The Death of the Campaign: Battle Royale

CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE

Narrative-based games falter in light of Battle Royale hype

In the world of gaming, it’s hard to avoid the words “battle royale.” As of the last two years, battle royale has become a monoculture in video games, replacing the hype for most online multiplayer modes as well as the necessity for story-driven campaign. Instead, a game type that poses one-hundred players against each other on a wartorn island in a life-or-death fight for a first place trophy has taken over.

Although the term battle royale may be somewhat of a mystery to those who don’t partake in online gaming, “Fortnite,” a battle royale game, is likely in the eyes and minds of many — gamers or not. The popular cartoon video game is almost impossible to ignore, as it has become a sort of milestone for the twenty-first century. Such a game delivers a form of entertainment that adheres to gamers’ competitive needs while maintaining a balance between cartoon nostalgia and combat savagery, not to mention Fortnite’s endless library of hip dance moves that young children and grandparents alike have mastered.

If you’re not one of the 200 plus million people who have engaged in the battle royale feature of “Fortnite” in 2018, it goes something like this: one hundred people are loaded onto an aircraft and are flown over a dystopian landscape to then parachute, land, collect weapons and fight enemies until one person ends up being the victor. There is no time clock to countdown the game’s end, but instead a deadly storm that brews on the edge of the map, slowly pushing the island warriors into a not-so-safe zone where they make their final stand.

It’s no easy feat to turn out on top of the one-hundred other players attempting to cull the herd. Most games will end with a short lived existence on the island while the 20 top players battle it out in a bloody showdown. But for those easy targets, it takes less than a minute to reload the main menu and respawn into another hundred players waiting to battle it out. This level of immediacy deserves attention because now, more than ever, the gaming masses are drawn to entertainment that chews them up and spits them out, rather than slower, campaign based games.

In light of these tendencies, “Call of Duty: Black Op 4” (CoD) has integrated, for the first time, the battle royale culture into their games by releasing a mode called “Blackout.” The game is much like Fortnite but with a CoD spin: more blood and more guns. However, the frustration among fans stems from CoD’s decision to replace their story mode with a battle royale feature.

Longtime fans can reminisce on what originally attracted them to the CoD franchise — the campaign option, never failing to provide a level of story depth that was once so essential to gamers. Playing a CoD story mode was similar to the likes of reading a book on trench or jungle warfare, as their campaigns were a mix of historic battles that their fans would get to play through with a controller in hand. Now, all that remains in place for CoD’s campaign is a baseless purgatory of isolated warfare, i.e. battle royale.  

But the numbers do not lie, people want battle royale. The proof is in the playtime and the dollar signs: Fortnite was ranked the #1 game of 2018 by Ranker.com, thus illustrating its rise to popularity above games like “Grand Theft Auto 5” and “World of Warcraft,” which were also ranked among the most popular of 2018.

At one time in history, games such as GTA5 and WoW dominated the field, requiring hundreds of millions of dollars to produce and costing gamers about sixty dollars to play. “Fortnite,” in comparison, is rumored to have cost anywhere between a one hundred thousand and a few million dollars to produce and is entirely free to play.

In 2018 alone, “Fortnite” earned 2.4 billion dollars just from in-game purchases of cosmetic items (outfits to dress their in-game characters), whereas GTA5 and WoW collect their billion dollar revenues from physical game purchases and monthly subscriptions over a number of years.

It would be foolish to compare games like these in a relative sense. GTA5, WoW and the battle royale juggernauts are two genres of a different breed. One provides story depth and character development, while the other provides an addictive hundred-player showdown.

However, herein lies the switch: upcoming and newly released video games cannot deny the power of battle royale. Pick an agency, name a game and there is a good chance their hands are in the culture, directing it toward their game release in hopes to attract this new breed of fans.

For example, GTA5 did not debut with a battle royale mode when it originally released for the Xbox 360, but as of late 2017 (shortly after the debut of Fortnite), an update with a battle royale modification became available through it’s downloadable content labeled, “Smuggler’s Run.” However, the update did not receive near as much popularity as other standalone games, such as Fortnite or Call of Duty: Blackout.

But the producers of GTA5 were sure to think ahead and include a battle royale mode, titled “Gun Rush,” in their most recent game release, “Red Dead Redemption 2.” Other games have followed suit: The Battlefield franchise, widely known for its powerful story modes and demanding online gameplay, chose to reduce their story option to a mere two-hour experience, while offering their battle royale feature, “Firestorm,” to pick up the slack.

These aren’t the only games to fall victim to the rising popularity of battle royale. An endless list could be comprised of upcoming video games that have forgone their need for a campaign in order to observe popular demand. All is to be expected with the rise of such technological advances that bring us super realistic video games with overwhelmingly intense multiplayer options.

Although single-player, story-driven video games may seem to be the less popular option among gamers in the twenty-first century, upcoming games like “Anthem,” “The Last of Us Part II” and “Cyberpunk 2077” keep the nails from the coffin with their highly anticipated narratives and hyper-realistic graphics.

As new-school gamers veer toward the battle royale option, so may the old-school ones, as its level of excitement is undeniably addictive. But a true gamer cannot refuse a well-developed story mode, nor can they deny its exhilaration.

Battle royale is not going anywhere, so taking a break from its perpetual warfare and indulging in a good single-player experience is recommended because, sadly, the same cannot be said for the life of the single-player video game.

Written By: Jarrett Rogers — arts@theaggie.org