We’ve all seen the trend, a trend which is now at the point of its popularity where it’s getting “overdone” and so people may be moving to greener pastures soon. But in the meantime, people are still swarming to Battle Royale games and at this point even the big guns of the likes of EA and Activision have gotten in on the action.
Funny to think that it started with The Culling which now has the unenviable legacy of possibly the worst downwards trajectory for any multiplayer game ever (in that the game itself imploded, followed by the second, the reboot and NOW a fucking pay-to-own your own arcade machine model).
In my time I have played a fair few Battle Royale games and guess what, that means I’ve got opinions on them. However, you may have noticed on MMGaming we only very rarely review multiplayer games and there’s a good reason for that. It’s something I touched on in my review for Divinity: Original Sin 2, in that I think that it can be very possible to have fun playing something bad when you play with friends. Because the enjoyment comes from playing with friends regardless of the quality of what you’re playing (and sometimes even in spite of). This makes multiplayer-only games very difficult to review (and games with a singleplayer option that I played solely with others ALSO difficult), and so I rarely do. The subject is almost worth a whole article on its own (I genuinely think a multiplayer-only game can never be ranked as well as ones with a singleplayer)…
The point being, rather than do a bunch of separate articles explaining “this game lets you shoot others in the head until you’re the last person left standing” and struggling to come up with more than 500 words that differ between the games because there’s no singleplayer and no story. Instead of that, I thought I might do something of a round-up of four big name Battle Royales and tell you which is best!
There are a couple of Battle Royales I’ve played which I have either not spent enough time in or are literally dead and so can’t give decent opinions on. CS:GO Dangerzone is potentially a hot contender for “Best Battle Royale” but is one I’ve barely touched. It also has the issue in that it feels like something I wouldn’t have asked for. I just don’t want to mix my careful, considered and deliberate CS shooting with something as chaotic as a Battle Royale. Does anybody even play this?
Meanwhile, as stated, The Culling actually USED to be good. Before it tanked… And it’s never coming back, get over it…
I start with PUBG because it is, I think, the Battle Royale I have played the most and also the one I actually started with myself.
The formula here is honestly, still, the benchmark for the genre and it’s no real surprise that it still has the player count it does. The reason for its success is its simplicity: drop 100 guys into a map, shrinking zone, last man standing wins. It doesn’t get much simpler when it comes to killing your fellow man.
Driving around the game with a squad was a blast and the shooting had a very nice punch to it, guns giving decent (if seemingly unpredictable) recoil and feedback. I had a lot of good times in the game with my boys, and honestly the tension after 30 minutes of game-time when it’s you and another squad is one of the feelings that remains fairly unsurpassed by any other game since.
Paradoxically though, I mention PUBG first because it’s also the game I’d probably recommend the least. There are two primary reasons for this which are fairly distinct.
First is that while I do absolutely stand by the fact that its highs are SO high, they are also exceptionally rare (I know, I know “git gud”). Getting to that top 8 slot in the final zone is the exception, not the norm and I mean that I think I earned those fabled chicken dinners maybe only a handful of times in 200 hours of play.
And the rest of the time the game is an exercise in frustration and sheer effort of will to not lose your temper. Its simplicity is its own downfall because I could regularly get to the top 10 by not fighting which reveals the simple fact that the mechanics of the game do not encourage fighting (for the most part). This means there are long stretches of nothing at all, followed by your head exploding and then a few minutes of whining about how the fuck did that guy kill you before you even saw him?!
The other issue is more practical in that I remember quitting PUBG about 2 years ago when it was repeatedly buggy and messy and frankly all over the fucking place. Since then the team at Bluehole have been working hard and judging by the comments on the subreddit… It current repeatedly buggy and messy and frankly all over the fucking place… I think time has proven that PUBG was started as a buggy mess and is never going to not be that, and that the team at Bluehole most likely are more focused on getting money from loot boxes than ACTUALLY fixing the damn game.
I know. I KNOW! But hear me out…
First of all, I was almost tempted to put this into Honourable Mentions because outside of Dangerzone this is the Battle Royale I have played the least. Plus, I have honestly very few thoughts about Fortnite aside from slight disdain at how commercialized it all is.
Personally, I thought the gunplay was garbage because it was too damn arcade-y with absolutely no feedback from weapons. I wasn’t a fan of the aesthetic (and still am not), something about the fucking smugness of the character models maybe? Maybe the bright cartoon-y colours are just too garish for me? And I also hated the building. I show my own age here, but honestly my mind could never get the hang of keeping myself alive and also building shit at the same time in the game.
Fortnite is my least favourite of the things I have listed here. However, it is also probably essentially harmless fun to play. More importantly, sometimes it is worth remembering something I have quoted before. “Sometimes things are popular for a reason. They’re good!”
Apex is the first Triple-A attempt (that I’m aware of) of PROPERLY doing a Battle Royale (as opposed to either tacking it on to something else, or Fortnite, which I’m hesitant to call Triple-A).
It took all the lessons learned from PUBG and Fortnite and combined them into something that is both a hybrid of the two and also entirely its own thing. And it could back up its ambitions with the budget of EA behind it.
First of all it had a few genius twists of its own to add to the mix. Pinging objects with a click of the mouse was such a genuinely smart addition to the genre as a whole that I now miss it in just about every other FPS I play (and if this was not invented here, it certainly feels like it was popularised here). Ignoring how hard it normally is to communicate with randoms online, even when you are playing with a squad of friends and have clear instructions like “the enemy is to the south” they can still be misconstrued, which can lead to catastrophes. Now though, you see a thing, a baddie, a drop, a place to go, you click and your team knows the score. It’s no wonder that following the release of Apex, now just about every new FPS is starting to include it.
The other major difference between previous Battle Royales and Apex is the addition of character classes, in an Overwatch style. Playing as different heroes feels like it could have potentially broken the fun behind a Battle Royale, but the powers are generally not massive game-changers. Useful in their own ways for sure, and require their own counters and thought, but for the most part, they add as flavour for the combat, not something to base it around (unlike Overwatch), never so strong that they could turn the tide with an ultimate.
The final game-changing addition was the ability to respawn your teammates. In PUBG if a teammate died early-on your three comrades would be left with the unenviable position that they now have to either potentially play 30 minutes without you, or go and get themselves killed, neither of which is particularly fun. Now though, your death is not the end and in fact some of my best games in Apex have been ones where a teammate died and got respawned and was able to gear up for a final fight.
Combine this then with genuinely A-tier combat and movement. It feels fast, aggressive, responsive. Guns give you great feedback and each feels unique and fun to use (or rather, the good guns do). It also follows a style of play that more-or-less encourages combat. Defensive positions feel extremely difficult to hold, sniping is good for harassment but rarely can actually take out enemy teams due to the ease of restoring health and shields. This latter part also means that distance fights in general are rarely more than quick engagements, instead of full on battles.
This also means that the winners of fights tend to be those who close the gap quickly and aggressively take the fight to enemy teams. And then keep doing so. This also means then that once you get into the flow of this, you will rarely spend games waiting around, killing the pacing and the mood. It’s all just “go go go, loot loot loot, shoot shoot shoot” all the time. It’s still intense but lacks the serious dips and drops present in something like PUBG.
This comes with a few downsides of course, the largest one being that not being able to snipe enemies is of course a pain. Any time you even down another player from a distance, usually they can be rezzed out-of-sight, and any advantage is lost, which for people who particularly like long-distance engagements (Tim being a perfect example of this), is a bit frustrating.
The game also has its own fair share of moments which feel like you got fucked up for no good reason, but the presence of shields generally means that you don’t just get wiped by a squad you can’t see. There’s almost always a way to fight back and win losing fights.
I also, personally, think the game looks brilliant. Where PUBG was fucking boring and Fortnite was too cartoon-y, Apex was a perfect middle ground. Bright, colourful, vibrant but also with a realism bend that I approve of.
The single biggest issue I can think of with Apex is the map, unfortunately. Currently there are two on rotation, an update of the original King’s Canyon and the new World’s Edge. King’s Canyon is fun and feels exciting to play in with a lot of variation whilst still seeming like a coherent map. World’s Edge on the other hand feels like they had the idea for a hundred exciting locales and then stuffed them in higgledy-piggledy into a too-big map, with too little in between. There seems to be less verticality too and the locations at times feel overdesigned. The train is the perfect example, it’s a very cool idea to have a train constantly moving around the map, in practice though it actually adds very little to the minutiae of gameplay.
So you have a choice between fun and well-put together, or a good game in a TERRIBLE map…
The last addition to the list is the brand, spanking new Warzone game mode in the remake of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (I actually hate how commonplace remasters seem to be nowadays). It is my understanding that this is not the first attempt at a CoD Battle Royale, but it is the first I’ve played and also seems to be the first to receive acclaim.
Warzone takes a lot of cues from Apex but reintroduces vehicles and instead of classes you can spawn in weapons loadouts for currency you earn in the matches. Another new addition is the ability to earn money through mini-objectives in the match, which you can use to obtain perks like scanning drones, which is actually a fairly nice touch. It also adds another dimension to respawning dead temmates because now you need to balance an economy for airstrikes, drones and also any potential casualties.
If it were just this, for the most part it would just feel like a cross between Apex and the old CoD (with loadout selections and kill streak perks) but they actually managed to come up with another game changer: the Gulag.
Now, when you die, you get one free chance every match to respawn to your team before they even can rez you themselves. You and another killed player get put into a one on one and whoever wins the Gulag match gets a free respawn. It’s an awesome mechanic which I love, although it’s very good at making it clear just how much I suck at the game…
The game also dials back a bit the aggression and fast movement from Apex. You still have shields and so rarely get into a fight where you don’t get the chance to fight back. But now you also have option of sniping enemies and picking them off from a distance because distance engagements are viable once more, as it is harder to escape being pinned down by a sniper.
I think close-quarters aggression is still viable, but now it’s much more doable to sit on top of a building and blast enemy squads as they appear around you, rather than having to take the fight to them.
The gunplay again feels amazing which is a positive, and so it doesn’t feel like a let down moving here from Apex. It’s different of course, but also similar in a good way.
One potential criticism though is that I think there are too many players in a match. Matches go up to 150 players in squads of 3, and combine that with ~75 respawns from the Gulag and it means you might be up against 200-odd players (in a way). This means that matches feel like they take MUCH longer than other games and so the downtime can be a bit of a pain.
Like I said before, I think Fortnite is probably a reasonable choice if it is particularly your flavour and while I’d choose PUBG over it, objectively speaking I definitely would NOT recommend anyone else to do the same.
In terms of picking the best though, it’s a potentially contentious outcome here because, if you asked either of us MMGamers, we’d both give you a different answer.
The validity of sniping in Warzone, plus larger focus on recon and setting up nice shooting, makes that Tim’s choice for best Battle Royale. Whereas for me, I really enjoy the aggressiveness and speed of Apex that prevent much of the frustrations that I used to have with PUBG.