The "it" genre in video games these days is the battle royale. Simply put, they task a large group of players to duke it out over scarce resources and limited terrain until one player (or team of players) is left standing. It's characterized by tense periods of waiting, coupled with quick and violent exchanges where players risk it all to come out on top. It's competitive, re-playable and, perhaps most importantly, stream-friendly.
The genre is still relatively young, but new entries are beginning to debut pretty regularly, with plenty of new battle royale-style games in development. With that in mind, here are the best battle-royale experiences you can take for a spin right now.
There is no discussion about the battle royale sub-genre without mentioning the one that started it all. While living in Brazil as a photographer and web designer, Brendan Greene (aka PlayerUnknown) hatched up a mod idea for the then super popular DayZ (DayZ itself a popular mod of military shooter ARMA II). DayZ: Battle Royale was inspired heavily by the the Japanese film Battle Royale, about a class of students sent away to an island and forced to kill one another. A streaming event called Survivor GameZ, where popular DayZ streamers competed against each other to be the last man standing, was also a heavy inspiration for Greene. He developed what would become PUBG as a DayZ/ARMA mod until DayZ would release as a stand-alone title. Development was pivoted to make PUBG its own stand alone title as well, and after doing some consulting work with Daybreak Games on H1Z1, a zombie survival game with a battle royale mode of its own, Greene at long last released the game that would take the industry by storm when it launched on Steam Early Access in March of 2017.
The game is now out of Early Access and still evolving, but the core of the game hasn't changed. Your average PUBG round begins when 100 players leap out of a plane and rain down on one of currently two maps (with a third on the way) to do battle on. Once on the ground players scour the environment for weapons and supplies to use in their ultimate quest of being the last person standing. Gunplay in PUBG is more mechanical and technical, a reflection of its military sim roots. You can play either in first-person or third-person for optimal shoot-out perspective, and can use a wide variety of vehicles to turn the tides against your enemies. And even if you don't win the match, you'll still get an in-game currency that allows you to buy cosmetic items and the like.
Fortnite: Battle Royale
The reigning king of battle royale games is the last game you would have expected it to be, this time last year. Fortnite was a co-op survival concept that began development as long ago as 2011. A small squad of players would defend a point with their wits, weapons, and a robust base building system against the zombie hordes. It was a fun idea, but it didn't even take playable form until late 2014, where it would be displayed in a pair of Alpha tests across a six month period. In 2017, a paid Early Access version was available for consumers leading up to an eventual 2018 free-to-play release. Response was strong at first, but middling. Then PUBG exploded, and Epic Games got an idea: what if they made their own battle royale game? Taking the pieces of Fortnite: Save the World, and the core of PUBG (landing on an island, snagging weapons, etc) they put together Fortnite: Battle Royale a mere six months after PUBG released, and in a strange twist of fate, it became one of the most popular game on the planet just a few months later.
Why? Well, the free-to-play aspect was part of it. Unlike PUBG, you could jump into Fortnite's battle royale mode for free just by downloading it. Another key factor is that it was on console before PUBG (or any other battle royale game for that matter), making it the only choice if players wanted to get in on the 1vs100 action. Besides that, Fortnite's action and art is a bit more arcadey and cartoony, which could intrinsically appeal to a wider, and younger, audience. There's also the entire building aspect, which tasks you to take materials found in the world and create shelters with them. This is the biggest key difference, because spontaneously crafting walls in the middle of heated gunfights is becoming an art form, in and of itself. Robust crafting is also a good segue into the inverse — total destruction. Almost everything in Fortnite can be blown up or torn down, meaning you can only be so safe behind a wall or under the stairs before someone can dig their way to you.
Remember that consulting work Brendan Greene did for Daybreak Games? Turns out it was related to turning zombie survival game H1Z1 from just a PvE co-op shooter, into what would be the first battle royale game. H1Z1 would release in Early Access on Steam in 2015 to some mixed criticism, mostly over it's technical issues. The game still sold well enough that, a year later, they would bring Brendan into the fold. Shortly after, H1Z1 would be split into two separate projects run by two separate teams: H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1 King of the Hill. After Brendan left to form Bluehole and release PUBG, H1Z1 would further divide the modes. Just Survive lost the H1Z1 moniker, and King of the Hill becoming the sole H1Z1.
H1Z1 stands out from the pack thanks to its fast pace. Weapon spawns are bountiful, even if weapon variety isn't that large. The encroaching play area is smaller than others, meaning there are fewer places to idle before the bloodbath begins. Even before the match begins, you'll be able to choose where you will deploy, and see where your opponents are choosing to come down too as glowing sections of a heat map. You'll know exactly what kind of white-knuckle madness you'll be getting into right at the start.
The Darwin Project
Announced at PAX East 2017 and revealed during Microsoft's E3 press conference a few moths later, The Darwin Project hopes to put an unfamiliar spin on a genre that's become larger than life, yet sort of stifled by sameness. Scavenger Studios takes the basic formula — a group of players must battle each other to the death with only one survivor — and narrows the focus. Up to ten players compete in reality show-style survival game in the wintry Canadian Rockies armed with just a bow and an axe, instantly invoking a Hunger Games vibe. By crafting different types of arrows, traps, and upgrades from materials found in the environment, players must hunt and outsmart each other, while also surviving the harsh cold of winter. Another potential wrench in the machine is that another player takes on the role of Show Director, an omni-present entity that can use their powers to alter the game drastically. They can watch every player's movements. They can give players items, or nuke sections of the map and endanger them all. The Darwin Project is a very unique battle royale game that just hit Early Access on Steam and Game Preview on Xbox, so there's plenty of room for some absolutely wild things to develop (and be posted on Twitch for our enjoyment).
Speaking of completely unique takes on this battle royale idea, Hunt: Showdown seems to have backed its way into the genre and, like Fortnite, may have turned an almost lost concept into something to look forward to. Hunt: Showdown was once Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age back in 2014. It was Vigil Games', makers of Darksiders, idea back before THQ would fold, and Crytek would scope up members of the studio to head their Crytek USA studio, with this game as it's primary project. Crytek's money problems would cause them to close Crytek USA in 2014 soon after this game was announced, and it wouldn't be until 2017 when we would see it again as simply Hunt: Showdown.
Besides the setting, which is starkly not a post-apocalyptic, near-modern day world but instead a late 19th Century Old West motif, the game is different enough to be barely considered a battle royale game. Pairs of hunters are matched up and dropped onto a map with a monster bounty that they must find, slay, loot, and escape with. Environmental cues like lighting and sound are incredibly important to use when tracking beasts and keeping yourself safe from the enemy. You need to be aware of things like shadows, the creaking of floor panels, or rustles of leaves to get the upper hand. The target monster isn't the only creature out to get you, though. Lower level mobs make running around maps a decidedly painful experience, and that's without even mentioning the fact that other pairs of bounty hunters aren't just going to let you get the prized kill without a fight. In that way, it resembles Turtle Rock's Evolve more than it does PUBG, as players battle both the environment and one another to become the victor.
There are plenty more battle-royale games on the way. Which ones are you looking forward to, and which of the above are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.
Jarrett shares his love of video games and geek culture through feature articles on Gamepedia. He prides himself on his deep attraction to Japanese beat-em ups and his god-like Bushido Blade talents.