Battle royale: what am I missing?

Online multiplayer shooters have been my thing since my parents first got a 14.4k internet connection in the 1990s. It allowed me to play Half-Life Deathmatch and Team Fortress Classic, the latter of which remained my most-loved game for years.

Counter-Strike then arrived and, while it was an impressive step forward in team-play, there was something about waiting for the round to finish before playing again which just didn’t sit well with me (I’ll talk a bit more about this later). The early 2000s were a rich time for multiplayer shooters and my personal list of favourites goes on for a while: you’ve got Unreal Tournament, Quake III Arena, Natural Selection, Wolfenstein and PlanetSide, and that’s to name only a few.

The last one was massive for me and is probably my most played game of all time, as every day was a different experience in a persistent world. You could be stuck in stalemate for hours, take a break to eat, and then come back an hour later to find the same battle still raging. It’s the only massively-multiplayer-online (MMO) title I’ve actually played enough to become known as a regular among the community on my particular server, including the politics. Yes, I could spend the rest of this post about PlanetSide and how much I enjoyed it.

But let’s move on. Next came the battle between Call of Duty and Battlefield for the number-one spot in the genre. They’re equally matched in popularity but vastly different in gameplay with the latter, my personal favourite, featuring larger environments, vehicles and aircraft with a greater focus on team-play. Battlefield 2 in particular introduced persistent player statistics and strengthened the class system.

Since then, I’ve played almost every release in the series. I’m keen on Battlefield 2142 because of the epic titan assault mode which combines the traditional capture-the-point objectives with an assault on a floating battleship. As a soldier, you could take the fight to the enemy’s titan and destroy it from the inside, or continue to capture missile silos on the ground that slowly chip away at the hull.

Considering my history with the first-person shooter, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d like everything that battle royale games have to offer. The popularity of the genre today is staggering but there’s something all entries share in their design that I struggle to enjoy. I’ve tried each of the most popular including Fortnite, Apex Legends and Fallout 76 (but not PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds). It’s not one single title that’s the problem: it’s more about the core gameplay loop, and I just don’t feel the same attraction a significant of other gamers do.

In case you didn’t already know, battle royales consist of between 50 to 100 players who are dropped onto an island with the aim to kill everyone else to become the last one standing. Some games include team-play aspects, with small groups pitted against each other in the same way. Weapons, ammunition, armour and sometimes vehicles are scattered throughout the map and must be obtained to compete after you arrive empty-handed. I can understand how this aspect appeals as it adds chance to what gear you’ll find, but it takes still to use the equipment effectively and win the match.

If you lose in battle royale you’re out until the next round. Whether you’re outgunned by a better player, struck by a moment of bad luck or make a silly mistake, there’s no second chance. With each in Counter-Strike being quite short it wasn’t much of a problem. But I found myself getting frustrated after only one round of something like Fortnite, having spent quite some time finding some quality gear and planning my next move – before being destroyed by another player. I’m left in no mood to jump back in and repeat the whole process once again.

Don’t get me wrong: the quality of these games is high, and I appreciate that the feeling of winning after being up against 99 other people must be thrilling. I don’t think winning a match would encourage me to have another go; and even the battle royale mode in my favourite games, Battlefield V and Fallout 76, haven’t made the difference. Is it possible I’m becoming an older gamer that doesn’t quite get it?

And except for Hideo Kojima, who made it clear he doesn’t want to make this kind of game, does anyone else share my experience? Or do you completely disagree and want to shed some light on what fuels the battle royale addiction?

Welcome Back, Pilot

I have a strange relationship with battle-royale games. I love the concept of them and enjoy playing but once I’ve won a round I lose interest really quickly. In some part of my brain I see it as the point at which I ‘complete’ the game and lose the desire to go back for more.

It might be because I was brought up on releases in the 80s and 90s where once you finished the game’s objective that was it. No online component, no DLC, no expansion packs, no nothing. What you bought is what you got.

So what’s the endgame now? You win a round and then win some more I suppose. Grind for some cosmetic stuff (or pay for it if the mood takes you) and that’s it. I don’t entirely get it but millions of people do and that’s actually a very good thing. It means they play the games, pay the money and support developers and other staff across the industry. Cool.

Needless to say I jumped into Apex Legends when it launched the other week and soon added a victory there to my PUBG, Fortnite and Blackout wins. As before, the desire to play it slowly left me but this time something was different. This time I had been inspired to play Titanfall 2 again.

Why? Because when Respawn Entertainment developed Apex Legends they not only set it inside the Titanfall universe but used a very similar game engine. Movement is slow fluid, the shooting is spot on and the design impeccable, as the rave reviews for the Ping system will attest.

Jumping back into Titanfall 2 has been a brilliant decision. I’d forgotten just how good it was. Apex Legends doesn’t have the double-jump, wall-running or giant mechs and I can see why. They wouldn’t work in that environment. In Titanfall 2 however, they’re amazing. Grappling up to a wall, dashing along it, jumping to another, shooting, sliding off and into your Titan is a fantastic feeling.

The single-player campaign is a masterclass in design too. The way each level is structured is reminiscent of the best design Nintendo have used with Mario: start with a game mechanic, show player how to use it, make it progressively more complicated, end simply. In Titanfall those mechanics are everything from grappling, to wall running, to messing with time to just blowing stuff up with a huge Titan. It’s inspired.

The multiplayer is superb too with multiple game types. My favourites are Attrition and Frontier Defence. The first is effectively a standard deathmatch and you start off just trying to take down other pilots. Simply bunny-hopping around won’t help you here, you’ve got to be alert to walls, grapples, zip lines and all sorts. There are also AI ground troops running around the battlefield too. Then as the round progresses, Titans start dropping in and you’ve got massive mechs to deal with also. That these machines can operate independently of the player means that you could have both Titan and pilot trying to kill you at the same time. By the end of each round it’s absolute chaos.

Frontier Defence is horde mode by any other name and you team up with three others to face five waves of soldiers, robots and titans. It’s harder than it sounds but the five rounds are a perfect length, the two guys commentating are spot on and the level progression (player, titan and difficulty) is perfectly balanced.

Multiplayer servers are pretty slim in terms of player numbers and I’ve seen them as low as 1,500 recently but also as high as 20,000 on Xbox in the last week or so. It’s the nature of a game that never got the mainstream traction it deserved in an already crowded market.

I hope the success of Apex Legends continues for Respawn and allows them to build more in the Titanfall universe. Whether it’s a third game in the series, expanding the Apex Legends world to include mechs or something else I know it’ll be superb and worth a lot of play time.