Bleeding Edge is an out of left field play from Ninja Theory. A brash, fast paced arena brawler that is about as far removed from Hellblade as one could imagine. Thankfully, they've brought their ingenuity and attention to detail to what feels like the first step on a longer journey.
It has been fascinating to observe Ninja Theory's "warts and all" approach to iteration and balance, with regular Alpha and Beta tests occurring in designated phases designed to give a select few players the chance to give feedback. Their strategy here feels akin to Rare's early development efforts with Sea of Thieves, and the game has certainly benefited as a result.
Having played one of those early Alpha builds last year, it's reassuring to see the efforts made to tweak and buff certain abilities. There's always going to be characters more popular than others, but for the most part, it feels balanced. An essential component to nailing that all important first impression.
Bleeding Edge can be, at least on the surface, a tad scrappy, with objectives often ignored in favour of personal gratification. The temptation is to pick one of the characters with a ranged attack and simply spam the nearest cluster of opponents, whittling down their health in an ultimately boring manner.
You'll always get players more concerned with their stats and ratios than playing the objective, but thankfully, if you're willing to dig a bit deeper, there's nuance to be found.
Abilities tend to fall into a few distinct categories, depending on your chosen hero. There's a combination of melee, ranged, support, and traversal techniques to master across each character, with their own quirks, distinct cooldown timers, and effects relative to your squad mates and opponents. You're guaranteed to find something that caters to your playstyle, which speaks to their outstanding design across the board.
Visually, characters like Buttercup and Nidhoggr are a sight to behold; richly detailed, brilliantly voiced, and with idle, emote, and special move animations that will capture your attention. They'll even address each other during the pre match prep, offering incidental conversations that are nicely written and provide a bit more context to their prior interactions and back story.
Sticking with your squad is vital to success, with solo runners able to be efficiently dispatched by enemy's with even the vaguest sense of co-ordination. Thankfully, a deployable hoverboard (which incidentally, is not instantaneous to equip) and medium sized maps ensure you're not left out of the action for too long, or caught without a means of escape.
Positioning, flanking, and knowing when to quit are the three ingredients vital to your own success; there's no shame in a quick retreat, either to let your powers recharge, wait for your crew to back you up, or simply to get out of dodge before you're overwhelmed.
It's worth giving a shout out to the excellent mod system, which allows you to tweak each character with various passive tweaks and cosmetic upgrades. The in game currency for this is earned entirely through gameplay, with no real money microtransactions in sight.
Content wise, it's a little thin on the ground. A smattering of maps and only two game modes will see repetition creep in before too long. Although it's a budget release, it does feel slight, particularly as the presentation and world design is so on point.
It can also be easy to lose track of the action when things really kick off. There's an over reliance on elaborate visual effects that, when moves are combined, can make moment to moment skirmishes an incomprehensible mess of colour and feedback. It's information overload, and it's not always clear whether or not an area of effect is friendly or hostile.
So while there's work to be done, Bleeding Edge is a graphically sumptuous action romp, with strong characters, a pleasing emphasis on teamwork, and a future rife with promise.
Bleeding Edge is available now, for Xbox One and PC.
We reviewed the game via Xbox Game Pass.