It’s a weird feeling to load up a yearly Call of Duty release for the first time and not have a campaign to start. Rather, there’s a series of character “specialist” vignettes with some light story elements attached to them, and instead the centerpiece of Black Ops 4 is Blackout, its sprawling Battle Royale mode.
Having played a good amount of Blackout in the beta and then some cursory matches this morning, I’ve already come to a conclusion.
This feels like the beginning of the end for the Battle Royale trend.
To be clear, this is not because I think Blackout is bad. The opposite, actually. I think Blackout is very, very good, and probably the most made-for-me Battle Royale title out there, as I’ve always loved Call of Duty combat and prefer it to the likes of PUBG and Fortnite. Using it in a mode like this on a sprawling map like this is a blast, and I’m looking forward to playing a ton of Blackout going forward.
So what do I mean?
Blackout feels like it’s about to suck the remaining oxygen out of the room when it comes to the Battle Royale trend. Like this will be the last major entry into the genre of any real significance, and then we will approach whatever the “next thing” is soon enough here.
Here’s the current state of how I see the Battle Royale genre:
- PUBG has been declining for a long time now, unable to keep pace with Fortnite. Given that gameplay is most similar to Blackout, it will be hit hardest by it, and its declines will only accelerate.
- Fortnite is still enormously popular, but it definitely seems like it has peaked, and it’s about to head into a very, very crowded fall release season when it’s practically had the entire rest of the year all to itself. It may always be the League of Legends of the battle royale genre, but its true glory days may be behind it.
- Between PUBG and Fortnite, most other upstart Battle Royale comers from smaller studios have been pushed out of the market. Some have niches that will never grow larger, some have been killed outright (remember that one week of Radical Heights?). It does not seem wise to keep developing and releasing BR games for these studios, now that AAA players are getting involved.
- Given the relative lack of buzz I see around Battlefield V, I don’t think its BR mode is going to make all that much of an impact when it arrives, given that BF games have always been high player counts on big maps, and its going a distant second to Blackout after being delayed until November.
- A few other AAA games may try, but I can’t see like, Red Dead Royale or something becoming a real fixture in the scene.
So that leaves Blackout, which I do believe will find a solid playerbase and be played frequently for at least the better part of the year until next year’s COD, even if Activision says they’ll be supporting Blackout past that.
But the point is, it feels like with the release of Blackout, all the major players are in fixed spots, and there isn’t a ton of room in the genre to keep expanding. If Blackout is a hit, it will probably come at the cost of players in existing staples, PUBG or Fortnite. If it’s not, then everything about BR’s decline I just said is amplified.
This is a less extreme version of how Overwatch arrived, created the hero shooter trend by itself, then had almost no real competition. Everyone gave up trying and then moved on to Battle Royale, leaving Overwatch to own the space by itself (though it too is suffering from the move to BR). Here, we have more major players, at least three, but it feels like we’re in the same part of the cycle now. It seems unwise for too many other games to try to compete with behemoths like Call of Duty and Fortnite, so we will probably soon move on to whatever the next thing is going to be, though I can’t predict what it is yet.
I do think Blackout is going to be a hit, and propel Black Ops 4 sales even higher than they would be otherwise. But as for the genre as a whole, with such a major contender arriving on the scene, the end seems somewhat nigh for any real competition or innovation in the space going forward. I might be wrong, but that’s certainly how it feels looking ahead.