The first time I walked into Volt Colosus’s boss room, I knew, I knew, I was gonna wipe the floor with him. It was only my first run in Battle Shapers, but I’d been going through his robotic minions like I was the IRS and they owed me money. I’d found a good weapon, my health and shields were near maximum, and I felt like a had a pretty good feel for the core I was rolling with. Volt Colossus would be tougher, sure, but this fight was gonna be over fast. Well, I was right about one thing: the fight was over fast. About five seconds after the fight started, I was respawning in my hideout with no idea how to avoid the attacks that killed me, but like the character I was playing, I was raring to go again. The second run would be different. I hoped.
Battle Shapers is the first game from Metric Empire, and it’s best described like this: “what if you crossed the gameplay of Doom Eternal with the boss-stealing powers and general vibe of Mega Man and added a little bit of Roguelite structure for flavoring?” Mix in an absolutely gorgeous art style that reminded me an awful lot of Overwatch in the best possible way and a soundtrack so good that I sometimes stopped playing just to listen to it, and Battle Shapers is a unique, fast-paced FPS that had me saying “just one more run” way, way past the time I should have been going to bed. The perfect run was out there; I just had to find it.
Battle Shapers slotted me into the stylish, robo-boots of Ada, a Battle Shaper who’s been revived for one last mission: save the city of New Elysium from the nasty Overloards who have taken the place over. Along with her adorable sidekick, Meemo, who serves as the voice in Ada’s ear and the bot in charge of managing their hideout, Ada has to seek out each one of the Overlords in their Tower, take them down in single combat, and claim their cores – and their powers.
Ada can swap cores at the beginning of each run. Primary Cores determine what abilities Ada has and the enhancements I had access to on a run, and Secondary Cores add additional enhancement possibilities for variety. I had access to two full cores during my preview build and another partial core I could only use as a secondary core. Ada’s default core is the Adamant Core, a defensive core that gives Ada a shield that can reflect projectiles and strengthens her melee attack to do the same. I, however, was drawn to the more offensive-oriented Strike Core, which turns Ada’s dash into an attack that stacks charges of Hunter’s Mark. Building up enough charges by using it allowed me to unleash Overkill, a powerful ability that I used to zip across the screen, cutting through anything in my path. Ada also starts out with a basic pistol, but anything beyond that came down to what I found during my run.
The core of Battle Shapers, are, well, the battles. Once I left the safety of Ada and Meemo’s hideout, I fought my way through room after room of bad robots, getting new abilities and weapons along the way. Normal enemies aren’t too difficult to take down, but Ada’s health and shields are limited and health packs don’t appear often. The real key was managing my shield, which I could restore by reducing an enemy’s health until they were stunned, and then taking them out with my melee attack. The trick was not getting hit, and if I did, knocking out enemies quickly to restore my shield.
Fights are fast-pcaed, frantic affiars. I never stopped moving, dashing between enemies and environmental attacks to stay out of trouble, and landing thunderous punches to take enemies down when it was time. Everything about Battle Shaper’s moment-to-moment action feels incredible, from the speed and responsiveness of Ada’s dashes to the way time slows down for a second when I landed a finishing blow, and the fact that I needed to kill enemies to restore my shield means there’s always a satisfying element of risk and reward at play, even against normal enemies. Even if dire situations, I never felt out of it because I knew more shields were just one takedown away. As long as I had health, I had a chance.
Clearing rooms got me new guns and abilities, and each felt better than the last. I used the Shock Rifle early on, but my real love affair was with the Plasma Carbine, an assault rifle with rounds that explode on impact and burn enemies. And sure, yeah, the Pulse Grenade is great, but given the chance, I always wanted Plasma Blast, which has Ada jump into the air before coming down in a big explosion that sets the ground on fire.
I also found enhancements as I played that let me customize my build. Did I want to increase my dashes to stack more Hunter’s Mark, or give my weapons the ability to pierce, so bullets could hit more than one enemy? Did I want to focus on boosting my ability to gain Overdrive, which let me shoot faster, or Critical Hits for sheer damage output? I had a lot of choices to make here, but each Enhancement makes each run unique, and you never know what you’re going to get next. It’s possible to get the perfect build one run and plan for a combination that never happens the next.
I was even making build decisions between runs. Battle Shapers has two currencies: credits and Turinium. Credits are found in loot boxes (don’t worry, they’re free) and can be spent at the store for enhancements, guns, and abilities, but disappear when the run ends, but Tunirmium carries over between deaths, allowing me to permanently upgrade Ada’s stats, start a run with certain weapons (hello, my beloved Plasma Carbine), purchase new abilities, or just be able to sell unwanted weapons at the store or have weapons auto-reload when I swapped to a new gun. Even small upgrades are key, and can make all the difference in a close run.
And then there’s the way each Tower can change. Overlords can Retaliate against Ada during fights against their minions with special abilities. Volt Colossus can place Volt Mines that explode if touched, and certain enemies only appear because I was in his Tower. I also ran into special challenges that required me to take out elite enemies, clear rooms in specific time limits, or shoot optional objectives to open bonus loot boxes. Every run, even if I started with the same cores and weapons, felt unique as a result, and I was always learning, and refining my play, my builds, and my knowledge.
It took me four tries to beat Volt Colossus. I nearly had him the second before making a mistake, did terribly the third time, but beat him with one health – I kid you not, no shields and one health – on my fourth run. The key to my victory? I learned I could shoot the Volt Mines he summoned because I had to confront them during that run as Retaliation. That win felt amazing, but I loaded up a new run right after. I could do better. Two runs later, I beat him at nearly full health. It wasn’t the perfect run – I’m still chasing that, several hours into this preview build – but I’m getting close, and any game that can inspire that need to chase it when you only have access to one level and one boss fight is shaping up to be something special.
I may never get there, but that doesn’t really matter. The perfect run is as an aspiration, a magnificent, shining, elusive thing glimpsed briefly in the distance. Battle Shapers understands that. It’s telling that when I encountered a bug or when my game crashed, I just loaded it up again without a hint of annoyance. “Oh, well,” I said out loud. “Guess I’ll have to do another run.” And if Battle Shapers can capture that feeling in the full release, Metric Empire will have done something special. We never quite reach perfection; it’s always a moving target. But as long as you can see it from where you’re standing, you’re on the right path, and Battle Shapers has it firmly in its sights.