Battle royale games are getting faster and tighter, but what about the calm moments between the action?
Battle royale as a genre continues to grow wildly out of control, and as it does new trends are starting to emerge within it. Compared to earlier BRs, the latest games are much faster-paced, usually with smaller maps that facilitate more action. And while that’s surely a positive for a lot of players, I can’t help but miss the boring stuff.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and BRs as a whole are rooted fundamentally in military sims like Arma. At the start, that meant big maps, realism-based healing and looting mechanics, and a helluva lot of walking as the norm. But games like Call of Duty: Blackout and Apex Legends have shoved the status quo further away from the sim side of things and closer to the feeling of a traditional multiplayer FPS – even PUBG is introducing smaller maps like Sanhok with similarly action-packed goals.
As that happens, I can’t help but feel like recent BR games have lost some of the intangible magic that made PUBG’s original Erangel map so special in the first place. For me, PUBG was never just about the action, just as BRs are too cutthroat to ever only be about the winning. Half the fun is trying to get that win in a squad of friends, and playing with good people can make the “boring” moments just as fun as the firefights.
That balance of tense firefights between calm preparation is what made me fall in love with PUBG.
I’m not saying this shift away from PUBG’s slow origins is a flat out bad thing by any means – both Blackout and Apex Legends are snappy and fun. It’s a style that almost certainly appeals to a wider FPS audience than a niche shooter like Arma ever did, and one that cuts down on the odds of looting for 20 minutes before seeing your first enemy and then immediately dying. That never feels great.
But while plenty of people enjoy hot-dropping into Erangel’s notorious school location to see if they can make it out of the opening bloodbath, I always preferred to take things slower. We’d drop near the edge of the map, loot what we could, and joke around with each other over voice chat as we hiked through the forest to the next set of buildings – or, ideally, drive there as recklessly as possible while seeing how much air we could get off jumps.
Even if we did start a match somewhere more populated, those long stretches of travel and preparation after the initial chaos were still vital to my enjoyment. They gave me time to breathe, a moment to relax, which sent my blood pressure skyrocketing even more when we did suddenly stumble upon other players to shoot at. That perfect balance of calm moments and tense firefights was the secret sauce of PUBG for me.
For example, one of the best moments I’ve ever had in a battle royale game wasn’t an epic win or a crazy gun fight – it was just me and my friends trying to get down a cliff and safely swim across a river. Rewatching that comical endeavor in this clip, it’s hard to imagine Apex Legends or Blackout being able to produce moments anything like it.
Most BRs that followed after PUBG’s runaway success have notably improved on its core ideas in some way – better art, cooler items or abilities, less glitches, etc. – but that secret sauce is still missing from almost every one of them. Whether you like PUBG’s military sim gunplay or something closer to Call of Duty is really a personal preference, and the high-mobility fights of the latter are certainly a ton of fun, but something is still lost in order to enable them.
I’m not suggesting every BR needs to be slow and plodding – I like competition and I like the variety we’re seeing come out of it. But it feels like the genre is heading toward smaller maps with little room to breath between fights and less opportunity for silly emergent moments to pop up, and those are what personally made me fall in love with the genre at all. If fast-paced action is what you enjoy, that’s awesome! These new games are still a ton of fun – I just hope there’s space for that slower style of BR to be iterated on in the future too.
Tom Marks is IGN’s PC Editor and pie maker. You can follow him on Twitter.