The Week in Games is a weekly column where Vikki Blake pulls apart the biggest stories in gaming each week. This week, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt’s release has her thinking about battle royales.
Battle royales and I go way back. All the way back, really. Fortnite and I never really hit it off, admittedly – I can’t handle the building, especially under pressure – but I’ve had frissons with pretty much every other one that’s come since, and yes, that includes Hyper Scape, which I thought was pretty good, even though the publisher gave it just six months before pulling the plug (do I detect a running theme here, Ubisoft?). Like a fresh divorcee at the end of a drunken night out, I like to keep my options open; well, you never know when the perfect one will come along.
As I’ve championed before, the appeal of BRs lies not in the inevitable battle pass or insidious microtransactions but in the fact that the genre completely levels the field. Whereas many other games – chiefly live service ones – demand your attention like a pouty toddler, battle royales are the ultimate pick-up-and-play option.
You don’t have to hit a certain rank to grab a half-decent grenade. You don’t have to sink 50 hours into modes you don’t like to unlock the ones you do enjoy. Sure, you’ll find your chances of bagging a delicious Chicken Dinner improves the better you know the map, its terrain, its hidey-holes, and the best landing spots (although no matter how many guides try to insist otherwise, Erangel’s school and nearby apartment blocks were only theatres of death for us). But even the greatest player in the world can be the first to fall if they stumble into a group of enemies with nowt to defend themselves but a frying pan.
Thing is, I wrote that article two years ago now. I wrote those words after PUBG, Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Call Of Duty: Warzone exploded onto the scene, but before the arrival of Fall Guys, Spellbreak, Hyper Scape, and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt, and before eleventy gazillion crisp-suited executives turned to their studio heads and demanded that they too are given a slice of that fat, delicious battle royale pie.
To be fair, not a single game I listed above is bad. All bring something fresh to the genre, from Apex Legends‘ personality-led Legends to Fall Guys‘ maniacal funhouse to Hyper Scape‘s curious gadgetry and map verticality. The genre is still new and evolving, and continues to surprise, and the games that were quick to take what Z1 Battle Royale and PUBG started and run with it continue to draw millions of players, and not without good reason; few games, if any, iterate as furiously and fabulously as Fortnite.
It’s not even that the genre’s hit a saturation point, is it? I mean, I’ve never sat there and counted them all, but I’m guessing hundreds if not thousands of shooters are shovelled onto Steam every single year. A cursory glance at the App Store shows there’s still no shortage of match-3 titles to tickle your fancy, and that’s not even accounting for the offerings on Android.
Yet at the time of writing, Wikipedia – the fount of all knowledge, of course – reckons there have been 41 battle royales released to date. That’s riotously inaccurate, of course, but even if you tripled that – hell, let’s quadruple it – and it’s still a paltry amount, really. 980 games were released on PlayStation alone in 2021. Xbox saw 725 new releases.
Wikipedia’s broken list of BR games covers six full years. Even I, the Professionally Pissed Off, find it hard to muster much energy to be angry about a couple of hundred games released over half a decade.
So why does it feel like battle royale has been… well, done to death? Quora and Reddit hint that I’m not the only one to have pondered such impious thoughts. Maybe it’s because every game and his dog has been inelegantly smacking a BR mode onto the side for the last five years? Maybe it’s because the pressure from above to develop a “Fortnite-killer” has stifled true innovation in multiplayer gaming? Or maybe it’s just because we had an absolute gutful of Fortnite‘s fucking floss emote?
For what it’s worth, I don’t think battle royales have had their time just yet. They still make up a healthy portion of my gaming diet, and – much like how punk followed flower power and Britpop rose as the antithesis of grunge – I think the genre’s phenomenal success is not a fluke as much as it’s a reaction to the swamp of shooters clogging up those digital storefronts. Gamers were looking for something – hell, anything – different, and it turned out that BR was it.
I don’t think it’s accidental that the first games to jump onto the battle royale bandwagon remain the most successful, nor do I think it likely that another battle royale will ever come along and knock Fortnite off its perch (although let’s face it; Apex Legends made it wobble a bit). My fear, you see, is that the very things that make battle royales what they are – a last-man-standing fight to the death with RNG loot and an ever-decreasing circle that tightens around you – are just too damned rigid to flex and iterate much further… and, just like that poor divorcee, I worry that the genre’s best days are already behind it.
I’d be delighted if a studio out there proved me wrong, though.
Vikki Blake is a freelance journalist and columnist for NME.