On the Battle Royale Front

I don’t know how it came to pass exactly, but since no one else in my corner of the Internet is writing about the Battle Royale genre, I kind of feel like it falls to me to do so because I’ve tried most and enjoyed a couple. I wouldn’t say I’m a super fan of this style of game, but I do keep finding myself writing about them when a new contender enters the ring. Generally speaking, the market is over-saturated with games trying to bank on Fortnite or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds‘ success, but there are outliers and new competition cropping up left and right — and some of these are doing things to push the genre forward into realms I personally find more appealing. I’ve written about several games over the past few years, starting with H1Z1 and culminating with the new kid on the block: Apex Legends.

There have been a few news stories recently that kind of sum things up for the genre in the past couple of years. My take: Basically H1Z1 came out of nowhere and created the game mode, someone who consulted Daybreak then went on to create his own game (PUBG) and then the was Fortnite and only Fortnite. The dark ages have finally seemed to pass, with the new forerunner Apex Legends showing the potential the genre has to offer to an adult audience. I suppose you can give Call of Duty some credit too, because Blackout is pretty deece. Regardless, it seems that Apex’s surprise launch caught Epic Games off guard, but they definitely took immediate notice. I’ve read several articles that point out that Fortnite has already seen a ping system patched into the game and “respawn vans” are on the way too. The linked article said it best:

That said, Fortnite is still no slouch. It doesn’t have to imitate Apex Legends. The ping system was fine, but one who continues to watch Epic add Apex Legends features to Fortnite might wonder if they’re starting to just try to play keep up with their new contender. It would be a shame to see them just play keep up, rather than innovate on their style as they had for the better part of 2018.

I agree that it’s kind of sad to see the team responsible for the most popular Twitch game for nearly a calendar year needing to keep up with the Joneses. Why not iterate your own things? You already have the stupid factor, building, and the ability to use dances made popular elsewhere. Keep going with that, and let the kids have their playground. I’ll go hang out with the adults elsewhere, thank you. Pretty soon we’ll see hero abilities and then Fortnite might as well be Realm Royale. Sorry if I sound a little bent, I just can’t pass up the opportunity to talk shit on that game.

Back to the adult world. I’ve been playing Apex Legends pretty regularly and I have to say it’s a blast, particularly with friends, but even with randoms. Polygon has reported that the game has already reached 50 million players, and that’s pretty damn good for a month since launching. At their current trajectory they’ll be more popular than Fortnite before you know it, though that wouldn’t need to happen to prove which is the better game. Honestly the only one I’m really playing is Apex and I’m happy to be doing so. I still think the genre isn’t in the sweet spot just yet, but we’ve already seen these sorts of popularity contests between titles in many genres before it (take the MMO, MOBA and Survival Sandbox booms and busts for example). I still see interesting tidbits that are worth commenting on though, and here are a couple I shared on Twitter the other day, with some excess commentary:

So apparently one of the creators of Dark Souls/Bloodborne wants to make a Battle Royale variant. I think the combat alone would be pretty awesome, and could make for longer matches, though I’d think you might want to either limit the size of the map or the amount of players just to keep things from getting out of hand. Killing mobs in these games takes a while, and though the PvP doesn’t take as long, it could still end up being excessive. I’d play it though. You’ll just have to hope you get some armor and weapons quick before you get cut down, similar to the normal games.

I find this story kind of sad, just because of my nostalgic loyalty to Daybreak (more SOE/Verant). I wanted H1Z1 to be successful. I actually enjoyed their King of the Kill nonsense. We knew the NantG thing was going to bring changes down the pipeline, and I’m sure this is a ploy to get a mobile version up to compete with PUBG‘s mobile offering. Whatever the case, the game has changed names so many times at the point they’re probably doing more harm than good. Perhaps they don’t care and are aiming for an Asian market? Hard to say. Whatever the case I don’t play whatever they ultimately decide to call this game anymore, so it’s just a footnote in history. A shame to create something that has become so popular and then find a way to not reap the benefits. I guess that’s typical of the company though, isn’t it?

That’s all I have for today.

Battlerite Royale Leaves Early Access

After a quick, five month run in Early Access on Steam, Battlerite Royale has hit it’s full free-to-play 1.0 release. I learned of the game prior to picking up a copy, though the purchase price unlocked all champions and gave some founder bonuses, so I’m not peeved about the free-to-play full release. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve had with the game already, and wrote some impressions on it back in November when I first got started. This isn’t exactly just throwing the game out into world though, as this 1.0 update brought with it some significant changes.

You can read the full patch notes here, but I’m going to take a moment to go over some of my thoughts having played for a few hours post release.

The first thing I noticed that had changed was bits of the UI. There were some new details added, but also introduced is the concept of a “season” which seems to be popular with online multiplayer games as of late. Most lobby based PvP games have something like this where you earn rewards by playing, but if you buy a special pass for a monetary fee you’ll unlock even more skins and things and typically these items are “exclusive” to that season — this creates more desire in some players I’d assume. This season ties in with a new star leveling and season leveling system, which you’ll see more of below:

Quests are of the same “Kill 4 Players or Break 100 Loot Orbs” variety, but newly added are season quests. Complete these and get stars. Get ten stars and move up a season level which corresponds with the battle pass and extra goodies. Basically it comes down to just playing the game and you’ll earn some stuff one way or the other, but there’s an option to throw some money at the game to earn extra rewards. There are also a couple of packs you can outright buy that provide new skins and mounts. Alternatively you can earn in-game currency and buy chests which will get you some skins and avatars and mounts, etc. It’s a typical free-to-play model and I don’t really see a need to spend money to have fun.

Another big part of the new patch was the release of three more champions to choose from. Strangely enough, they are all ranged characters, and that has thrown the distribution of melee/ranged characters off a bit, but I’m sure there are more champions being ported over from Battlerite, along with brand new creations coming down the pipe. I tried all three and enjoyed both Oldur and Taya quite a bit. Pearl seems too support oriented to be viable solo, and it appears that there is still only the option to duo and you have to have someone on your friend’s list to even invite them. I’d imagine that an auto fill for duos or a group queue should be something in development, but I haven’t read anything about that specifically yet.

The map has been revamped a bit, and you can see one of the brand new zones above, and the ice sure is slippery. This is the north end of the map, they also added a new trader’s market zone at the south end and the extra space seems to help you avoid those early skirmishes allowing you to gear up a bit before fighting. There were other tweaks such as the movement speed of characters across the board, and more specific champion adjustments that you can check out on the patch notes I linked to above. Overall I think it was a successful early access run and that the game feels like it’s in a good spot. Outside of adding more characters/skins and perhaps continuing to expand the map, I would only suggest the matchmaking for duos and perhaps a group of 4-5 queue.

If you haven’t checked the game out yet, now’s the time — it doesn’t get any cheaper than free!

Thoughts on Apex Legends

Respawn Entertainment, creators of the awesome Titanfall series, has now thrown their hat into the Battle Royale ring, like many other studios before it. The budding genre is already becoming over saturated, but some gems peek out from the chaff from time to time, and I believe Apex Legends is set to do just that.

I’ve played a handful of Battle Royale games and have found only a couple of them to be to my liking. Apex Legends ticks a few boxes for me that others have not. I prefer the forced first person perspective (which was also a plus in Black Ops IIII) because in any third person shooter, you can utilize the camera angle in relationship to your avatar to see around corners in a way that wouldn’t be physically possible in real life. Being a sort of spin off of the survival genre, Battle Royale succeeds when you are forced into this camera position and need to utilize your senses to outlast the other players in the round. I also enjoy the team-play aspect of groups of three. There are only three classes of legends in the game, so you can make a balanced team with only three players. The voice chat works, but it also is entirely unnecessary. The “jumpmaster” feature is also great for keeping your team heading to the same place on the map and not being picked off elsewhere.

The map feels large, but you can still traverse much of it fairly quickly. There are no vehicles, so everything is done on foot — thankfully there isn’t stamina to worry about. The weapon and gear selection feels adequate and the gunplay is excellent. I do miss the double-jumping and wallrunning of Titanfall along with the ability to call down and pilot mechs, but I understand why they didn’t go that route. I’m hopeful for an additional game-mode that will allow the use of mechs sometime in the future but it doesn’t seem likely. Still, there are a variety of skills to use via the different legends, so it still feels varied enough.

Typical of most Battle Royale games, you’ll have rounds where you are one of the first teams eliminated, and other games you’ll be the last ones standing. My second match ever when this good, as I was playing Gibraltar and our team was the first to the circle of safety so we set an ambush. Gibraltar’s ultimate ability calls down an air strike, so when I saw the enemy team coming I dropped it on them and managed to take they whole team out in one go. Since then I’ve managed to be in the top ten several times but haven’t won another round. Rumor has it that there are plans for solo/duo queues coming soon, but actually think the team co-op is a better approach. Even playing with randoms it has been a good time.

The game looks great and runs smooth. I think it’s a blast. At least Respawn seems to have done their homework, as they’ve taken some of the better ideas from the competition and included their top-notch FPS gameplay to the mix while avoiding some of the over-the-top design choices. When loading up for the first time you’ll have access to six legends, with two being unlockables. There is a micro transaction storefront, but no power is being sold — just fluff skins for Legends and weapons. You can buy in-game currency to speed up your unlocks or to outright buy skins, or you can just unlock them with scrap parts eventually. I still don’t have enough in-game currency to unlock a new legend, but it doesn’t seem like it will take that long to get there. Honestly it’s probably worth throwing a few bucks at the company just to make sure the game doesn’t disappear, but I’d rather buy a “unlock all legends now and in the future” package than skins ala Quake Champions or SMITE.

No matter the case, the game is out now, and is Free to Play. I personally don’t have Origin installed so I downloaded Apex Legends on my Playstation 4. If you’re a PC player you’ll have to get this via Origin. It probably looks even nicer there. I’d give it a whirl if you enjoy the Battle Royale genre or need a new FPS in your life.

Thoughts on Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII

I’ve had a long and strange on-again off-again relationship with the Call of Duty franchise that has taken place over the last couple of decades. The first time I ever saw the game in action was at a friend’s house on his PC — the original game that started it all. It was reminiscent of other World War II games that I had enjoyed during that era, namely the Half-Life mod Day of Defeat and the Medal of Honor series. What would come to pass over the years is interesting, and also indicative of the overall gaming industry’s trends; originally strictly created by Infinity Ward and now being developed by several different companies and the series has gone from being a PC exclusive to being available on nearly every platform since. At one point the series became an annual event, and the price of entry was just the tip of the iceberg — almost every single installment has had several staggered release DLC packs. Such is the way of business, I suppose.

The first title I actually purchased was the first sequel, Call of Duty 2. That same friend that has shown me the original decided to grab the sequel as well, so we used to spend hours playing random maps together. Back then, like most PC games of the time, there were user generated maps and servers with custom rule sets; it truly was the golden era of the genre. Call of Duty 3 was not available to me due to being a console exclusive and in 2006 I was primarily a PC gamer. When 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare released however, I was on board. This was the first game in the series to be released on all platforms simultaneously, but it still retained some of the boons I mentioned earlier, namely some private servers with moddable content. After that, I sort of forgot about the series, probably due to being into MMOs and also lacking a console until about 2009. I also has a computer change after one PC died and I got a laptop but it couldn’t handle most FPS titles. So I missed out on World At War and Modern Warfare 2. Many hail the latter as being one of the best in the series, but I haven’t played either to this day.

Enter Call of Duty: Black Ops. This is probably my favorite entry in the series, but also when I became a bit disillusioned with it. I absolutely adored playing the Zombies mode for hours on end (which I would later learn was actually introduced in World At War), and I even completed some of the prestige levels in the multiplayer component, along with earning the Platinum trophy on my Playstation 3. I bought all of the map packs and loved it. I thought this love for the series would continue on, but after purchasing the lackluster Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, I lost my love for the series and declared a boycott on it and its business model. I would subsequently skip playing Black Ops II, Ghosts and Advanced Warfare. I did later try Black Ops II only because I assumed it would be as good as the first in that particular arc, but wasn’t very impressed. I would later purchase my Playstation 4 and it just so happened that Call of Duty: Black Ops III would be the pack-in game, so I was back to playing. This didn’t last long though. I never finished the campaign, never maxed my level in multiplayer, and didn’t play zombies as much as I would have liked. Only being a casual fan at this point, I subsequently passed on Infinite Warfare and WWII. The latter was a little tempting, only because I love that time setting but I still didn’t bother.

Now that we have come to the end of the line, I’d like to talk a bit about Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII, the newest installment. I purchased this one for my son for Christmas because he had been playing my copy of the third Black Ops, and had been talking about wanting this title. It’s the first time a Call of Duty game included a Battle Royale mode, because clearly that’s the new hotness. Beyond a slight amount of curiosity, it was frustrating me that he had not really touched the game despite asking for it because of his obsession with Fortnite (which I’ve clearly expressed my opinion on) and he also got grounded from gaming recently so it was collecting more dust. I figured I might as well give the game a whirl since I paid for it after all.

The first thing that stood out to me is that there was no campaign. Despite these games being like riding a bike, I still usually will play a bit of the campaign just to see what it’s all about, and then subsequently jump into multiplayer or zombies. I still have to say that the multiplayer experience in Call of Duty games is one of the best in my opinion, mainly because I detest the thought of running for a mile to get back to the action after dying ala the Battlefield series. It turns out this was a source of controversy that I missed, as there were conflicting stories that the campaign element was scrapped due to not being finished, and another tale that this was intentional from the beginning of development. I can believe either story, mainly because Activision will rush some shit out, and because multiplayer is the bigger, more popular component.

So instead of having a campaign, multiplayer and zombies, instead we now have Blackout, which is the Battle Royale mode. Upon further inspection, it plays like you would expect. It’s first person, you drop in on the map from a helicopter and have to avoid the cloud of death that shrinks the map as the match goes on. Apparently there are “land, air and sea vehicles” available to grab and move around faster, but I didn’t see any in my couple of rounds. What I saw that set it apart was the ability to grab weapon mods that you can attach to your guns, and some support items like riot shields and RC surveillance models. You can heal up with first aid kits (but they don’t help much, so stockpile those). I didn’t last too long due to ignorance of the map and what to expect, but it did seem like a good time. Much like the way Treyarch has sort of segregated Zombies from the Multiplayer and given it its own set of things to level up, you’ll get that here too. Looks like you can unlock mostly fluff items but it’s something to work towards.

I didn’t do anything with Zombies outside of the tutorial, but I did like what I saw. The graphics look sharp and though there are familiar mechanics, there are some new twists as well. I think this game is a cohesive multiplayer PvP and Cooperative package and if you were smart enough to wait to get it on sale (I paid $40) it’s probably worth your time, particularly if you have friends that are willing to play. You will have to pay for the DLC packs to keep current with all of the maps though, so that’s more money to spend down the road. The choice is yours. Hopefully some of my opinions will help you to make that choice.

I Went to the Danger Zone

Surprise, surprise! Another major multiplayer game is jumping on the Battle Royale bandwagon! Valve has implemented this feature to one of their flagship titles, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Like so many other games before it, the company is taking an established game in a different genre and adding-on this game mode to compete with the countless other titles that usually only focus on BR. CS:GO has been around for a long time, and the Counter-Strike IP even longer than that (20 years in 2019); with the success of the BR genre as a whole, I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise, yet it did for me. I suppose we should have expected this, given long-running series like Call of Duty (with Black Ops 4) having also thrown their hat into the Battle Royale ring. The funniest part of this is that the first game we saw introduce the Battle Royale concept was Daybreak’s H1Z1, and it is probably one of the least played games in the genre, with upstarts Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite Battle Royale having dominated the market since then. Despite not being a huge fan of the genre itself, I keep seeing games that I find interesting attempting to do things a little bit differently, and the “Danger Zone” is no exception.

While titles like Realm Royale added classes and others like Battlerite Royale gave this treatment to a MOBA style game, Valve has kept the core gameplay of CS:GO intact while also adding the BR elements to their game. It’s been a while since I last played CS:GO, and it appears that the menus and UI have been changed up a bit as well, I think it looks pretty sharp. It’s intuitive and responsive, so that’s a plus.

Unlike most Counter-Strike maps, it’s a rather large island with plenty of points of interest. This map is called “Blacksite” and encompasses some rural areas along with some industrious ones. Since it is an island you’ll be confined to its landmass, but running from one corner to the other will take several minutes. There’s plenty of places with hidden loot, including buildings, towers and caves. The varied terrain has plenty of places to hide, though the traditional gas cloud will slowly shrink in size forcing you to keep moving and find firefights to eliminate other players. At this point the map only supports 16 players, which is far less than most other Battle Royale games, but it seems to keep match times lower, which means you’ll get more games in more often.

Instead of a flying bus or dragon or whatever else the other devs have come up with, where you fly over the map and jump when you care to; instead you’re presented with a map and can select your starting location. This has its pros and cons when compared to other BR titles, as you have the advantage of seeing where others are planning to spawn, but don’t have the choice to drop out and then vastly change direction while in air. In this sense it’s most similar to H1Z1, as in that game you’ll just be randomly spawned in the air and can control your decent in a limited fashion. The map looks gorgeous and I’m glad to see that CS:GO has ultrawide support built in at this point. There is a brief warm up period where you can run around and gain your bearings while also being able to kill other players, and then the map opens up to allow your placement for the match. You’ll still drop in via parachute from a chopper, but you’ll won’t be able to move too far off of the starting point that you selected. Some major differences between this game mode and other BR games: you will start with a moderate amount of currency, find cash about the map along with more dropping from players that you kill, all of which can be spent with a buy menu. There are limited options for purchase, but these can be bought at any time and will be delivered via flying drone. This is also something you can use to track other players, as their drones will follow them around and give away their position. Also, given the “shoot from the hip” nature of CS:GO, there are no iron sights to be found though this doesn’t really change game play all that much.

So far my best match has been a #2 finish, which should have been a first place victory, but I accidentally hit Shift+Tab which brings up the Steam overlay, at precisely the moment that I spotted the only other surviving player. Of course they shot and killed me at that exact moment, but such is the way of things. It seems that a top 5 finish is much easier in this game over the other BR titles I’ve played, but it’s still a very skill based game from my experience. As you complete matches, there is a separate account level for this mode, and you’ll earn rewards as you level up. Weapon skins aren’t new to CS:GO, but you can earn them as you go with the Danger Zone.

My inventory is fairly limited because I spent the majority of my time playing CS:GO on the Playstation 3 back when it first released. I haven’t played the PC version for many hours so I don’t have access to things that more dedicated players may have earned. I constantly see myself being killed by people with various colored weapon names, of which I assume are different rarity skins. Of course these don’t make much of a difference overall, but if you put the time in I’m sure you can be one of those people who kill me with cooler weapons than I have. Nonetheless this seems to be a pretty awesome BR experience and definitely better than the shitshow that is Fortnite (apologies if you actually enjoy that hot garbage dumpster fire).

One bit of controversy that I should mention: The game has now become free to play, after what, 6 or 7 years of being a paid title? This is for obvious reasons, as the company is trying to bring in new blood to the franchise but also because BR games are generally free to play and the new hotness so they want to try and compete with the others that are out there. There has been a flood of negative reviews on Steam due to this, and though I understand that people are upset because they paid money to play CS:GO and now anyone can jump in for free, but given that it’s an old title, I don’t see how they can expect refunds and/or more free stuff after paying for it years ago. I paid for my copy (two, if you count the purchase on my PS3), and I’m not upset that this old ass game is now free. Valve could have easily given us some sort of in-game reward that would have pacified these folks, but even then I suspect that people would still bitch and moan. Whatever the case, new blood is never bad for an older title, and it doesn’t deserve the negative press. Honestly I would rather that they made a new version of Day of Defeat (even with a BR mode) because it was my preferred mod from back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, but to each their own I guess. People will always find something to complain about, and this is clearly no exception. Still, being free to play, now is as good a time as ever to check out an excellent game if you haven’t played it before. I’m happy to join up if you want to play, just drop me a friend invite on Steam (I’m Izlain there like most places).

Let me know what you think about the game in the comments if you do try it out. As always, happy gaming!