People have long enjoyed killing each other on the internet. A decade or so ago, deathmatches, domination, and capture the flag modes were all the rage, helped along by heavy hitters such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Halo 3. But 2017 saw the rise of a genre that diverted the attention of multiplayer devotees everywhere: the battle royale.
The concept is intoxicatingly simple, one you must be aware of by now: unarmed players land on a map, scavenging weapons so that they can hold a position inside a shrinking safe zone, all with a view to be the last player standing. Whether you choose to lurk in the shadows or be the person gleefully flushing out hide-and-seekers from their cunning hidey-holes, the freedom this now tried-and-tested formula allows only gets more thrilling with time.
Looking to get stuck in? Find out which battle royale game is best for you.
Surging to the heady heights of Steam’s concurrent players chart - and selling 26 million copies - since its Early Access release in March, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is synonymous with the battle royale phenomenon. But PUBG only popularised the format: H1Z1: King of the Kill existed beforehand and, in fact, the concept of battle royale games came out of mods to existing games such as Minecraft and Arma 2.
Nevertheless, the dizzying success of PUBG has attracted imitators - most famously Epic Games with Fortnite Battle Royale. Brendan Greene and his team might not be able to claim ownership of an entire genre, but the similarity the standalone version of vanilla Fortnite - the paid ‘Save the World’ mode has been all but completely eclipsed - is more than a little cheeky. That said, if you are going to copy someone else’s homework, make it the clever kid’s: Fortnite Battle Royale, with over 30 million players, is now the biggest battle royale game on the planet.
It is easy to remark that, at least on a surface level, the two games are the same, but Fortnite Battle Royale has surpassed PUBG because it has put its own twist on the formula. Where the former is more accessible with a simpler weapons system, building mechanics, and a Pixar-esque aesthetic, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a gritty, more complex military sim with the Arma series’s DNA all over it. If you want to dive into a battle royale game, Fortnite and PUBG offer very different, and equally nerve-wracking, experiences. Experiences enjoyed by over 50 million players collectively, that is.
Regardless of which battle royale game is your bag, it cannot be denied that this burgeoning and exciting genre is the PC gaming story of 2017. And, in 2018, it will only get more gargantuan. This year’s chicken dinner will look like a portion of scrawny KFC wings compared with what's to come.
Let’s start with PUBG. A game that, despite its barnstorming success, will only be out of Early Access and into its 1.0 version for a fraction of 2017. It might no longer be the largest the genre has to offer right now, but with its full release and a total of three maps playable by late 2018, PUBG Corp. clearly have designs to take that title back. And, since December 12, the Xbox contingent are helping with that.
The battle royale train has not stopped with Xbox, either - Fortnite is also playable on Sony and Microsoft’s machines. Then, once Black Riddles Studio’s Crazy Justice drops onto its own island, Nintendo Switch owners will be in on the act, too. Even if cross-play between console and PC does not happen, thousands of new players will be vying for their chicken dinner of choice, and helping to realise the genre’s potential in the process.
Now that players of all stripes now have the opportunity to be the last player standing, fully-fledged battle royale games and add-ons to existing titles will become more widespread. In fact, they could well be more plentiful than you think: Grand Theft Auto V, Dying Light, and Garry’s Mod all have king of the hill modes of their own. Even Counter-Strike could be a getting a survival mode with its own battle royale flavour.
There was a time some years ago in which many strong single-player packages included tacked-on multiplayer modes. Perhaps in an effort to emulate the success enjoyed by Epic Games in adding a battle royale mode to an existing framework, we will start to see tacked-on battle royale modes. At any rate, the genre will become more diverse as it grows ever bigger in 2018.
And I have not even mentioned esports yet. The battle royale genre, with its exhilarating premise, will be exquisite as a spectator sport. Unlike established esports such as League of Legends, Dota 2, or Counter-Strike, few need a battle royale game explaining to them: it is simply last man standing. Yes, it is possible to watch a player ostensibly do sod all for 30 minutes before dying out-of-the-blue, but it is that omnipresent risk of death that remains thrilling. A battle royale game can be an experience in which nothing happens, infinitely. PUBG would be Samuel Beckett’s esport of choice, at least.
The reality that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is not yet an established esport is far from surprising: the game has not been out long and it takes considerable time to establish a framework that is fit for purpose. For instance, Blizzard only announced the Overwatch League in November 2016, the game itself releasing in May that year.
That said, whilst the pressure on PUBG Corp. and Bluehole to not just maintain but release a game with esports potential has already snowballed in 2017, it will only get more intense in 2018. Esports brands like Cloud9, Team Liquid, and Team SoloMid have already signed lucrative PUBG contracts with pro teams. A PUBG invitational has already taken place in November 2017. Regardless of how prize pools and leaderboards are organised, or in what ways camping will be punished - if at all - and how PUBG as an esport looks in 2017, it is undoubtedly going to be a bigger deal in 2018. That, combined with the ascent of esports to the non-gaming mainstream can only mean big things for the genre.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite Battle Royale will be remembered for properly kickstarting the battle royale sensation in 2017. However, it is not a certainty that the big two titans of the genre will retain that title this time next year. Fingers crossed we see more games developed with battle royale in mind, rather than tired, tacked-on cash-ins. Games that take the formula that stole so many hours of our time in 2017, and add twists that reinvent, add colour to, and further define the genre. What is beyond doubt, though, is that the battle royale genre will be a much larger, more diverse place to do your virtual murder in 2018. Prepare for that hill you ardently fought to claim to be an even busier place.
How do you think the battle royale landscape will look this time next year? Let us know in the comments below.