One video game genre dominated 2018, and there’s no question about it — battle royale. The fight-to-the-death multiplayer mode that exploded in popularity with Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds quickly turned into a worldwide sensation with the release of Epic Games’ Fortnite: Battle Royale, and since then, we’ve seen numerous games attempt to get in on the craze with their own battle royale modes.
Most of these modes have failed to make much of an impact, with the main three – PUBG, Fortnite, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode and a somewhat subordinate FALLOUT 76 – receiving the most attention. Still, even these aren’t created equal. Over the course of 2018, we’ve seen two clear winners (and one loser) emerge in the battle royale scene, and we expect this momentum to continue into 2019. These are the battle royale winners and loser of 2018.
Why is Fortnite a winner? Go out in public and ask any kid what their favourite video game is, and you’ll realize immediately. Epic Games’ spin on the battle royale formula may have lifted some elements directly from the competition, such as the shrinking circle and parachuting onto the map, but it’s in the execution and consistency of its ideas where Fortnite truly shines.
New items, modes, and events are added multiple times a month, giving players reason to come back far beyond simply improving their kill-to-death ratio, and some of these can drastically change the game and force the community to quickly adapt. A recent update added warplanes to battle royale, and a new Creative mode even gives you the ability to make your own environments and rule-sets for custom matches.
Fortnite is also the only one of the big three battle royale games to be free-to-play, and it’s the only one to offer cross-play support across every platform. Even if you’re on PlayStation 4 and your buddy is on an Android phone, you can still play battle royale together, and your statistics and progression will carry over if you play on a different system. Fortnite isn’t just an element of pop culture – to many young players, the game is pop culture, and Epic Games has done a fantastic job of keeping fans engaged for the last year. Even if you aren’t winning matches, the bizarre bits of lore that are dropped every so often are reason enough to dive back in. and things can only get better from here.
WINNER: ‘CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS 4’ BLACKOUT
Anything Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds can do, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 can do better. That seems to be the motto Treyarch lived by while developing Blackout, the first battle royale mode in Call of Duty’s long history. It’s remarkably similar in basic design to PUBG, with airdrops, bandages and accessories to pick up, vehicles to drive, and armor to equip, but it’s all wrapped up in a package that only Call of Duty can deliver. Weapons feel close to perfect, and there’s plenty of variety for any time of player to win a match.
Blackout is more than just a copy of PUBG, however. Functioning as a sort of “greatest hits” from the Black Ops series’ history, the battle royale map is filled with buildings and elements recognizable to fans, and in certain areas, you can even run into zombies. The reward for venturing into these dangerous zones is an arsenal of powerful weapons, but the risk of being spotted or heard by another player makes it a very tough decision.
Whether or not Blackout can thrive in 2019 depends almost entirely on Treyarch’s consistent support. The map included isn’t enormous, which lends well to the series’ fast and intense gunplay, but small tweaks and alternations to buildings, or even the addition of new types of computer-controlled enemies, would do wonders for the player-base.
LOSER: ‘PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS’
Pretty surprising? Well, don’t be. Now just think. What went wrong with Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds? Perhaps that isn’t the right question, as the immensely popular battle royale game’s fall from grace can almost entirely be attributed to other games’ successes. When Fortnite took off, Epic Games’ knack for quick fixes and constant updates made PUBG Corporation look downright slow in comparison. It took far too long for new maps to be added to the game, and the Xbox One port wasn’t in a very playable state when it launched at the tail-end of last year.
PUBG Mobile on iOS and Android are both free-to-play, just like Fortnite, but the full-fledged games on Xbox One, PC, and PlayStation 4 are not. Not only are you forced to fork over cash before you play the game, but you can’t play with those on other platforms.
This is accepted in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, which has plenty of other non-battle-royale content, but in PUBG, battle royale is the game. When so many more people are playing a competitor’s game, it becomes difficult to excite your remaining fans, and if publisher Bluehole insists on keeping the game locked behind an initial paywall, it could struggle to gain new ones.
It isn’t all bad news, however. With the recent launch of the game on PlayStation 4, a huge number of potential players can enter the game, and the Fix PUBG campaign helped to address some of the issues most requested by the community, including better anti-cheat systems and optimization. That might not be enough to return PUBG to the top of the battle royale heap, but it does mean its most devoted players are still getting a better game out of it.
LOSER: FALLOUT 76
When Bethesda announced Fallout 76, the multiplayer-oriented entry in its revered post-apocalyptic franchise, fan reaction was mixed. The Fallout series has always been known as a single-player experience. And a very good one at that. Upon launch, Fallout 76 became this year’s Mass Effect: Andromeda, a stunning failure that wasn’t ready for primetime in the slightest. Fallout 76 currently holds a 52 on Metacritic for PS4 and 49 on Xbox One, shockingly low averages for a AAA game from a well-known studio.
Fallout 76 plays like an early access game, with far more bugs than a typical Bethesda game. Even worse, there’s just not much of worth to do in this massive depiction of West Virginia. With very little story to speak of and derivative quest design, it’s easy to get bored. And for a game that has a multiplayer focus, Fallout 76 is decidedly lonely due to the fact that the server cap is 24. You can walk for hours upon hours without seeing another player.
To make matters even worse, the canvas bag that was supposed to come with the expensive Power Armor edition was missing. Bethesda’s initial response was to give players 500 Atom (a $5 value) to purchase items in-game. Of course, that gesture made a lot of people angry. Bethesda changed its tune and will deliver the canvas bags early next year, but will anyone be playing Fallout 76 in early 2019?