After a 2 year delay, Ubisoft’s free-to-play Roller Champions is painfully bland

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After multiple delays, Ubisoft’s free-to-play roller derby game Roller Champions is now live, and I am here to tell you that it is 100% a videogame that you can play if you want to.

Roller Champions pits two teams of three against each other in a race to score five points on a supercharged roller derby track. The rules are simple: Get the ball, carry it one lap around the track (in either direction), then put it through a hoop to score a point. Do three laps before the dunk—increasing the risk that the ball will be taken away by the opposing team—and you’ll get three points; make five laps, and you’ll give five points, and an automatic win. That’s it!

Unfortunately, the gameplay is as simplistic as the rules are simple. That’s inevitable to an extent—the arenas are small and matches run a maximum of seven minutes—but even accounting for those relatively tight confines, there’s just not a hell of a lot to do. Organized, coordinated teams might find fun in learning to effectively pass, pump, and score as a unit, but Roller Champion’s confines are so limited that pickup matches are, well, dull.

It’s not even interesting in the way that team sports sometimes are when all involved suck at whatever’s being played, because there’s always that one guy who takes it seriously and knows what they’re doing, and whichever team they’re on is going to dominate. Yes, that’s a broad generality, but it’s my experience: The team with the sharp dressed guy is the team that’s going to win.

The biggest problem with Roller Champions, I think, is that it’s just not violent enough. You can get your elbows up or throw a flying tackle to check other players, but not much else, and they bounce back up almost immediately. You can’t, say, grab someone from behind and bulldog them into the wood, or drop them for the count with a vicious clothesline, or run them into the rails and hold them there while your teammates beat the shit out of them. I’m not saying Roller Champions would be better as a battle royale on wheels, but the more I think about it, the more I’m not not saying that, either.

It’s strange to me that Roller Champions was delayed not just once, but twice (opens in new tab), because the gameplay I experienced looks virtually identical to what was shown in the E3 trailer from 2019 (opens in new tab). I understand that game development is complex and difficult, especially in the midst of a pandemic, but it’s been nearly three years and from a casual perspective it doesn’t look like the game has changed meaningfully at all.

It’s also a little wonky. Roller Champions seems more stable today than it was yesterday, when it launched: My first six attempts at playing resulted in one match and five crashes. Ubisoft later said that there were issues with connectivity caused by an unexpected surge of players, and I’ve played multiple matches with only one crash today. That’s better but still not great, obviously, and some players are still having issues. Queue times can also be iffy: Quick play matches are pretty solid now, but it took me four tries, waiting for more than two minutes each time, before I was able to get into a ranked match.

Ultimately, Roller Champions is a safe, generic, utterly by-the-numbers take on family-friendly (opens in new tab) roller derby that shows occasional flashes of fun.  You can’t go wrong for the price—it’s free, remember—but I don’t think I’d hold my breath waiting for it to become the next Rocket League, either. You can check it out for yourself at ubisoft.com (opens in new tab).

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