Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is finally here and it brought with it one of the most polished battle royale experiences to date: Blackout. Blackout takes what players have grown to love about the battle royale genre and infused it with Treyarch’s ability to deliver a high-end product. But now that Blackout is here and smashing expectations, the question remains: Where can the battle royale genre go now? To answer that question, we must first take a walk down memory lane at the foundation of solid battle royale games that came before it.
Though not strictly regarded as a battle royale genre, DayZ can be considered the genesis of the last-player-standing mode. Players were dropped into a map and tasked with finding gear and taking out any hostile players they might encounter, all while trying to avoid succumbing to the zombie horde. Due to the large size of the map, player-versus-player encounters were scarce, though when they did occur it was often followed by intense combat. However, the main element in DayZ is survival and it’s this core value that can be seen as the seed of an idea that grew the battle royale genre.
Developers quickly realized the potential in the player encounters experienced during a match of DayZ and chose to boil it down to the core, and so H1Z1 was born. Instead of an AI-controlled threat, players were simply corralled into a smaller enclosure and forced to kill one another until one player or team survived. Though it was a bit rough around the edges, H1Z1 proved the formula worked.
If H1Z1 proved the formula, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds wrote the scientific journal. PUBG took what had been achieved by the other games in the genre, recognized the weak points and fixed them while doubling-down on the strengths. PUBG’s greatest testament is that even with all the bugs, issues, and connectivity woes, players were still swarming into lobbies, vying for more game time, watching each other play it on Twitch. The tight and predictable gunplay, the sense of urgency to scavenge for items, and the adrenaline-pumping moments leading to the titular chicken dinner were what solidified PUBG as the king of the battle royale genre.
But all reigns must come to an end, and Epic Games, seeing the success of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, devised a plan to overthrow the king. Fortnite started out as this quaint fort-building and zombie defence game, but Epic Games saw what was going on with the success of PUBG and pivoted a complete 180. It felt like it happened overnight, one moment Fortnite had a bit of attention and the next it was being labelled as the PUBG killer.
What Fortnite offered, above all else, was a free-to-play model that allowed any player to get in and play, regardless of age of financial situation. Though what kept the players coming back was more than just the free pricepoint, it was the brighter colors, hilarious emotes, and the Minecraft-esque building system that demanded practice. All these elements worked together to create something that was truly unique in a market that was becoming dominated with battle royale games.
It’s undeniable that Fortnite has tapped into something special with its battle royale mode and it will be interesting to see how it continues to evolve now that other developers are joining the fight.
Season 6 of Fortnite brought more than just new skins, Shadow Stones, and an updated battle royale map. It also updated one of the most important tools players have in their arsenal for winning matches: Audio.
There have been a lot of other battle royale games throwing their hat into the ring, though a lot of them offer the same experience with a very slight twist. Some boast snowy weather while others focus more on the weapons and body systems, then there’s Last Tide, a battle royale game that plunges players deep below the ocean.
Instead of fighting on land, players are equipped with SCUBA gear and fight one another under the rolling tides. What’s really interesting about this evolution is that players can move in more than just two-dimensional space as they can actually swim vertically. Choosing how to engage in combat requires taking into account the new plane of movement, giving players more freedom and creativity.
Last Tide is an excellent example of bringing something new to the discussion, as any unique idea can so often lead to innovation.
Then Treyarch stepped into the ring and exclaimed, “Here’s how you do battle royale.” Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 introduced Blackout, Call of Duty’s first foray into the battle royale genre, and what a splash it has made since launching. Players are quickly flocking to Blackout to take up arms and experience a well-polished, high-quality, and fast-paced battle royale game.
The question is, where can developers go from here? It’s safe to assume that all games will come with a battle royale mode from here on out (much like the shift toward games including some level of multiplayer experience or zombie mode) but the difficulty is figuring out a way to keep it new and exciting.
Players are very quick to work out if an experience is worth their time, it has to be new and exciting, and also polished enough (or have the promise of polish) to warrant pouring their precious time into. Taking the genre to new environments is one option, as has been done with Hunt: Showdown and its Louisiana setting and bounty-hunting system or it needs an entirely new mechanic, like Fortnite and its building system.
It’s up to developers to decide how best to handle the need for battle royale modes in their games. From here on out players will be expecting a polished experience that ultimately expands upon the genre. We can’t predict what the next evolutionary step will be in the battle royale genre, but we’re excited to see what lies ahead!