Roller Champions is the newly released free-to-play multiplayer game from Ubisoft, presenting players with a brand new digital sport to master. On a surface level, it combines roller derby with basketball, though it folds in its own rules to make for a fresh experience. It's a perfectly good idea, and there are most definitely elements to like about this title. However, after spending some time getting to grips with the game and its quirks, we feel like it's squandering its own potential.
Here are the basic rules of Roller Champions. Inside an ovular arena, two teams of three vie for possession of the ball. Once your team has it, you need to skate through four checkpoints, lapping the rink anti-clockwise. If you and your teammates can keep the ball and complete a lap, the goal will open, and you can score one point by lobbing the ball through it. However, if you complete a second or even third lap uninterrupted, a goal will score your team three or five points respectively. The opposing team can tackle your players or intercept passes to steal back possession, and if they do, progress resets, and they'll need to start their own lap. The first team to reach five points wins.
When it's all moving along as intended, the push and pull of a match in Roller Champions can be tense, exciting, and incredibly gratifying when you succeed. It's a very fast-moving and surprisingly scrappy sport that encourages good team coordination.
Importantly, movement feels smooth and you're given a few options with which to navigate the arena. Passing the ball is easy; it'll home in on teammates if they're close enough, and you can always throw the ball manually if they're further out. However, opponents can and will intercept, so you need to choose your passes carefully. Meanwhile, you have several tackling moves at your disposal, as well as a ground and air dodge when you're holding the ball. There's just about enough at its core to create some entertaining multiplayer, and there's certainly a skill curve to follow. Even just learning how and when to "pump" — lowering your centre of gravity to build up speed going down slopes — is pretty vital.
The problem is that, unfortunately, most other aspects of the game just feel undercooked. The core gameplay is definitely the best part of Roller Champions, although we will say that collision detection feels spotty. Dodging tackles, as well as performing them, can feel imprecise; we often found that pressing dodge did not stop an attacking player from gaining the ball, even when it seemed correctly timed. There's some work to be done in tightening up tackles and dodges so they feel consistent.
Moving away from gameplay, though, its weaknesses begin to surface. For starters, it commits the cardinal sin of not queueing up another match when your current one finishes. When a match is over and you mash through the post-game screens, you're booted back to the main menu instead of automatically going again. In an online-only, free-to-play multiplayer game that's all about retention and keeping users engaged, it's a strange oversight.
It's even more baffling when matches can be over so quickly. With the target score of just five points, a game can potentially be over in just a couple of minutes. From our experience, you can spend longer in the matchmaking queue than playing, and then it's back to the menu screen.
When a game is over, you're awarded Fans, and these fill your progress bar in the Roller Pass. This is the typical Battle Pass-style method by which you unlock cosmetic rewards and the occasional loot box, but man, the free version in this game is stingy. There are 30 levels in the Kickoff Season of Roller Champions, and if you stick to the free Roller Pass, you'll get 11 rewards — fewer than half the items on the Premium version. They include three loot boxes and a total of 200 Wheels, which is a premium in-game currency required for buying stuff from the Item Shop. At the time of writing, there is just one Daily item that costs less than 200 Wheels, and the only other way to get Wheels is to buy them outright. It all just feels very cynical. We don't want to get too hung up on monetisation, though, because it is all optional, and this is a free-to-play title. It has to make money somehow, but it seems quite aggressive here.
Elsewhere, the presentation is decent, the netcode seems serviceable, and the bots that fill empty slots in a match get the job done — but coming from a publisher like Ubisoft, it should all probably be better. The overarching feeling we get from Roller Champions right now is that it might be really good in a year's time, assuming the developer continues to fine-tune it.
It's just quite frustrating. There's absolutely potential for this game to be great, as the sport at the heart of it is well-realised and most of the gameplay works smoothly. The game just feels a bit sparse, like it's been pushed out before it's truly ready. Ultimately, we'd still encourage people to try it, as it is free and does offer up some fun, but currently, we're not sure it has what it needs to thrive in a wildly competitive live service market.
Have you been playing Roller Champions on PS4? What do you make of it so far? Pass the ball in the comments section below.