Are battle royales on their way out

Mar 19 2020 8 min read

Battle royales are slowly becoming arena shooters and I love it ⚡⚡⚡ Esports news, analytics, reviews on WePlay! The latest news on WePlay!

The world of gaming was flipped on its head by the phenomenon that we call battle royales. Esports, and gaming in general, saw a very diverse spread across genres, but battle royales have come along and managed to and pull in a massive following. The genre has hugely changed gaming, especially the world of shooters. It seems now that every game has a battle royale mode, hell even Tetris has one.

Now that the genre has been on top for so long and continues to evolve, it seems that it is beginning to implement mechanics like respawning and custom loadouts in an effort to lessen the randomness that the genre promises, which imitates that of respawn shooters. When you compare the first battle royale game in H1Z1 to the newest battle royale game in Call of Duty: Warzone, the games share the core objective in being the last person standing. But, the way the player gets there has changed immensely.

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The beginning

Let's go back to the roots of the battle royale genre, and I don't just mean in gaming. Back in 1999, there was a novel published by Koushun Takami titled Battle Royale. The story takes place in a fictional fascist version of Japan in 1997. It has an alternate history in which the Japanese rose to great power after being the victors of World War 2 along with the Axis powers of Germany and Italy. The government in Battle Royale literally controls everything and bans all things it sees as immoral. The fascist government created a military program where 50 high school students are kidnapped and dropped in a remote location and must kill one another to be the last person standing. Sound familiar?

Another instance of this type of story before the genre made its way to video games is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which was published in 2008. The Hunger Games shares a similar story to that of Battle Royale but differs on how its executed. In The Hunger Games, the citizens of the world are sectioned into districts while the rich and famous live in the Capitol. Every year, there is an event put on by the Capitol called The Hunger Games. One boy and one girl from the ages of 12 to 18 from each of the twelve districts is chosen, or they can volunteer to participate. The Hunger Games consists of these boys and girls being placed into a remote location that the Capitol can control and spectate for entertainment, and they must kill one another until only one remains. The winner is revered, and their district receives a great number of resources, such as food and supplies. Once again, sounds pretty familiar right?

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Making its way to gaming

I imagine these stories had a significant influence on the creation of the battle royale genre in gaming, and its beginning is much different than where the genre is today. I won't be going over every single BR game ever to exist because there are quite a few. I am just going to be focusing on the five biggies; H1Z1, PUBG, Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Warzone.

H1Z1

H1Z1 is often regarded as the first BR title in gaming, and I haven't found anything that says differently. H1Z1 released on January 15, 2015, as a survival game and a battle royale game. H1Z1 took over the world of gaming for some time and saw immense growth due to their being nothing like it on the market. H1Z1 was very arcadey and encouraged a fast-paced feeling to fights due to the way mechanics with vehicles worked.

Also, the loot in H1Z1 was extremely simple when compared to PUBG or Apex Legends. Guns didn't have attachments, and there was a minimal list of weapons. Even the armor system was straightforward, and the game allowed you to carry armor and helmets on your person, which would allow you to switch it out in case of them breaking in a fight. H1Z1 did not have respawns either. When you died, you were out of the game for good. Here was this very straightforward game in a new genre, then came along PUBG.

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PUBG

PUBG took over as the most popular game in the world when it released on March 23, 2017, with a concurrent peak player count record, at the time, of 3,236,027. PUBG shared the same in-game goal as H1Z1, but the way the game handled couldn't be more different. PUBG promoted a slow, tactical, and systematic approach to combat opposed the high-octane arcadey feel of H1Z1, causing quite the divide amongst the community. 

PUBG also had much more complex looting and inventory systems compared to H1Z1. There were a number of weapons and attachments, and things like helmets, backpacks, and body armor had three tiers. Body armor and helmets couldn't be carried or repaired, which made late-game awkward unless you veered away from fighting in the early game. Much like H1Z1, there was no respawning in PUBG

While it happened in H1Z1, the randomness of loot was more prevalent in PUBG due to so much loot existing, and it became a popular pain point for the genre.

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Fortnite

And now we are going to talk about the BR juggernaut, Fortnite. Fortnite released on July 25, 2017, and originally started as a PvE instance-based tower defense type game where players would go out and scavenge resources to build up a base and survive against waves of zombies. It wasn't until September 26, 2017, that the game would see the launch of its BR mode, and it was the best decision Epic Games could have ever made.

Fortnite quickly grew to be the biggest game ever, even surpassing PUBG's recent record, with a whopping 8,300,000 concurrent peak player count after its launch in South Korea in November 2018. Fortnite indeed has taken over the world of gaming and has even made its way into the mainstream knowledge of the world -- older generations even know what Fortnite is. 

Fortnite had a very similar approach to the BR genre as H1Z1. It didn't have weapon attachments, backpacks, or helmets. Fortnite used a unique system for armor in which you would refill it by drinking armor potions instead of having tiered armor like PUBG. Epic Games took a simple approach to the game, but put their twist on it with the building mechanic. The building mechanic in Fortnite is what makes the game unique, and provides the opportunity for massive skill gaps. And, much like the ones before it, Fortnite did not allow players to respawn after death until a little birdie named Apex Legends came along.

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Apex Legends

Apex Legends was another game in the BR genre that blew up at launch, and achieved the milestone of 10 million players in 72 hours. Where Fortnite approached the BR genre like H1Z1 in simplicity, Apex approached it with a healthy mix of all three. Apex had that fast, arcadey feel of Fortnite and H1Z1, but it had the depth and complex looting system that PUBG had with attachments and varying helmets, backpacks, and armor. But, the massive difference in the way armor worked in Apex was that you could repair it, whereas, in PUBG, you couldn't.

Apex Legends also introduced a mechanic that we had never seen in a BR game, respawning. Apex Legends introduced this idea into the genre, which caused it to trickle down into Fortnite and now has been a mechanic in every BR following it.

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Warzone

Now, we are on to the most recent BR title in Call of Duty: Warzone that released a little over a week ago. Warzone approaches the BR genre similar to the titles before it, but they made two massive changes that I believe are a huge factor in its success.

The first is the fact that players can acquire money in the server and use it to purchase a Custom Loadout Weapon drop. The reason this feature is so significant is that it drastically cuts down on the randomness that is so prevalent in BR titles. You don't have to worry about having terrible loot at end game because you have the ability to use a custom loadout you built, like in Call of Duty multiplayer, by buying it at a buy station on the map, and its extremely easy to obtain.

The second is the way respawning in Warzone works. After your first death, as long as it's not late into the game, you are taken to the Gulag prison where you 1v1 another player who has died. If you win, you redeploy back on the map and get a second chance. If you lose, you don't get to redeploy, but that doesn't mean you're out. You know those buy stations I mentioned earlier? Well, your teammates can use the money they have accumulated to respawn you back into the game, and there are no limits to this.

These two mechanics separately are pretty appealing. Now, pair them together, and you will see why Warzone is so widely liked. The biggest complaint I had about BR games was that even when your team won a fight, it didn't feel like it because it crippled your team for the rest of the match by either playing a player down or having a player with terrible gear. These two mechanics in Warzone alleviate that issue, and lets you feel good about fighting enemies no matter the stage of the game because you can easily recover from it.

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Thanks for the history lesson, I guess

So, why in the world did I give you a full-blown history lesson about BRs? I did it to show the origins of the genre, but also to show how the genre has changed over the years. Respawn shooters have taken a backseat as the most popular type of shooting game since BRs came and took over the world. But, the genre is far from perfect. It was something fresh and new five years ago, but it seems the genre is beginning to feel exhausted, and players have become fully aware of its shortcomings. 

Seeing Warzone surge to popularity has shown me that players are beginning to trend towards the structure that respawn shooters offer without even realizing it. If you ask someone who enjoys Warzone why they like it so much, they will most likely say that the game feels less random and more like a game where they are encouraged to fight, where BRs in the past promoted the exact opposite. 

Let me be clear about something. I don't hate BR games. I have played just about every single one and enjoyed it. But, I do feel the genre has been exhausted, and it's a fad that is beginning to run its course.

I can't help but notice that the genre is starting to mimic respawn shooters more so than its roots. It might be my wishful thinking that makes me feel like respawn shooters are going to start trending again, and we will see the end of the BR phenomenon, but I sure hope I am right.

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