Dragonball, deep mechanics, fun with friends
Annoying gacha, pay-to-win system, punishing for newcomers, survivors are handicapped without significant teamwork