Battle royales are changing the way we play video games for the better

Can't commit hours and hours to a game? Maybe battle royales are the way to go

You’re at a party. It’s noisy, and it’s packed. The person beside you – you don’t remember their name, but they offered to get you a beer – suddenly, inexplicably, asks if you fancy joining their Destiny clan.

You smile uneasily and tell them you’ve never played Destiny and their eyes sparkle with abrupt, disturbing intent. Whipping out their phone, they show you their clan stats via an app – a bloody app – and explain they usually raid on Tuesdays but could do Thursday, too, if you’re keen. You want to escape, but it’s heaving in this room, and it’s going to take far too much side-stepping and drink-knocking to get out. With a weary sigh, you resign yourself to the fact that you’re stuck with this tit for the foreseeable future.

Hello. That tit you’re talking to is me.

I loved Destiny and its sequel. I lived and breathed it for four long, happy, dedicated years. My BFF and I smoothly transitioned from Halo to Destiny and never looked back.

If you’d bumped into me at a bar and asked me about video games during those years, I definitely would have tried to get you to play Destiny. I would’ve bored you about its sublime gunplay – it’s still unmatched by other shooters, by the way – and chucked in some references about its dizzying worldbuilding and gorgeous graphics. You might not have been convinced – Destiny is a funny old thing, and even the most dedicated Guardians struggle to accurately convey what it is that hooks them so – but I would’ve tried. Because that’s how much I loved it.

Destiny 2. Credit: Bungie

At one point, there were maybe a dozen of us in our little Destiny WhatsApp group; too many to play simultaneously, but enough that we never had a problem populating a Crucible or raid fireteam. We spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in strikes, raids, and the Crucible. We were a slightly-better-than-average clan who knew the game inside out and what we lacked in natural talent, we made up for in cold, calculated practice.

We played every night. A teammate, Jon, jokingly referred to it as “Destiny homework”, and we all laughed riotously, because playing Destiny never, ever felt like homework to us. Not once. Not ever.

Not to begin with, anyway.

As the years passed, though, the less of a joke it became. Destiny was one of the original console Games as a Service (GaaS). Following on from PC titles like World Of Warcraft, it was (and still is – it lives on as Destiny 2, of course) a game that doesn’t end just because you’ve finished the last story mission. Guardians need to play regularly to keep up and secure the best loot, dedicating at least an evening or two a week – at least.

Eventually, our clan got smaller and smaller. Most struggled to keep up – we all work, have kids, have partners, the usual stuff – and as the end-game content was often too difficult for lower-light-level Guardians… well, they didn’t want to weigh their fireteam down, did they? So they sloped off, one after the other, until only a few of us, the die-hards, were left.

And then I fell behind, too.

I’ll be honest; I was bereft. I’d had a couple of intense weeks workwise, and was late starting a new expansion. I was depressingly underpowered and didn’t have any of the best gear. I realised halfway through a new game mode that I didn’t understand anything but, more surprisingly still, I realised that I didn’t want to, either. I was done. The gap between me and my fireteam was too wide, and I didn’t have the time nor the inclination to voluntarily take on more Destiny homework.

I’d dedicated myself to a single game, with the same pals, for several years. I needed something to fill the void each night – a sociable, multiplayer game I could learn and get better at – but what the hell could I play that wouldn’t screw me over in exactly the same way in another four years’ time?

The GaaS model was the game industry’s new golden child, and wherever we looked, there was another one. Anthem. The Division. Rainbow Six Siege. We tried them all. They all had, or have, the same issue. All it takes is a couple of rough weeks to fall behind and we’re back where we started.

And then came PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

Credit: PUBG Corp

PUBG doesn’t give a shit about how much you play it. PUBG doesn’t reward obsessive play with better weapons or abilities. Ostensibly there’s a handful of treats to reward player loyalty and retention – cosmetic stuff, usually – but your success on the streets of Erangel doesn’t have much to do with how regularly you play it. It all comes down to luck and a smidge of skill – and that, my friends, makes it glorious.

It’s not just PUBG, of course. No sooner had the industry pivoted to GaaS behemoths, it swivelled promptly to battle royales, too. Along with the big hitters like PUBG and Fortnite, there’s Respawn’s Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s all-new free-to-play mode, Warzone. Each one chucks you from the sky, sends you scavenging for weapons, hoping to be the last team standing. That’s it. There’s nothing else. And this is why the quick-and-dirty mentality of battle royales is the perfect palate cleanser to the bloated, unhealthy diet of GaaS.

Do you play better when you know the environment? Undoubtedly. (My pals and I are fiendish on Apex Legend’s Kings Canyon – I’ll bore anyone about the time we won six out of seven games on the trot – but it was a different story when the map switched to World’s Edge). But you can’t unlock a competitive advantage by sinking hundreds of hours into the game, and you can’t fall behind if you skip a session for a couple of weeks. Yes, you can “level up” with battle passes should you fork out for one – but nothing you do, and nothing you buy, can better your odds on the battlefront.

octane apex legends
Apex Legends’ Octane. Credit: Respawn Entertainment

Does this mean all developers should dump GaaSs and force-feed us battle royales instead? Of course not – they each tickle a different part of our gaming-shaped psyche, after all. But as long as games like Destiny require the commitment that they do – be that money, time or both – it’ll likely remain challenging to reignite the passion of lapsed players, let alone attract new ones.

Consequently, the sudden and unexpected explosion in battle royale games should not come as a surprise to those of us coming down from a substantive GaaS habit. With their simple premise, deliciously uncomplicated combat, and no demands on your time or wallet, battle royales are the sweet, succinct antidote to GaaS bloat. And while it remains to be seen what will be gaming’s Next Big Thing, there’s one thing I am sure of – for now, I’m sticking with the undemanding appeal of battle royales.

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