Why didn’t we quit Battle Royale?


Are you tired of skydiving over an island?

As the site’s Apex-obsessed resident, I immediately have to undermine myself by saying no, actually. But we have the impression that we asked ourselves “Where do we fall?” for a long time now. With PUBG is going freeRumors are spreading of a Warzone sequel, and Fortnite is set to celebrate its fifth anniversary this summer, even I’m starting to wonder how long games will be obsessed with hundred-player deathmatches.

With the genre’s biggest players showing no signs of slowing down, how long can we expect the battle royale to go on – and why hasn’t anything come to knock chicken dinner on it?

history lesson

Trends come and go, and multiplayer games are no exception. When I was little, it was MMOs, with countless studios racing to try and take the throne of World of Warcraft. Although none have completely overthrown it (until, presumably, Final Fantasy 14), some have managed to find a niche through brand power (The Elder Scrolls Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic) or by moving radically into something entirely their own (EVE Online).

In the early 2010s, MMOs gave way to MOBAs, League of Legends and Dota 2 quickly establishing themselves as the top dogs in their field. Like its ancestor, MOBAs have had their fair share of developers jumping on the bandwagon, but it seems far less successful have found any. Smite still exists, but who remembers games like Paragon, Super Monday Night Combat, Strife, Gigantic?

Gunslinger walks away from explosions

Pay one for the most played game in my Steam library. (Image credit: Uber Entertainment)

MOBAs consolidated so quickly around two titles that there was never really space for others to clinch a spot. If you liked the genre, you were probably already playing League or Dota, games that require such a heavy commitment that they leave little time to sink their rivals.

Which brings us to Fight Royale. While the concept of a killer island free for all has been around for decades, the current iteration has its roots in Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene’s ARMA 2 mods, mods that would eventually be made official as Battlegrounds of PlayerUnknown. Then Epic would nick the format, tie it to a then-floundering little game called Fortnite, and end up with the kind of culture-defining hit usually reserved for Star Wars and Marvel.

The battle royale format has proven to be malleable enough that, even years after the trend began, new contenders were still a resounding success. While Blackout never really found traction, Call of Duty’s second stab at a BR, Warzone, quickly eclipsed even the main series. And despite being a Battle Royale spin-off for a cult FPS franchise that was dropped without warning in February 2019, Apex Legends has firmly established itself as not only one of the genre’s strongest competitors, but maybe the best online shooter you can play today.

Holding model

But it’s been a few years since the last major player entered the BR space, leaving us wondering: what’s next?

For a minute it looked like they might be autobattlers. Starting with Dota 2’s Auto Chess mod in 2019, passive strategy puzzles looked like they were about to explode. League and Dota released their own official autobattlers, and Auto Chess went from mod to full standalone game.

But while Teamfight Tactics is still in poor health, the autobattlers as a whole are agitating. Resident TFT nut Fraser reckons that’s because it’s ultimately not very social experiences, played against strangers but never with friends.

“In MMOs, MOBAs, and battle royales, you’re in teams, squads, and parties,” Fraser wrote. “Forced to work together, you can form new relationships or make it a regular hangout with friends. Now I play a little TFT with a group, but we play separately and against each other, not in the part of a And there’s no reason to be in a squad with players I don’t already know.”

Of course, it can’t be ignored that creating games in a pandemic has been extremely difficult. As studios transition to remote working and new titles constantly face delays, the games industry hasn’t been able to capitalize on new hits as quickly as it once could have. But part of the reason nothing has topped battle royale must also stem from the fact that the genre itself isn’t quite out of steam just yet.

Horizon has a moment of clarity

(Image credit: Respawn Entertainment)

Fortnite has taken a hard pivot into a cross-promotion entertainment platform, Warzone gets a hard refresh with every new Call of Duty release, and Apex updates regularly with new maps, characters, and modes. The constant pressure to keep up with battle passes (which the genre has widely popularized) also subtly prevents you from taking breaks. MMOs often last six months or more between major updates – Final Fantasy 14 in particular was designed with expecting players to leave regularly to do other thingsreturning when there is a new story to live months later.

The only one that really feels tired in 2022 is PUBG, which, while still hugely popular on mobile and in Asia, has otherwise retreated from the spotlight.

Even so, the battle royale space doesn’t feel quite calcified in a way that a new competitor can’t slip in to grab a slice of the audience – and as long as that possibility exists, the devs will always try. to claim it.

team effort

We may not have had a single unifying genre defining the pandemic years, but it didn’t shy away from producing some standout hits. But while Among Us (arguably the biggest game of 2020) had its fair share of clones, it didn’t outright spawn a whole genre of successful imitators, nor did other surprise escapes Phasmophobia or Valheim.

Here’s the thing, though: if you look at Among Us, Phasmophobia, Valheim and Gartic Phone and the Jackbox games your friends pull out of storage to round up the gang, we clearly need games that just let us hang out with people we haven’t seen in months.

It is for this same reason that old trends find new life under confinement. As I return to Halo 3 with new friends or put in more hours in Apex than is humanly reasonable, my partner (and half the PC Gamer desk, as I see it) I heard) went back to Guild Wars 2. don’t run the old Minecraft servers, they go back to Dead by Daylight, Vermintide 2 or Sea of ​​Thieves.

If there’s one thing that’s unified the previous genres, it’s that they’ve all given you space to hang out with your friends, whether it’s Fortnite’s Tomato Town, Pushing Roshan in Dota, or spend a weekend grinding the latest Final Fantasy 14 raid.

If a new genre is to usurp the battle royale, it will have to play perfectly into that desire for socialization. But if a random string of breakout lockdown hits has taught us anything, maybe it’s that we’ve outgrown the need for 5 different flavors of the same game.

An image of Knockout City.

(Image credit: EA Originals)

See, with no train to follow, multiplayer developers are free to express themselves in entirely new ways. While there have still been attempts to shoehorn BR in new and existing games, last year’s hits have had a lot more room to exist outside of that mold, even in multiplayer shooters. .

Splitgate was Halo through Portal, shortly followed by a new (and surprisingly good) Halo game in Halo Infinite. Knockout City has found a solid following through competitive dodgeball, and while Hunt Showdown shares many similarities to battle royale, its old-school PvPvE monster hunting has has carved out a genre of its own.

I’m sure, before long, something new and massive will happen to suck all the air out of the room again. But the scene is ultimately healthier when all the big players aren’t rushing to make the next PUBG, or Dota, or World of Warcraft. At this point, even the remaining great battle royale games feel like they offer something fundamentally unique to each other, whether it’s fun characters, live music, or, uh, constant invisibility bugs.

Something will eventually usurp the battle royale, but I’m more than happy that it’s taking its time getting here.

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