Rumbleverse is the latest entry in a seemingly endless list of free-to-play battle royale games. However, this latest spin on the aging format is more creative and interesting than I expected, as Rumbleverse ditches the usual SMGs, shotguns, and grenades for wrestling grapples, melee combos, and high-flying elbow drops. The real secret here is that this is really a fighting game, which might explain why I really suck at it. But as a testament to how much fun I’m having, I want to get better.
Rumbleverse hit consoles and PC on August 11 after a few rounds of beta tests. Though published by Fortnite devs Epic Games, Rumbleverse is developed by Iron Galaxy, a studio with a long and respected history of creating really good fighting games like Dive Kick and Killer Instinct. And with that in mind, it makes a lot of sense that Iron Galaxy’s take on a cartoony battle royale chooses fists and kicks over snipers rifles and RPGs.
On paper it all sounded a bit odd, like a weird experiment that might not work. But after playing Rumbleverse on and off for the last few weeks since launch, I’ve grown to really like the game, even if I still haven’t won a single match.
The basic setup should be familiar to anyone who’s played any other battle royale. A large number of players (in this case 40) drop onto an island covered in buildings, tunnels, open areas, and loot. Then they scrounge for supplies while fighting other players to survive and ultimately be the last one standing.
The big difference in Rumbleverse is that you aren’t searching around for guns or armor or ammo. Instead, you find new moves to equip while also searching for melee objects like chairs and stat-boosting potions that let you do more damage, take more damage, or run faster and longer.
When you finally stumble (or leap) onto another player, the game’s combat shines, even if it has a larger learning curve than most shooters. In Rumbleverse you can block, smack, punch, grab, counter, charge, and dive. All of these moves have a priority, and higher-priority maneuvers will win against lower-priority ones. For example, if you grab someone and pull off a special, and they chop your chest with a basic smack, then they’ll win that fight. But if they try to block and you go for that special grab again, you’ll break their block and fling them into the air or against a wall.
You have to master this unusual dance of punching, dodging, blocking to get good at Rumbleverse, and while I’m able to win flights, I’ve not been able to stay alive long enough to win. (My best match result so far was second place, which was nice, but still not a win!)
Your instinct will be to immediately try to spam attacks or specials, but don’t do that. The key is to treat fights like wrestling matches that you might see on TV. There will be pauses as both enemies reevaluate the situation and decide what to do next. In these moments, the combat mechanics of Rumbleverse shine, and feel both really good and really different from what you find in Fortnite or PUBG.
Where Rumbleverse currently stumbles is in the bits surrounding the action. Dropping into a match, grabbing a chair, and slamming it down on someone from the top of a skyscraper is awesome. That part works wonderfully. But outside of matches, menus are a bit confusing and annoying to use, and the challenge system feels woefully slim compared to Fortnite. And while it seems unfair to compare a brand-new game with one of the juggernauts of the genre, it’s clear that Rumbleverse is heavily inspired by Fortnite in a lot of ways. So hopefully, as the game finds an audience and grows, its challenges and missions will also get better and give players more to do during matches beyond basic things like “climb a lot” or “heal a certain amount.”
Even though I sort of suck at Rumbleverse and I find its challenge system a bit anemic at the moment, I’m still excited to load it back up and play some more. There are so many good (and bad) battle royale shooters out there in 2022. But a really good, colorful, and exciting wrestling-themed battle royale—with solid body shape diversity, no less—is a nice thing to have. I hope the game sticks around and gets future seasons with more content, quests, and challenges that can help make the game even more enjoyable, even for crappy fighters like myself.