When I was younger, the video game genre was defined by the high-energy battles of games like Battlefield, Call of Duty, and Halo. And while this remains true to an extent today, a new genre has recently come into its own and has laid claim to one of the most popular genres in gaming.
Battle royales have been around for some time, even if they weren’t terribly popular or mainstream. It wasn’t until the release of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds in March 2017 that the genre really grew to new heights. PUBG took 100 players, threw them into a loot-filled island to fight until only one was left standing. This simple idea quickly captured the attention of streamers and players worldwide, surpassing three million concurrent players by the end of the year.
The reason for this incredible success was partially due to the intensity that came with each and every round. In a game like Call of Duty, you load into a multiplayer match, kill other players, and more often than not, get killed in turn. And then you respawn and do it all over again. But with a game like PUBG, each and every kill and death matters. If you kill another player, you can hopefully grab their loot and continue on even stronger and with more firepower than before. But if you die, you go back to the main menu and start over. While there are plenty of times where you will get killed off immediately, as soon as you make it to the final ten players left or so, you really feel the intensity and pressure of each action you take.
This is what made battle royales so successful, this feeling of intense excitement and pressure. You don’t win the round because you have the most kills, you won because you survived everyone else. PUBG was just the first game to be successful enough to bring this experience to the majority of gamers.
Unfortunately, due to persistent cheaters, bugs, and overall lack of optimization, most players were ready to jump ship at the first sign of a more polished battle royale game. That came in the form of Fortnite.
Fortnite was an instant success, taking the battle royale theme and layering a new building mechanic on top. Not only could you loot and shoot, but you could build forts and scaffolds to get an advantage over your opponent. On top of being a new and fresh game, it was also free, essentially sealing its place in the gaming market. Over the years, the numerous Battle Passes (essentially a level system for rewards), live events, map changes, and continuous developer upkeep has kept Fortnite going strong, to the point that you will be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know what it is.
The next big battle royale was Apex Legends, an unannounced and unpromoted, free-to-play title from EA. Apex Legends took the same tried and true methods and added fast-paced movement and unique characters to play as. These characters more often than not were what made it easier or harder to win, becoming an overnight success. You could also revive your dead teammates, a mechanic that was quickly picked up and adapted in other battle royale games, even Fortnite. While Apex is still somewhat popular today, it has nowhere near the same concurrent player count as Fortnite.
It wasn’t until this year that another battle royale came close to challenging Fortnite as the face of the battle royale gaming community; Call of Duty: Warzone.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was already a huge success on release, but the additional free battle royale mode made it incredibly popular. It introduced side-missions to complete as well as the overarching battle royale mission to be the last team standing. These missions reward you with money to spend on weapons, ammo, abilities such as airstrikes, UAVs and self-revive kits. Another unique mechanic was the addition of the Gulag, a separate map where killed players are taken to 1v1 for the chance to respawn for free. If you win your battle, you parachute back into the game for free, but if you lose, you have to wait for a buddy to buy you back. You can do this an indefinite number of times as long as you can afford it, so you are never truly out of the game until your entire team dies. With a huge map, side missions, a mechanic for buying gear, and respawns, it is no surprise that Warzone is still going strong today.
By this point, Battle royales dominate a significant amount of gaming content, including live streams, YouTube videos and even huge pro league tournaments. While some games try to imitate the largest titles in the genre, the innovation being shown by some newcomers ensures that the genre continues to feel fresh all these years later.
Ubisoft’s Hyper Scape is the most recent contender to throw its hat into the battle royale ring, if even for a short test demo for select players. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an access key, and while it was certainly entertaining, it felt like it was the genre’s last-ditch effort to stay relevant. The rounds were exponentially faster, weapons were scalable rather than attachment or rarity-driven, and there was a secondary win condition that you could fight over, forcing players to go even faster to have a chance to win. You could either survive all the other teams or grab the Crown. If you can hold the Crown for 45 seconds, you win the round regardless of how many teams are left. Hyper Scape also has events throughout the rounds, triggered by votes from watching viewers through Twitch.
The Twitch integration is the most interesting thing about the game in my opinion, though it will undoubtedly show favouritism to streamers with larger audiences. It will be interesting to see how this mechanic is balanced, as the developers try to balance the exposure on offer from streamers versus the enjoyment for the regular players just trying to unwind at the end of the day.
Battle royales have had an interesting progression over the past several years, with dozens of mentionable games being released that I did not cover here, including medieval battle royales, magic-based battle royales, and more. While I enjoy and am excited to see what comes next for the genre, I also wonder if there will be another genre that sweeps the gaming community as this one has. Until then, we will all just have to keep fighting for those Chicken Dinners.