STAFF REVIEW of Divine Knockout (Xbox One)

Monday, January 23, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Divine Knockout Box art If I had to give a quick single sentence description of Divine Knockout (DKO), think third person Smash Bros in a 3D arena. While it’s self-described as “the world’s only 3rd-person platform fighter”, I’m not so sure about that proclamation, but it has a seasoned team behind it. Developed by Red Beard Games and published by Hi-Rez Studios, you might know them for some of their previous hits like SMITE, Paladins, Rogue Company or Realm Royale.

Tasked with smashing and knocking out the enemy team, you’ll play as a character from its limited roster, ranging from Gods to special characters. Choose from Ymir, Amatersau, Arthur, Athena, Hercules, Izanami, Sol, Susano, Thanatos, Thor or Zeus, though depending on which edition you purchase will determine what characters you have initial access to. Let me exmplain.

Currently, Divine Knockout is in what’s being called a ‘Founder’s Period’. Essentially Early Access, to play at this current moment you’ll need to purchase one of the two available packs. Now the official FAQ page states “After the Founders Period ends, DKO may become free-to-play. Note that we expect the Founders Period to last several months at minimum, and that each Edition contains in-game content unlocks valued at more than the cost of the Edition.” What stands out here is the word “may”, not stating “will”, so it’s difficult to say what the future holds for its full launch later in the year.

Two Founder Packs are available to purchase: Founders Edition is priced at $31.99 (CAD) unlocking the following: The full game (all maps and modes), 8 Gods (Amaterasu, Sol, Hercules, Susano, Ymir, Athena, Thor, and King Arthur), The Epic Biohazard Sol Skin, King Me Crater Decal, and The Founders Profile Card. Additionally, you’ll receive a special bonus in SMITE (Stormy Chibi Susano Skin and The God Susano, and his Voice Pack).

The Ultimate Edition priced at $63.99 (CAD) includes: The full game (all maps and modes), 8 Gods (Amaterasu, Sol, Hercules, Susano, Ymir, Athena, Thor, and King Arthur), 4 God Tokens (Used to unlock any God of your choice in DKO), The Epic Biohazard Sol Skin AND the Epic Darkheart Athena Skin, 1,000 Runes, “The Ultimate” Title, A DKO Founder Emote and Avatar, King Me Crater Decal, and The Founders Profile Card.

This is where I’m confused at its current state. DKO *should* be a free to play title, which it ‘may’ be in the future, but since you can only play currently by purchasing a Founder’s Pack, you might be surprised that there’s quite a grind to unlock the additional added characters. For example, to get a token to unlock any character you want you’ll need to first grind ten levels, but after that the requirements double, adding hours and hours of more grinding. That or you can simply open your wallet and buy what you want, but more on that mess shortly.

Given that Divine Knockout is kind of like Smash Bros, you’ll need to work on hitting your enemies to whittle down their health so that you can knock them out of the arena with a powerful blow that they won’t be able to recover from. Much like 2D platform fighters, the change to 3D of course adds some different gameplay and unique challenges, always having to mind what’s going on around you, especially in the 3 versus 3 matches.

Each of the arenas you fight in are unique, not only in design, but with their hazards and layout as well. One has outer edge platforms that tend to rotate, others have a spinning spiked bar that can do massive damage to you if you get hit, another has sections of the land that sinks, and even another with a massive rolling boulder. Not only do you need to stay aware of the enemies around you, but the environmental traps as well. You can also use these to your advantage, trying to smash the enemy team into them for a Knockout or at least some huge damage.

While there’s a few different modes to play, it’s more based on if you want to play 3v3, 2v2, or even prove yourself 1v1. 3v3 seems to be its core mode, but there seems to be no skill based matchmaking system included yet. This means that you as a complete newbie might get paired up with, or against, much higher level players. This of course means that some matches are completely unfair based on how it pairs players together, so something to be aware of. Also, I find it annoying that there’s no way to stay as a group after a match, always having to re-queue for a game after one is completed.

For a game that’s primarily marketed as a 3D brawler/fighter, there’s actually a few other modes that get voted on between each match. The team that wins best out of 5 matches first wins. You have the titular Knockout Mode where first team to gain 8 knockouts wins, which is seems like most players tend to vote for. There’s also a Coin Blitz mode where you go around the map to collect coins and then have to stand nearby the chest to collect them for your team. Do you collect tons of coins then have your team try and defend you as it slowly collects, or try and defeat the other team to get an edge on coin collecting time? Lastly is King of the Hill. Standard fare stuff where you need to stand within the designated area that moves every so often, gaining points the longer you stay inside the boundaries.

Regardless of which character you gravitate towards to, they do play somewhat similar. You have a light and heavy attack and then a few different abilities based on the specific character. I personally really enjoyed playing as King Arthur the most, as he has some decent attack abilities, a range attack, a decent ‘Ultimate’, and a great movement abilities. Each one does vary in their playstyle, so make sure to try each (depending on whom you have unlocked) to find what one works best for you. I will say, even though this is technically ‘early access’, there’s some imbalance in characters though, with some being just inherently more powerful or useful as others.

Find out what character has the offensive and defensive abilities you like and work on leveling them up. Each of the abilities has a cooldown timer to reuse, so you need to balance and strategize the best times to use them, as getting hit far out from the map without your traversal power ready means you’ll most likely get knocked out and need to wait on a respawn. Instead of a standard health bar you might expect, it’s much like Smash Bros where you see a percentage above their head, with the higher number indicating the more chance of a divine knockout to occur if you smash them good.

As you level up your characters you’ll be able to customize them to cater to your playstyle. There’s a perk-like system that will slightly alter how efficient or powerful your character becomes, and while it does add some personality to your character, it’s not overtly powerful currently. Sure, having some slightly more damage or more Ultimate charge is great, but it’s not game breaking nor really feels all that different.

What frustrated me was the cash shop. So is Divine Knockout pay-to-win? I wouldn’t go that far since "power" can’t be purchased, though you can buy more skins, cosmetics and the norm, but keep in mind cash shops like that are generally meant for free-to-play games. Sure DKO might be free-to-play in the future, but I have to take it for what it is at this given moment, and it’s currently pay to play.

Yes, you can unlock new characters simply by playing, but the grind is quite arduous and lengthy. Maybe this will also change in the future, but again, in its current state it’s a bit gross to see $130 bundles. Also equally concerning is the prices for characters of course doesn’t equate to certain coin bundles offered, meaning you need to spend more than required and will of course then have left over currency.

What did surprise me was the inclusion of full cross-play and cross-progression, so regardless of where your friends are playing, you can play with, or against, them. It should be noted that purchasing DKO on one platform doesn’t mean you have access on another, so you would need to purchase it there as well. Because of the cross-play, I never had an issue finding a match quickly, though I didn’t see an easy way to discern what platform the other players were on.

The cute chibi-like aesthetic is pleasant on the eyes, as are the very colorful and bright colors. Sure it may look a little odd to see a cute chibi style Thor or Hercules, but it tends to work with how comic-like it all feels. Animations and abilities all have decent looking effects and animations, and while the environments are deliberately small in design, they are all varied from one another with a different theme. The background music does its job at cutting the dead air, but there’s nothing really memorable from its soundtrack. Some of the moves and attacks do sound powerful and like they have impact, as it’s always satisfying to use a heavy attack or ability and hear the enemy launch into the air and then get a knockout.

Given Hi-Rez Studios’ pedigree, especially with SMITE, I had some high expectations with Divine Knockout. While I’m not disappointed with the game on its own, I’m more confused by the decision to charge for its early access, limiting who can play when it certainly feels like it’s designed to be a free-to-play game, made even apparent with its cash shop.

The official wording of "may" and not "will" when talking about its launch plans of possibly going free-to-play later on still seems odd, but time will tell. While it’s currently lacking much variety and content, it can be fun in short bursts, especially once you start to get proficient with your character of choice, but it’s an arduous grind, hard to recommend in its current paid state. Once, and if, it goes free-to-play, it’ll be a no-brainer to give a shot.

**Divine Knockout was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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