2017 was the year of battle royale. After lurking around the fringes of gaming in the modding community for years, battle royale games burst into the mainstream in 2016 with Daybreak's H1Z1 and then was taken to staggering new heights with PUBG. Fortnite's free battle royale mode arrived on the scene in late 2017 and has attracted millions of players as well.
As a mainstream genre, battle royale is both massively popular and still in its infancy, and 2018 has already grown into major year for the last-man-standing multiplayer format. Established games continue to tweak their formulas as newcomers attempt to claim a piece of the action. Here's how battle royale games look in 2018.
The best battle royale games
The biggest and best games in battle royale have had a full release, but they're still rolling out new features, maps, weekly events, and updates. Even if you're familiar with the best battle royale games, there's a lot to look forward to from them in 2018.
Developer: Epic Games| Release date: Out now | Link: Official site
Fortnite had a big 2017, and only got bigger this year, providing a bright and arcadey experience (though one with plenty of complexity when it comes to fort building) to counter PUBG's measured pace and gritty vibe. Epic isn't shy about experimenting with wacky modes like 50 vs 50 or by letting players pretend to be bushes, and after the discovery of a glitch that let players ride flying pumpkins they just went ahead and left it in the game. Fortnite is currently in the middle of Season 5, and we don't expect the goofy experiments to stop anytime soon. If you enjoy games like Fortnite, read on.
Developer: PUBG Corp|Release date: Out now | Link: Official site
We don't know if there will be a PUBG movie, but after the craziness of last year we wouldn't really be surprised (we even came up with a script). PUBG has has a busy 2018, adding a third map called Sanhok (with a fourth winter map in the works) and new features like dynamic weather and bullet penetration. Expect new modes, weapons, and vehicles to keep trickling in as they have since it was released. PUBG was 2017's biggest phenomenon, and will continue to be a major force in the genre.
Free to play
One appealing feature of the crowded battle royale genre is that you can try a number of BR games without risk. Both in full release and in Early Access, there are plenty of battle royale experiences that are completely free to play.
Ring of Elysium
Developer: Tencent| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Steam
Tencent, PUBG's distributor in China, launched its own battle royale game on PC called Ring of Elysium. With real-time dynamic weather, plus snowboarding and snowmobiling, it looks like Tencent is putting a few new interesting spins on PUBG's formula. Four players can escape the freezing storm via a rescue chopper, but we discovered that even when there are only four players left they'll still try to kill each other out of habit.
Developer: Daybreak | Release date: Out now| Link: Official site
H1Z1 left Early Access this year, but is still getting plenty of new changes: a week after launch it went free-to-play and added a vehicles-only mode called Auto Royale. It still has a healthy pro scene and multiple esports tournaments every year. While H1Z1's player numbers have fallen quite a bit over the past six months, it will continue to tweak its formula in 2018 to provide quicker matches and more explosive action and further refine its new map, Outbreak.
The Culling: Origins
Developer: Xaviant| Release date: Out now| Link: Steam
It's been a rather bumpy road for The Culling. Emerging as a melee and crafting-focused standalone battle royale game in 2016, it drew a small but passionate following. But its follow-up, The Culling 2, was a completely generic BR offering that didn't retain much of anything from the original. The Culling 2 bombed and was pulled from sale after a week, and Xaviant refocused its attention on the original game, relaunching it as a free-to-play title.
Developer: surviv| Release date: Playable in development| Link: Official site
While the minimalist graphics may not look like much—players are represented simply as circles—this top-down, browser-based battle royale is one of the most enjoyable BR games out there. Everything about it is fast: click play and you're instantly a match, and rounds only last a few minutes making it perfect for quick and fun sessions. It's cartoony yet still intense, featuring fun weapons and lots of gear. Best of all, it's free.
Beyond the biggest battle royale games in full release, there are several that are currently playable while in development, with official launches planned for later this year.
Developer: Stunlock Studios| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Official site
Free to play MOBA Battlerite slipped the bonds of Early Access in 2017, and developer Stunlock Studios released Battlerite Royale into Early Access in September of 2018. On a map 30 times larger than its current arenas, 20 players duke it out using Battlerite's cast of heroes. Battlerite Royale will is playable solo or in duos. It's not free in Early Access, but it will be when it's fully launched.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Developer: Treyarch | Release date: October 2018| Link: Official site
There's no traditional campaign in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, we learned during Treyarch's reveal event. There is, however, a battle royale mode called Blackout and it hits beta this week. It looks like good fun, with grappling hooks and ray guns and a lot of nostalgia—its map recreates a number of locations from earlier CoD games—and I'm sure we'll have some impressions of it up soon.
Dying Light: Bad Blood
Developer: Techland | Release date: In Early Access| Link: Steam
Stemming from "numerous fan requests" Techland has created a battle royale-esque PvP game to compliment its open world zombie survival sandbox. Don't expect the sun to be blotted out by parachutes: the mode features 12 players, not 100.
This being a zombie game, you won't just be battling other players, and you may actually want to team up with them (for a while, at least) in what sounds something akin to The Division's Dark Zone. The goal in Bad Blood is to obtain samples of a zombie serum before nightfall, then get on a chopper to safety. You'll have to battle zeds and boss monsters along the way, and owing the limited number of seats on the helicopter, you may have to duke it out with those you've teamed up with to get out alive. It's currently $20 in Early Access, but will be free at full launch, which is planned for late 2018 or early 2019.
Developer: Digital Confectioners| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Steam
It's battle royale, but under the sea! 100 players in scuba gear are launched into the ocean in mini-submarines, where they fight to the death (or is it to the depths?) using harpoons. Jets streak over the water and drop depth charges, and sharks comprise the deadly closing circle. There are even chum grenades you can throw at enemies to lure sharks their way.
Fear the Wolves
Developer: Vostok Games| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Official Site
Vostok Games, makers of Survarium, are plunging into battle royale with Fear the Wolves, in Early Access now with a full release planned for next year. The former Stalker devs are bringing plenty of that grim and deadly Stalker style with them, as the arena is set in Chernobyl and the dangers go far beyond the other 99 players. Radiation, dangerous anomalies, and mutated animals will all pose threats as players make their way to the extraction point, hoping to be the sole survivor. The beta was in rough shape, but it's got a fun end-game.
Developer: Unbroken Studios | Release date: In Early Access| Link: Official site
Battle royale on wheels. In what looks like a mash-up of Mad Max and PUBG, drive through a devastated wasteland doing battle both in cars and on foot. The closing circle is a radioactive storm, and you can scavenge not only guns and ammo but upgrades to your vehicle. Fractured Lands entered Early Access in August.
Developer: Hi-Rez| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Official site
Free-to-play hero shooter Paladins announced a upcoming battle royale mode at its Hi-Rez Expo, and it's out now in Early Access. After some initial popularity, player numbers have tailed off and the class-based character system that set it apart from other BR games was completely removed, much to the chagrin of its fans.
Developer: Darkflow Software| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Steam store
Originally created as an April Fool's joke, Cuisine Royale quickly blossomed into a fun standalone game on Steam. The gag is, your armor is assembled from bits of kitchenware like pots, pans, colanders, and waffle irons, and the loot boxes are refrigerators. Silliness aside, it's a solid battle royale game and a nice looking one, to boot. There's no lobby, plane ride or parachuting, so it's also quick to get into a match for some looting and shooting. It will remain free while it's in Early Access.
Islands of Nyne
Developer: Define Human Studios | Release date: In Early Access | Link: Steam
While a lot of BR games and modes are being made in response to PUBG's massive success, some have been in the works since before Battlegrounds was even announced. Islands of Nyne, a first-person only battle royale game, was crowdfunded on Kickstarter prior to PUBGs arrival.
It's got a sci-fi look and feel with futuristic features like teleporters and anti-gravity technology, the story being that 100 contestants have been spirited away by aliens and dropped into one of three arenas to fight to the death. First-person only servers have been extremely popular in PUBG, so Islands of Nyne could appeal to players looking for more.
Developer: Boss Key| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Steam store
Boss Key Productions, developer of Lawbreakers, abruptly announced a free-to-play battle royale game in April and then released it into Early Access a day later. And at some point, we're not quite sure when, it'll be closing down because Boss Key itself has closed.
For the time being, anyway, it's an '80s-infused romp through a game show setting filled with cash, prizes, BMX bikes, ziplines, trampolines, and lots of obnoxious neon. It's a shame it won't stick around because it's a lot of fun, an accessible alternative to the military grittiness of PUBG and the intimidating building systems of Fortnite.
Developer: Scavengers Studio| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Official site
Darwin Project, which we first learned of at E3 2017, pits players against one another to survive in a frozen wilderness while participating in a dystopian research project. Instead of just randomly running into other players as a circle shrinks around them, they can track one another down by following footprints in the snow, finding clues that point them to nearby players, and even by viewing a map found in certain areas that shows every other player's location.
After struggling to draw players in Early Access, Darwin Project switched to a free-to-play model hoping to cut down on long match queue times.
Developer: Gunpowder Games| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Steam
Maelstrom takes the battle royale concept and ships it to sea, where 15 players compete to be the last ship sailing in this fantasy naval combat game. Choose from humans, orcs, and dwarves, each with their own style of ship, and beware massive sea monsters who will sink you if you stray too long in the dead seas around the perimeter of the map's safe zone.
It's a fun and attractive ship combat game in Early Access, though it hasn't drawn much of an audience yet, meaning matches can take a while to fill.
Developer: Outpost Games| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Official site
In addition to drawing millions of players, battle royale games have attracted millions of viewers, and SOS represents the logical step of harnessing those watching eyes and giving them a role to play. As Evan reported in December, surviving SOS's version of battle royale depends not just on being the last player standing but on winning over the audience.
In SOS, 16 players are contestants on a fictional TV show, released on an island filled with monsters. Twitch viewers take part by deciding which items are dropped from helicopters: something helpful like a weapon or healing item, or something deadly like a bomb, depending on how they feel about the contestants' performances. Guns are relatively scarce and three players, rather than just one, may escape on a helicopter at the end of the 30-minute round, allowing for team-ups (and betrayals).
Stand Out: Battle Royale VR
Developer: raptor lab | Release date: Now in Early Access| Link: Steam store
Battle royale in VR feels like a tricky proposition: one wonders if an online-only game can attract enough players who own VR headsets to consistently keep numerous matches filled. But having played it in (very) Early Access myself, and having a hilarious experience when another player reached out and grabbed a gun out of my hands, I'm pretty sold on the concept.
Survival Games: Battle Royale
Developer: 2.0 Studios| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Official site
Survival Games: Battle Royale has extremely Minecraft-esque voxel graphics and a few twists for BR, such as procedural maps that give players a different arena each time they play and a map editor that will let players design their own custom arenas. Look for it this month.
For a taste of battle royale games in development, see below. There's a lot planned for the rest of 2018 as the genre continues to expand, and we suspect there will be many more to come.
Developer: Galvanic Games| Release date: "2018-ish"| Link: Official Site
Set in the world of webcomic Cyanide and Happiness, Rapture Rejects is a cartoony top-down isometric battle royale that takes place after the Rapture among those unfortunately let behind. 100 players will gather weapons and fight to be the final one standing, with the winner (apparently) being accepted into heaven. There have been a few alpha tests, and it should be out sometime this year.
Developer: Fazan Studios | Release date: TBA| Link: Official site
Set in an alternate universe combing "the Victorian era, Lovecraft's mythology, and Restrowave," Egress looks a bit like Dark Souls battle royale. Rather than a closing circle forcing players into proximity, the city is flooding and the waters are rising, meaning players will have to climb and clamber to safety. Egress will feature different player classes with different abilities and both solo and team modes.
Developer: davevillz | Release date: 2018| Link: Steam
Pavlov, an Early Access multiplayer shooter made for the HTC Vive, is billed by many players as the closest you'll get to playing CS:GO in VR until Valve makes CS:GO in VR. The developer recently added Rift Support and revealed plans to add a battle royale mode sometime this year.
Mavericks: Proving Grounds
Developer: Automaton| Release date: 2018| Link: Official site
It's planning to be the biggest battle royale game yet, capable of whoppingly huge 400-player matches, though we haven't yet seen much of Mavericks. At GDC this year, I played a demo with only a few players in the match, but was impressed by the fact that you could track players by following the muddy footprints they left behind. With a beta coming sometime this summer, we're hoping to find out more about how Automaton plans to pull off this incredibly ambitious battle royale mode and survival game.