The Week in Games is a weekly column in which Vikki Blake separates out the biggest stories in gaming each week. This week’s release of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt makes her think of battle royales.
Battle royals and I go back a long way. All the way back, really. fortnite and I’ve never really made it, admittedly – I can’t handle the building, especially under pressure – but I’ve had chills with just about everyone else who’s come since, and yes, that includes Hyperscape, which I found to be pretty good, even though the publisher only gave it six months before they unplugged it (am I detecting a running theme here, Ubisoft?). Like a new divorcee at the end of a drunken night out, I like to keep my options open; well, you never know when the perfect one will come.
As I’ve argued before, the appeal of BR isn’t in the inevitable battle pass or insidious microtransactions, but in the fact that the genre completely levels the playing field. While many other games – mainly live service ones – demand your attention like a sulky toddler, battle royales are the ultimate pick-up-and-play option.
You don’t need to reach a certain rank to catch a half-decent grenade. You don’t have to spend 50 hours in modes you don’t like to unlock the ones you like. Of course, you’ll find that your chances of making a delicious chicken dinner improve the more you know the map, its terrain, hiding places, and the best landing spots (although it doesn’t matter how many guides who try to insist otherwise, the school of Erangel and the neighboring buildings were for us only theaters of death). But even the greatest player in the world can be the first to fall if he comes across a group of enemies who have only a frying pan to defend themselves with.
The thing is, I wrote this article two years ago now. I wrote these words after PUBG, Apex Legends, fortniteand Call of Duty: Warzone exploded onto the scene, but before the arrival of fall guys, spell break, Hyperscapeand Vampire: The Masquerade – Blood Huntand before eleven billion dollars of immaculately-suited executives turn to their studio bosses and demand that they too be given a slice of that greasy, delicious battle royale pie.
To be fair, not a single game I listed above is bad. All bring something new to the genre, from Apex Legends‘Personality Driven Captions fall guys‘funhouse maniac at Hyperscapecurious gadgets and verticality of the map. The genre is still new and evolving, and continues to amaze, and the games that were quick to take this Z1 Battle Royale and PUBG started and running with continues to attract millions of players, and not without good reason; few games, if any, iterate as furiously and fabulously as fortnite.
It’s not even that the genre has reached a saturation point, is it? I mean, I’ve never sat there and counted them all, but I guess hundreds, if not thousands, of shooters are shoveled onto Steam every year. A quick glance at the App Store shows there’s still no shortage of match-3 titles to tickle your fancy, and that’s not even taking into account the offerings on Android.
Yet, at the time of this writing, Wikipedia – the source of all knowledge, of course – estimates that there have been 41 battle royales published to date. That’s incredibly inaccurate, of course, but even if you tripled that – heck, let’s quadruple it – and it’s still a paltry amount, really. 980 games were released on PlayStation only in 2021. Xbox saw 725 new releases.
Wikipedia’s broken list of BR games spans a full six years. Even I, the pissed off professional, find it hard to muster much energy to be mad at a few hundred games released in half a decade.
So why do you feel like the battle royale was…well, done to death? Quora and Reddit hints that I am not the only one who has pondered such ungodly thoughts. Maybe it’s because every game and its dog has inelegantly slammed a BR mode to the side for the past five years? This may be because the pressure from above to develop a “fortnite-killer” has stifled true innovation in multiplayer gaming? Or maybe it’s just because we had our guts full fortnite‘s fucking floss emote?
For what it’s worth, I don’t think battle royales have had their time yet. They still make up a good part of my gaming diet, and – much like how punk followed flower power and britpop became the antithesis of grunge – I think the phenomenal success of the genre isn’t a coincidence as much as a reaction to the swamp of shooters obstructing these digital windows. Players were looking for something – hell, anything – different, and BR turned out to be it.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first games to jump on the battle royale bandwagon remain the most successful, nor do I think it’s likely that another battle royale will ever come knocking. fortnite off its perch (although let’s face it; Apex Legends made him shake a little). My fear, you see, is that the very things that make battle royales what they are – deathmatch with RNG loot and an ever-shrinking circle closing around you – are just too rigid to flex and iterate much further…and, much like that poor divorcee, I fear the best days of the genre are already behind it.
I’d love it if a studio out there proved me wrong.
Vikki Blake is a freelance journalist and columnist for NME.