What are battle royale games?

Catt

Catt / CopyCatt
UX Copywriter.

Human Ranger/Bard. Horror enthusiast. Story-driven. I like games where you can harvest plants.

Don't just play games – compete!

When Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene started modding ARMA 2, he just wanted a cool new way to play his favorite games. Inspired by concepts he’d seen in movies, Greene created a mod that forced players into smaller and smaller areas of the map in a fight to the death.

Just a few years later, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (or PUBG as it is more commonly known) was drawing millions of downloads across PC, console, and mobile devices, and the battle royale genre was firmly cemented in the gaming community.

At its most basic, a battle royale game is a player-versus-player survival game with perma-death. In PUBG, you—and up to 99 other players—parachute onto the map, timing the jump from the plane in order to land in the location that you want. You then hunt for weapons, armor, and vehicles with which to fight off the other players for a last-man-standing victory. As the game progresses, the playzone—indicated by a circle on the map—shrinks. Players caught outside of the playzone take damage every second until they make their way back inside the zone. The last player (or squad, depending on game mode) alive is the winner!

Are battle royale games a new idea?

The use of battle royale or battle royal to mean a contest where one attempts to be the last-man-standing dates all the way back to 1700s England. Back then, it was used to refer to 8-man boxing matches and the term has a similar meaning in professional wrestling even today.

While they may not date back quite as far as the 1700s, last-man-standing game types were around long before the rise of the battle royale genre. Age of Empires, Worms, even Bomberman, all have their own variations. What separates battle royale games from these other formats is the increased focus on stealth and scavenging resources as well as, usually, very large numbers of players in a single match.

What does this have to do with school kids fighting each other?

In a dystopian universe, groups of teens are taken to an arena to run, hide, and fight to the death for the entertainment of the adults. You might have heard of a series called The Hunger Games? Well, forget that, because we’re talking about the OG murderous teens: the 1999 novel バトル・ロワイアル(Batoru Rowaiaru or Battle Royale) by Koushun Takami.

The plot of the novel (and the seriously good movie of the same name) is that a class of school kids on a field trip find themselves taken to a remote island where they will compete in a 3-day fight to the death. Each person is given a bag containing rations, a map, a flashlight, and a random weapon ranging from a submachine gun to a GPS tracking device to a saucepan lid. Fun fact: the frying pan in PUBG is meant to be a reference to the movie but, unfortunately, Brendon Greene made a mistake, there is no frying pan in Battle Royale.

Each person is also fitted with a collar that tracks them and can be set to explode, fatally, if the victim breaks the rules. Over the course of the 3 days, various parts of the island become Forbidden Zones and anyone who enters them will die. This causes the playable area to shrink, forcing the victims into the same areas.

It’s easy to see how this influenced the genre that would later take the name Battle Royale: the large number of players, the scavenging of weapons from dead enemies, the brutal fight to survive against the odds, the ever-shrinking map forcing players into combat. As well as being a great story, it’s a winning formula for video games because it forces fast-paced continuous play as well as strategic and tactical thinking.

I’m sold, where do I start?

Many battle royale games are free-to-play and different games have their own unique elements—base-building in Fortnite Battle Royale, 1v1 dueling in Call of Duty: Warzone, PvE in Dying Light: Bad Blood—so its’ worth trying a few to find one that suits you.

You might have your work cut out for you though. Yeah, there are a lot of battle royale games out there right now ranging from AAA to single-dev indie and covering pretty much any niche you can think of. You want a top-down isometric shooter? Banzai Royale. Medieval melee? Mordhau. Viking warriors and Norse mythology? Valhall: Harbinger. Holiday chaos? Long Live Santa. 100-person underwater shootout? Last Tide: Scuba Survival. Crabs? King of Crabs.

At the time of writing, G-Loot supports several of the most popular battle royale games: Apex Legends, Fornite, Call of Duty: Warzone, and—of course—PUBG and PUGB Lite, so let’s take a quick look at those titles.

Fortnite

Fortnite is probably one of the most talked-about games of the past 5 years thanks to its popularity with young players. The game is open to those aged 12-years and older (though it’s thought that plenty of underage people also play) and its immense success with this younger crowd brought it to the attention of parents and therefore the media. The game isn’t only for kids, though, with the majority of the player base being between 18 and 24 and plenty of people with kids or grandkids of their own also enjoying it.

One important point to clarify before getting into any discussion of Fortnite, is that we’re talking specifically about Fortnite: Battle Royale. There are technically 3 Fortnite games or game modes: Battle Royale; Save the World, a tower-defence game Players In Fortnite Battle Royale, 100 players skydive onto the map to scavenge, survive, and fight it out. The game can be played solo or in groups (duos, trios, or in 4-person squads), with the last player or team alive being the winner.

Cost The game itself is free-to-play but, like many games of this type, lets players use real money to buy skins, emotes, dances, and other cool junk. This has sparked controversy, with some kids spending thousands of dollars on cosmetics without their parent’s knowledge or consent. Platforms Fortnite is available on PC; Playstation 4 and 5; Xbox Series S, Series X, and One; and Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite.

The game is also available on Mac, iOS, and Android devices with some notable restrictions. Apple has blocked updates and new installs of the game, meaning you can only play on devices that already have it installed. Google has also blocked updates and downloads from its store, though you can get around this by downloading directly from Epic on Android devices. Why is it like this? Well... In 2020, Epic Games decided to let customers bypass the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store when purchasing in-game currency. Using Epic’s own payment system, users could save up to 20% on their purchases, and Epic saved on the 30% commission taken by the corporations. This was immediately flagged as being against the App and Play stores rules, and the game was originally going to be removed entirely. Epic, in return, filed a lawsuit, claiming the regulations made Apple and Google anti-competitive. The issue went to court, and the most recent ruling forces Apple and Google to keep supporting existing purchases though they don’t need to support new updates or installs. Will this change in the future? We’ll have to wait and see. Maps Fortnite only has one active map at a time, which is updated each season with new theming and points of interest changed or moved to keep things feeling fresh. The current (Chapter 2, Season 6) map is approximately 6.75km², making it pretty small for a battle royale map, and is primal wilderness themed. In Fortnite, the map-shrinking mechanic is called The Storm. The exact nature of The Storm changes over the seasons—for example, in the live event The Device, it became a wall of water—but otherwise, it functions the same as most other Battle Royale games, with the user taking damage over time, increasing as the intensity of the storm grows.

Fortnite’s building and destruction mechanics give players unique ways to defend themselves.

Special features One of the main stand-out features of Fortnite is the building mechanic. Influenced by the original tower-defense game—Save the World—players in Battle Royale can destroy and build structures to help them explore and defend themselves. This can be as complex as building a multistorey lookout tower to lift you out of reach of other players or as simple as quickly erecting walls around yourself to block an attack or placing ramps in front of you as you run to make your escape. Naturally, this adds a whole extra dimension to the game and makes it popular with fans of traditional PVP survival games like Rust.

Another noteworthy feature of Fortnite is its cartoony style, both in terms of graphics and animation. Despite approximately 99 deaths per game, there’s no blood and gore in Fortnite, making it quite kid-friendly—or at least parent-friendly. The emotes and dances have spawned multiple viral crazes (even if you’ve never played the game, you’ve probably seen middle-schoolers flossing at some point), and the skins are eye-catching and appealing. All-in-all, this makes Fornite a fun and attractive game for all ages.

Apex Legends

Respawn Entertainment’s foray into the battle royale genre is Apex Legends. Set in the same universe as their popular Titanfall franchise, Apex Legends takes place 30 years after Titanfall 2. It turns out the Frontier War’s end was less sunshine and roses and more ruin and constant power struggles. Residents of the Outlands compete in a bloodsport known as the Apex Games in a bid to gain power, glory, and money. Players In Apex Legends, 20 squads of 3 players—60 players total—duke it out. Or at least, that’s the setup for ranked play. In unranked games, it’s also possible to play as a duo, and there’s a rumor that a new “unmatched” option will allow up to 6 players to solo in any given match. If true, it’ll be interesting to see how this new option pans out. Respawn has always been very clear that Apex Legends was designed as a team game. This is demonstrated in a couple of ways: the fact that you can resurrect fallen teammates and the Jumpmaster system, which randomly assigns one member of the squad as the leader who controls the drop location at the beginning of the game. Cost Apex Legends is free-to-play, but there are ways to spend money on the game. There are skins, weapons, charms, and banners to buy, and players can also pay to unlock new characters. There are also special bundles you can buy. The current Champion’s bundle—which at €40 costs almost as much as a new game—includes all the characters up to this season and exclusive skins, weapon skins, and in-game currency. Platforms Apex Legends is currently available for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. There are also plans to release Android and iOS ports in 2022, which will help bring Apex Legends in line with games like Fortnite and PUBG. As of March 2021, Apex Legends is beta testing cross-play—so you can team up with friends on different platforms—but not cross-progression, so you can’t take achievements, progress, etc., to other systems you play on.

Maps Apex Legends has 3 maps World’s Edge, Kings Canyon, and Olympus, at the time of writing. However, the maps are available on rotation, with only 2 maps available to play in Season 8—Olympus and Kings Canyon. For ranked play, the 3-month-long season is divided into 2 splits, with Kings Canyon the ranked map for the first half and Olympus for the second half.

Special features Aside from the teamplay elements mentioned above, one of the most notable features of Apex Legends is the characters. Each Legend you can play has its own special powers ranging from tracking an opponent’s footsteps to calling in an airstrike. With 14 characters to choose from, that’s a lot of potential variations for your trio depending on your playstyle.

For me, though, what sets Apex Legends apart from other games is smart design choices. Various features help to reduce friction in the game so that the real challenge comes from the enemy teams, not trying to battle the system itself. My favorite feature is mic-less communication, which makes the game more accessible to gamers who can’t use audio communication and improves the quality of information transferred. The character dialog is a great example: your character automatically tells you and your teammates information that is important to know, like “The ring is closing in 1 minute” or “Defeated the whole squad.” This in-universe information means you can be constantly on the ball and adapting to changing situations. Of course, the finest example is the ping system. To ping something, all you need to do is mouse over it, press the middle mouse button, and your character will call it out and make it visible on your teammates’ maps. That’s it. No torrent of verbal abuse from a salty player, no trying to understand your teammate’s instructions through a wall of static, just simple, efficient, frictionless information.

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

We already went over this, but that was several hundred words ago, so let’s recap. Inspired by the movie Battle Royale, Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene decided to make a mod for some of the games he played. It was a success, and the Korean studio Bluehole hired Greene to develop it into a complete, standalone game, PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS, also known as PUBG. It was a huge success—selling 70 million copies by 2020—and is credited with triggering the battle royale craze. The game is easy to pick up but hard to master, making it a great option for people who like to really push themselves.

Players In a classic free-for-all solo game of PUBG, you’re up against 99 other players to be the last-player-standing. However, you can also play the game in Duo or Squad modes. Duo is pretty self-explanatory: you and your partner will be up against 49 other pairs. Squad mode is a little different in that it can be played in teams of up to 4 players, meaning your 4-person squad might be up against a mix of duos, squads, and solo players. Cost PUBG currently retails for around $30, while PUBG Mobile is free-to-play. Of course, both games offer cosmetics that can be bought with points earned while playing the game or purchased for real money. Platforms PUBG is available on PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and through Stadia. PUBG Mobile, which differs from the original game, is available on a wide range of Android and iOS devices. Battle royales aren’t just for PC and console. PUBG Mobile has a highly energetic and competitive scene.

Maps PUBG has 4 main maps of various sizes and terrains: Erangel 64km² (but mostly water). The original game map, Erangel is a fictional island off the coast of Russia in the Black Sea. The island is very green with a mix of farmland and urban areas. Miramar 64km². Another large map, Miramar was the second to be added to the game. Unlike Erangel, Miramar’s urban areas are spread across a vast desert with minimal cover. That makes long-range shooting a killer tactic on this map, and this map has its unique sniper rifle, the Win94. Again, finding vehicles early is a must if you don’t want to find yourself stuck outside The Circle. Sanhok 16km². The smallest of PUBG’s main maps, Sanhok, was the first to be based on visits to real-world locations, namely the islands of Thailand and The Philippines. This map features varied terrain from rainforest to urban areas to underground military bases and even some beautiful overgrown ruins. Sanhok is an excellent map for people who like to have many options for how they get around. Vikendi 36km² (again mostly unusable water). This map is all about survival. A northern resort island, Vikendi is the first snow map in PUBG. This new climate brings a range of changes, such as introducing player footprints and added difficulty when using regular vehicles.

There are 3 other maps to date, Karakin, Paramo, and Haven. These are all designed for smaller groups of players and have unique features, such as Karakin’s random building destruction and Haven’s PvE elements. PUBG Corporation has said that they’ll be offering the various maps on rotation: “Erangel and Miramar will always be available, with the remaining maps cycling in and out of the remaining three slots.” Right now, Paramo is available while Karakin and Haven have been rotated out.

Special Features For me, the map design is really what makes PUBG different from the other games in the genre. Take a look at the official PUBG Corporation YouTube channel, and you’ll quickly find yourself down a rabbit hole of fascinating design choices and unique elements. Everything is taken into careful consideration, and each map requires a wildly different approach to the game. I also like how PUBG leans heavily on realism, both in visual design and gameplay. Rather than constructing mega-towers or creating magic portals, you’ll be dealing with recoil and carefully considering your outfit choices to best camouflage with the terrain.

Call of Duty: Warzone

Even the most uncompetitive, farming-simulator-loving, indie gamer (no judgment, that’s me) will probably have at least heard of Call of Duty. With 20+ games released over the past 17 years, it’s perhaps one of the best-established FPS franchises of all time. The battle royale entry to the series, Call of Duty: Warzone, ties together established genre tropes—a shrinking circle of killer gas, a scramble to survive while picking off dozens of opponents—with some unique elements of its own.

For starters, there are the Loadouts. Instead of spending the whole game scrambling around to upgrade weapons, you’ll want to pick up cash as fast as possible to purchase your custom Loadout from the Buy Station. These are put together before the game starts and can include primary and secondary weapons, tactical and lethal equipment, and perks. This system means you can quickly go from a common weapon and gear to your preferred setup. “How to earn this cash?” you might ask. Well, this brings us to the second element: Contracts. Rather than focusing all your energy on trivial matters such as the 100+ people trying to murder you or the ever-present threat of deadly gas, your squad will need to achieve a variety of objectives. These Contracts can range from making a Supply Run to a specific Buy Station to placing a Most Wanted bounty on your own head and trying to survive for 3 minutes.

Sound like a great way to get yourself killed? Yeah. Well, luckily, there are few ways to be saved from the brink in Warzone. Firstly, there’s the Gulag: the first time you die, you’ll be thrown into a 1v1 duel with the winner being revived for free. You can also be revived by teammates, revive yourself if you purchased a Self-Revive Kit from the Buy Station, and finally, your teammates can buy your redeployment. All this makes the game a little different from the standard permadeath you’d expect in a battle royale title.

Players In one of the biggest battle royales around, Warzone lets you compete with up to 150 other players (or 200 in some game modes). There are game modes for Solos, Duos, Trios, or Squads, and there’s the option to auto-fill your team or not, so you could join a Squads game as a duo or even solo if you have a death wish. Cost Call of Duty: Warzone is free-to-play. The Call of Duty franchise has been easily raking in sales for years: the most recent game, Call of Duty: Black Ops — Cold War, retails for around €60 and within four months became one of the best-selling games in US history. So it would have come as no surprise to see Warzone released as a standalone, paid game like PUBG. Instead, the free-to-play model drew huge crowds, with over 50 million players one month after its release. Of course, there are microtransactions that allow you to purchase in-game currency. This currency can be used to buy cosmetics, Battle Passes, and special tokens that let you gain more experience. Xbox players will also need to pay for an Xbox Live subscription to access multiplayer, but this is set to change soon! Platforms Call of Duty: Warzone is currently available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Microsoft Windows. But what about mobile? Given the success of Call of Duty Mobile (which generated over US$480 million and 270 million downloads within its first year), mobile seems like a no-brainer. Well, while there’s no official release date for the mobile port, job listings posted by Activision in late 2020 suggest the project is underway. Maps Call of Duty: Warzone currently features 2 maps. One of these, Rebirth Island, is much smaller and, as of Season 2, supports only 90 players (up from 40 in Season 1). Rebirth Island is designed to create a fast-paced, high-action, close-quarters kind of game of the type that you usually find right at the beginning or right at the end of a usual battle royale game. You’d think, given that a standard game takes 150 players, that Warzone’s main map would be massive. However, Verdansk actually comes in at 9km², making it significantly smaller than any of the main PUBG maps. In many ways, this works in its favor. Firstly, the dense, urban terrain encourages close-combat, and you’re less likely to be sniped by a player 600 meters away than you might be in, say Miramar. Secondly, the flatter loot curve in Warzone makes more areas of the map viable as drop locations. The parachute also lets you take advantage of the map’s verticality, meaning that there’s actually a lot more space than implied by the small size. All of the above should be taken with an important note, though: it’s all about to change. Insider hints suggest that Verdansk may be on its way out (perhaps explosively) as the season draws to a close, so you’ll need to get playing fast if you want to experience it for yourself. Special features Given that this is a free-to-play title, Activision could easily have cobbled together a standard battle royale game, whacked some branding on it, and called it a day, but they didn’t. The emphasis on high-level gunplay—as well as the previously discussed Contracts system—makes Warzone an obvious choice for fans of the franchise and those looking for a battle royale game with a more traditional FPS feel. The effort the developers have put into the various seasons—tying together lore, functionality, and updates across different titles—is impressive and suggests that Warzone is here to stay.

What’s next?

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