Video games have entered the era of the battle royale, a subgenre of shooting games that pits 100 players against each other on a single map in a fight for survival. The genre exploded with popularity last year with a pair of new games, “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” and “Fortnite: Battle Royale,” introducing millions of players to the battle royale concept.
This year both “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield,” the two largest multiplayer shooting franchises, announced that their games would feature battle royale modes. While several games have already tried to mimic the success of “Fortnite” and “PUBG,” the big budget production teams of “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield” threaten to deliver a more complete product. Blackout, “Call of Duty’s” battle royale mode, launched with “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” on October 12th and has already been commended for its polished take on the genre.
As developers work to create their ideal version of battle royale, let’s take a look at why the genre is a hit and what makes the experience of each battle royale game unique.
How does the battle royale genre work?
The genre is loosely inspired by the Japanese novel, manga and film “Battle Royale,” which focuses on a class of high school students forced to fight to the death while trapped on a remote island. In the video game version of this concept, up to 100 players deploy onto a single map and must find weapons to defend themselves. As time goes on, a kill field begins to close in around the map, constantly shrinking the amount of safe space for players to survive in. Inevitably, they are forced to kill each other until only one player or team is left standing.
Battle Royale games usually last 20 minutes at most, though the vast majority of players don’t make it that far. As soon as you die in a round, you’re free to join the next batch of 99 players in a fresh round. With a massive map, little waiting time and dozens of players to interact with, battle royale games cater to a variety of playstyles. Groups of friends can join together and hunt for other players across the map, while lone wolf gamers can bide their time and hide until there are just a few survivors.
Comparing the current generation of battle royale games.
“PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds,” usually called “PUBG” for short, distilled the battle royale style, taking influences from survival shooters like “H1Z1” and “DayZ.” The game entered early access for PC in March 2017 and sold one million copies in its first 16 days. “PUBG” has continued to expand with an official release for Xbox One and a mobile version of the game for Android and iOS.
‘Fortnite’ wasn’t originally a battle royale game.
“Fortnite” originally launched as a four-player cooperative survival game in July 2017, but after seeing the success of “PUBG,” “Fortnite” developer Epic Games decided to release its own free-to-play battle royale mode in September 2017. “Fortnite: Battle Royale” has skyrocketed in the year since, reporting more than 120 million players worldwide and becoming the first game to feature cross platform play between PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC, Android and iOS devices.
Blackout is just one of the three multiplayer modes in “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.”
Blackout is one of three online modes included in “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” alongside zombies and traditional multiplayer. While the game mode clearly emulates “PUBG,” it features common “Call of Duty” weapons and areas on the Blackout map are borrowed from past games in the series. The game is currently available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
“Battlefield V” will also include a 64-player battle royale mode called Firestorm when it launches in November for Xbox One, PC and PS4.
Shooting and surviving from different perspectives.
Beyond the successful implementation of 100-player games, PUBG’s focus on realistic gunplay has earned the appreciation of PC gamers, many of whom have backgrounds in military shooters like “CounterStrike” and “Arma 3.” The game features a wide variety of pistols, submachine guns and sniper rifles, but automatic rifles tend to be the most effective due to their range, fire rate, and array of attachments.
PUBG allows players to play in both first-person and third-person perspectives, which greatly impacts the field of vision. Players playing in third person can see more action on their sides and behind them, giving them a better chance to spot enemies sneaking up on them. Having a positional advantage is the key to winning engagements in PUBG, since a burst of automatic gunfire can tear through multiple armoured enemies, and a well-placed headshot from an automatic rifle will spell death from dozens of yards away.
Fortnite’s third person camera gives a wider perspective.
Fortnite is played exclusively in third person, which greatly serves the player’s ability to build new structures as they play. The variety of weapons isn’t as broad as the competition but guns do seem more useful in specific situations, compared to the hyper versatile automatic rifles of PUBG. Gun fights in “Fortnite” are usually more mobile than those in PUBG because players are able to build platforms on the fly and weapons do less damage on average.
Blackout is entirely first-person and carries over weapons from the other “Black Ops 4” game modes. As a result the gunplay feels similar to most COD games, prioritising speed and reactions. Though Blackout is still young, the guns feel more balanced than PUBG at base, though rifles still seem to be the most consistent choice of weapon. Blackout’s improved movement controls also help gun fights feel a bit more forgiving than “PUBG,” with the ability to slide out of danger or climb over ledges while running. Healing can also be done quickly with one button, making it a more viable option in the middle of a firefight compared to “PUBG” and “Fortnite.”
“Fortnite” and “PUBG” offer more variety than Blackout.
Getting killed over and over on the same map can get old quick, so battle royales need some additional content to keep things fresh. “Fortnite” and “PUBG” have Blackout beat in terms of gameplay variety, having introduced lots of new content during the past year of development. PUBG players can choose between three different battle royale maps with varying sizes, map-specific weapons and different drop rates.
“Fortnite” offers several different game modes in addition to the standard battle royale, including special events with new objectives and competitions for individuals or teams. The “Fortnite” map also has seasonal changes that can add or alter certain areas.
Blackout is currently running with a single map and it’s unclear whether there will be any variations on the game mode or the map in the future.
“Fortnite: Battle Royale” offers the most player progression and customisable content.
As a free game, “Fortnite” capitalises on its viral success with a robust content store, selling hundreds of cosmetic items for in-game currency. Ranging from costumes and sprays to voice clips and dances, the cosmetics add flair and personality for the players and drive people to invest time in the free-to-play model.
New content additions are supplemented by season passes, which give players a chance to earn exclusive items by playing. By rewarding players for investing their time, unlocking items offers a sense of progression during the course of the season.
PUBG has some customisable clothing but it’s hard to unlock.
PUBG also features cosmetic items, but players have much less control over how they are acquired. The game uses a more traditional loot box system, in which players can receive or purchase item crates for a chance to unlock specific clothing for their character. Items cannot be purchased directly in-game without the crate and some are incredibly rare, making it difficult to customise your character without spending real money. The most recent PUBG patch implemented a ranking system for players to keep track of their progress but it is not tied to a reward system yet.
So far Blackout doesn’t have any customisation options outside of choosing your character’s race and gender. New avatars for your character, including characters from past “Call of Duty” games, can be unlocked over time by playing and improving your Blackout rank.
Competition and esports are the future for all three games.
The popularity of battle royales has pushed them to the forefront of competitive gaming, but the developers have taken very different approaches to esports. Epic Games announced that it would be contributing $US100 million to prize pools for the 2018-19 competitive season and the 2019 Fortnite World Cup, but so far Epic has been relatively slow to organise events and solidify a competitive format.
The PUBG Corporation recently announced The National PUBG League in North America and the PUBG Europe League in Europe for 2019. PUBG is partnering with established esports companies to hold both regional leagues with a prize pool of $US1 million in North America and €1 million in Europe. Two more regional leagues are planned for China and Korea. The regional leagues are a part of a five-year esports plan announced by the PUBG Corp in July, with the goal of eventually holding a world championship.
Treyarch has is currently gauging esports interest in Blackout and competitions for the game are already in the works. The world’s most popular gamer, Ninja, is booked for an invitational Blackout competition at TwitchCon 2018, October 26th. Other professional gamers have shared positive impressions of the game, but it remains to be seen if it will have the same hardcore appeal of PUBG.
Battle royale games may end up being a fad, but players still benefit.
Now that we’re a year into the battle royale craze and more competition has arrived, it will be easier to see if players are willing to move on to new games and if the genre can retain longterm interest. Regardless of whether Blackout can successfully steal players away from “Fortnite” or “PUBG,” the success of all three games will be judged based on their longevity.
“PUBG” and “Fortnite” are committed to consistently improving their games to be around for the long haul, but it will be interesting to see whether major franchises like “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield” include large battle royale modes in their new games a year or two from now.
Even if battle royale games end up being a fad, the phenomenon has sparked a rare type of competition between major developers and smaller companies to bring players the best possible experience. And as a result, the players are the winners.
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