2017 was the year of battle royale. After lurking around the fringes of gaming in the form of mods created by Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene, battle royale burst into the mainstream in 2016 with Daybreak's H1Z1 (formerly King of the Kill, which Greene consulted on) and then was taken to staggering new heights with PUBG, which left Early Access in December having already sold 20 million copies and drawn 3 million concurrent players. Fortnite's free battle royale mode attracted millions as well, and BR modes for GTA Online and other games quickly began to appear.
As a mainstream genre, battle royale is both massively popular and still in its infancy, and 2018 has already grown into major year for last-man-standing multiplayer shooters, as established games continue to tweak their formulas and newcomers attempt to claim a piece of the action with both modes and standalone games. Here's what battle royale looks like for 2018.
Developer: Boss Key| Release date: Now 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. 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 in a rough alpha state, but Radical Heights is already a lot of fun and is an accessible alternative to the military grittiness of PUBG and the intimidating building systems of Fortnite.
Mavericks: Proving Grounds
Developer: Improbable| 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 Improbable plans to pull off this incredibly ambitious battle royale mode and survival game.
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.
Developer: Outpost Games| Release date: Early 2018| 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).
The Darwin Project
Developer: Scavengers Studio| Release date: In Early Access| Link: Official site
The 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'll be actively able to 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. By giving the players tools to actively track and hunt one another, The Darwin Project hopes to avoid the long stretches of camping, hiding, and waiting that occur in other battle royale games.
There's a survival element as well, as players will have to fend off the deadly cold by building fires. One player, meanwhile, acts as an overseer, traveling through the arena as a drone while making changes to the game like turning on low gravity or locking off sections of the map.
Dying Light: Bad Blood
Developer: Techland | Release date: 2018| Link: Official site
Stemming from "numerous fan requests" Techland plans to add a battle royale-esque PvP mode to its open world zombie survival sandbox. Don't expect the sun to be blotted out by parachutes: the BR mode will feature 6 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. Presumably you will need to own Dying Light to play its BR mode when it arrives, which is scheduled for "sometime" in 2018. You can sign up for playtesting here.
Islands of Nyne
Developer: Define Human Studios | Release date: TBA | Link: Official site
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. It's currently in closed alpha, and will head to Steam Early Access at some point.
Developer: Hi-Rez| Release date: 2018| Link: Official site
Free-to-play hero shooter Paladins announced a upcoming battle royale mode at its Hi-Rez Expo. It's not shying away from comparisons—the mode is actually called Battlegrounds—and it will feature 100 players dropped onto a map to search for weapons and do battle while fog closes around them. The map is said to be 300 times larger than a standard Paladin's map, and mounts will take the place of vehicles.
Developer: Tencent| Release date: 2018| Link: Steam
Tencent, PUBG's distributor in China, is also planning its own battle royale game on PC called Europa. With real-time weather, underwater exploration, environmental kills, and destructible cover, it looks like Tencent is putting a few new interesting spins on PUBG's formula. It's currently not known if Europa will release anywhere besides China.
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.
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.
Survival Games: Battle Royale
Developer: 2.0 Studios| Release date: January 2018| 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.
Ongoing battle royale games
That's just what we know of, and with battle royale's immense popularity there are bound to be more modes and standalone games popping up throughout the year (and the next, and the next). Naturally, the current big names in battle royale will have some new features and changes to look forward to in 2018 as well.
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). After pushing into 1.0 and leaving Early Access a week before the end of 2017, we talked to PUBG Corp CEO CH Kim to find out what comes next. Kim told us they're looking at making a bigger splash in esports, tweaking tournament rules, and potentially creating a PUBG league.
Along with continued optimizations to the game, an early build of a smaller map called Savage went into player testing and we expect new weapons and vehicles to keep trickling in as they did for most of last year. PUBG was 2017's biggest phenomenon, and will continue to be the trend-setter.
Developer: Epic Games| Release date: Out now | Link: Official site
Fortnite had a big 2017 as well, 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. We don't expect the goofy experiments to stop anytime soon.
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 map.