It began as a manga, then it was a movie, and then it was a mod for a military simulation game. But now? It is a full-blown phenomenon.
The battle royale genre has become so ubiquitous that even people who know nothing about video games are familiar with the name of its heaviest hitters. You know them, too: Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4‘s Blackout mode.
With Respawn Entertainment’s new Apex Legends, there is yet another contender in the genre, which may leave some players asking a question: Which battle royale should I play?
For fans that want to know which game is worth their time, money, frustration, and joy, there are three factors to consider. Once these factors are understood, players can choose the title that is best suited for them.
Let’s dig in and see what each has to offer, as well as what types of players each game are good, and bad, matches for.
Apex Legends is the newest kid on the block, and it is Respawn Entertainment’s answer to everything battle royale. It’s clean, smooth, and offers innovations that make it one of the most refreshing takes on the genre in years.
Gunplay in Apex Legends operates at the smoothness we’ve come to expect from Respawn’s games — like expensive butter on an even more expensive dish.
Amidst the gunplay in the four titles analyzed here, I unequivocally prefer the version in Legends. On a purely technical level, nothing beats it.
Every gun sounds like it could take your arm off — the mechanical sounds are crunchy and visceral, and the incidentals (charging, cocking, casing ejection) are a pure joy to listen to. More than that, every weapon has a personality, much in the same way a PUBG weapon does, but the difference here is the travel time.
In Battlegrounds, you don’t wait too long to hit someone at even the farthest distances, but Legends demands a lot of lead from its players. I’ve heard more than one player mention how the travel time messes with the aim they’ve come to expect from other titles.
Regarding the various categories of guns, I don’t think there’s a single one without a game-changer. Even the trash-tier options are viable in certain situations, and the meta is still so in flux that we haven’t completely nailed down the god setup everyone should use all of the time.
Overall, the gunplay in Legends is leagues above even what you find in Black Ops 4‘s Blackout mode, but the skill ceiling is higher. That means that actually “gitting gud” takes a level of dedication and investment many players might not have the time for.
If I could level any criticism against Respawn’s instant hit, it would be that players below a certain skill level are just going to lose, a lot, and accessibility is one way battle royale titles make their bones. But hey, it hit 25 million players in a week, so what do I know?
There are a few things that make Legends something of an odd duck when it comes to the loot game:
- Each main landing area is rated by the level of loot you find there. That means that the safe, low-rated landing options won’t get you everything you might need for later in the game.
- The game features a cargo ship. You will have to race against the rest of the lobby for it, and it’s filled with good stuff for a squad.
- Many of the heroes have abilities that make looting a risky proposition.
These factors make it hard to pin down exactly where Legends sits amidst the other three games listed here. It has elements of all of them and some new ideas of its own that none of the other battle royales can boast.
Like Fortnite, each combat zone is open enough to mean that there is nowhere to hide when searching for loot. Legends takes this a step further by adding Bloodhound’s pulse ability to the mix.
Like Black Ops 4, going from gearing up to giving the beat down happens in one smooth motion. However, you’re more likely to find a single gun and take the fight to the enemy, rather than fully gearing up, in Legends.
And like PUBG, the loot that you find is just half of the equation. Legends’ movement and hero abilities make even the worst guns usable.
Overall, the loot game in Apex Legends is the best kind of insanity. You can take it slow or kill the whole lobby in 10 minutes, and you can do so with both ease and style.
This one’s easy: the heroes. While I could talk about the ping system, or the team-based mechanics, or the movement all day, the ability to pick a character and build your playstyle around their kit, sets Legends apart from any other BR on the market.
Plus, every character is so different from a usability standpoint. As we talked about in our Apex Legends character ranking, different heroes have different uses and effectiveness, but they also have personality that you can love or hate. And that’s valuable.
People love a good story, and if you are attached to a particular character’s personality, that makes using their abilities more fun. You can project a little of yourself onto them in ways our other contenders don’t allow.
The abilities also create opportunities for new types of gameplay, and different playstyles, depending on how you choose to use your character’s kit. Like Fortnite, you can set the pace of an engagement with the press of a button, but rather than changing the world around you, you’re using an ability that forces your enemies to rethink their strategy.
Of course, they can do the same to you, so the unpredictability makes playing Apex Legends a real treat.
A Good Match For:
Battle royale veterans and newbies alike. Legends iterates enough on the formula that everyone will have a learning curve, but everyone has something to offer their squad here.
Not A Good Match For:
Players that want an easy experience or don’t like hero shooters. Apex Legends is a surprisingly deep game and takes time and plenty of dying to master. And if you don’t want in-game characters changing how the game’s played, Legends is not for you.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Blackout Mode
Made in just six months, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4‘s Blackout mode dominated the battle royale space for months, giving Fortnite its first real taste of competition. It offers its players the refined Call of Duty experience with plenty of attention paid to every aspect of the BR genre.
Shooting in Call of Duty has always felt good, and Treyarch has had ample time to hone their gun mechanics to a razor’s edge. That fact is as true as ever in Blackout, and, thanks to generous recoil mechanics and plenty of weapon lethality, this entry might be the most accessible battle royale experience on the list.
Like Apex Legends, but to a lesser extent, Blackout’s gunplay feels smooth. Every gun on offer, even the joke ones like the lever action or the Ray Gun, handle like dreams. There’s plenty of punch behind every trigger pull, and Call of Duty’s trademark hit marker sound gives the player instant feedback, regardless of how close or far away an enemy is.
Weapon usability is also fairly uniform across each class. Every category of weapon has some use.
Overall, the gunplay in Blackout is smooth, punchy, and powerful. That’s not surprising based on the series’ long history of top-notch mechanics, but nowhere in the franchise has it been this clean, except maybe Modern Warfare 2.
Like the shooting, the looting experience in Blackout is smooth. While the availability of the best guns varies by location, no matter where you land, you’re bound to find something to give you an edge.
The transition from a landing, to grabbing the bare essentials, to taking on squad after squad is intoxicating because it doesn’t feel like there’s been a transition at all. It just sort of… happens.
Blackout sits somewhere between PUBG and Fortnite‘s loot games. Because of the general effectiveness of most of the guns in Blackout, the first thing on your mind does not need to be finding something to get you past the first fight.
Additionally, once you know where to drop at each location, you can establish a route to take you to your initial setup each time.
The Blackout difference is in its speed. You very well might have all of an area to yourself, but with the movement options available to every player and plenty of vehicles, you could have someone on top of you far sooner than you expect. Fortnite is similar, but the destructible environments add that extra layer Blackout lacks.
The reduced complexity doesn’t hurt Call of Duty’s battle royale mode, because it brings some of the PUBG suspense and tension. You’ll know how many people landed with you, not where they are or what they’ve picked up, and in many cases have no easy way to get to them quickly, even if you have a good guess. Every engagement becomes cat and mouse, with the roles shifting almost every second.
Overall, Blackout‘s loot game is Silky/10. Just don’t let the smoothness fool you. You will die, and quickly.
Much like PUBG, Blackout is relatively free of gimmicks or complicated mechanics. It’s saving grace is the core gameplay powering it: sleek, deadly Call of Duty design.
Optimal movement is essential, and because it’s so fast and fluid, players of multiple skill levels can get in and out of trouble with a grace only Apex contests. But even Respawn’s effort lacks a certain elegance when it comes to moving around the map. Acceleration becomes a problem, and there’s a certain heaviness to some of the movement.
Not so in Blackout. Here, everyone on the map can duck, dodge, dip, dive, and dodge with the kind of style no other battle royale currently offers.
If there were one aspect of this BR that gives it something of an edge, it would be the perk system. Putting Call of Duty-style perks into an otherwise even playing field was a risky move, and the balance is still a little wonky. However, like making your own cover or using a specialist ability to get out of cover, activating the right perk at the right time can and will win you fights and matches.
Which, of course, is the point.
A Good Match For:
Call of Duty and battle royale fans, or fans of any shooter with a fast pace and smooth feel.
Not A Good Match For:
People looking for major innovations on the established formula. Blackout is BR done well, and it has a few neat tricks up its sleeve, but it does little to push the genre forward like Fortnite or Legends.
The game that started the current craze, PUBG may have lost its crown as king, but it remains one of the most played games on PC. Nothing flashy here, just pure gunplay on an enormous map.
PUBG‘s gunplay couldn’t be any less like the other titles on this list. It’s heavy, sometimes sluggish, and often hard to control. The bullets travel deceptively fast, the feedback is almost purely visual, and the guns themselves can be a little awkward in even the most skilled hands.
What sets PUBG apart is in its consistency. Thanks to its relatively small selection of weapons, when you pick something up, you instantly know what it will feel like to shoot. Once you get a handle on travel time, you can be accurate to stupid distances.
Once you’ve got the setup you want, you’ll know what distances you’re best suited for, provided there’s no lag (a rare enough thing, I know). Even when few engagements are entirely on your terms, you can have total control of the gun in your hands.
As for the weapons themselves, each of them has a unique character, but weapons within a specific type have a similar feel.
Overall, PUBG‘s gunplay is responsive, reliable, and weighty. It’s a technically proficient system that deserves immense praise for the precision the game requires of its players. While it’s difficult to master, those who do are terrors no one will see coming.
There is no tiered loot in PUBG. There are worthwhile places to drop and bad ones. No one will know what you have until they kill you or you get close enough to see their models or hear the actual report of the gun. The weapon you pick up at the start of the game could very well stay with you the entire rest of the match, either because it’s a meta weapon or just one you like.
As mentioned above, PUBG is all about consistency. You know what you’ll be getting the instant you see a gun. Minus a few attachments, the gun you pick up will work pretty much the same way every time.
That’s a real positive. Unlike the other entries on our list, there’s very little about Battlegrounds to surprise players, whether they’re new or old. Yes, someone who just bought the game won’t necessarily know whether they want to use an M16 or an AK, or even the benefits or detriments of either, but they will quickly realize if they like what they have or not.
All that takes some of the bite out of the initial head game of where to drop, what to pick up, where to hide, and so on.
What it doesn’t do is remove the tension. That lack of extra thought only serves to heighten the stress. In Fortnite, you’ll probably hear the side of a building go down. In Blackout, you can juke this way and that to avoid fire. In Apex, the heroes have abilities to get you out of a jam.
In PUBG, you have what the game gives you and nothing else. Did that guy who landed across the way find a better gun? Armor? Two guns? Pair those few unknowns with the slower, more measured movement and the looting before a gunfight becomes an exercise in willpower, more cat and mouse than a shoot-em-up.
Overall, PUBG‘s loot game is Simple is Best/10. Learn it. Live it. Love it.
What is the secret sauce that propelled PUBG to the top of the Steam charts, where it remains to this day?
As we’ve discussed, Battlegrounds doesn’t have a lot of fancy tricks to keep players engaged. Its guns are its guns. The movement is sluggish and heavy. The loot game creates tension but lacks flair.
Instead, PUBG fine-tuned the pace of each match until it couldn’t take another tweak, then released it into the wild to let players learn how to approach each match.
The ramp up and slow down in this game is a sight to behold. Without additional considerations to make, gameplay can be measured, thoughtful, and precise. The chaos of dropping in a high-population area might feel different than taking the safe route, but no matter where you land, the cat and mouse game feels the same. Your only difference? How many cats and how many mice.
A Good Match For:
Shooter fans who want a streamlined experience built on solid foundations, that feels weighty, takes skill, and creates tension at the best moments.
Not A Good Match For:
Those looking for a fast, smooth, forgiving experience. PUBG has never offered its players favors, and the sluggish movement can be incredibly offputting for some.
Where would the battle royale genre be without Fortnite? It’s a question we may never have a satisfactory answer to, but there is no denying the absolute powerhouse that Epic Games has created. From the introduction of building to its constant content updates, it’s only in recent days that this game has had any competition for its long-held crown.
The only game on the list with hitscan weapons, Fortnite offers an experience filled with “snappy” gunplay. You aim at someone with anything except a sniper or a shotgun at-range, and you will hit them from any distance.
Hit feedback is instant, colorful, and satisfying, though only to a moderate degree. Where Fortnite shines is in the movement from weapon to weapon. Draw times are fast across the board, making combo-style shots both a breeze and incredibly fun to pull off.
On the whole, Fortnite’s gunplay is tight, responsive, and fun. It won’t win any awards for innovation, but there’s no denying that the technical aspect of pulling the trigger and watching enemies perish is incredibly solid.
Fortnite’s loot metagame revolves around the tier of loot you can find, and often about who picks up the shotgun first in a given zone. Because of the building mechanic (discussed in more detail below), where you land is also about more than just the guns you want to find. It’s about maximizing your materials early on so you can make the cover you need to win.
Combine those two factors and you have a particularly deep pool of decisions to make at the start of every match. While there are better zones to drop than others, no one will guarantee you get what you want every match.
Because almost everything is destructible, nowhere is safe, no matter where you are on the map, adding another layer of complexity the other three games on our list don’t have.
Add in the sheer volume of every sound in Fortnite and the number of considerations you have to make at every moment is staggering.
Fortnite further differentiates itself by having dead enemies explode out their loot like confetti, making it both tantalizing to you and everyone within eyeshot. Sure, trading out your green burst rifle for a gold AR is nice, but did someone see you take it, and do they have a sniper rifle?
Overall, Fornite’s loot game is Complicated/10. And that’s a good thing.
This one is obvious: building and environment destruction. Unlike the other three games on our list, every player on the map can determine their terms of every engagement. Getting shot from an off angle? But up a wall. Need to get on top of that hill? Build stairs.
It seems like such a simple thing in theory. Give someone control of how their fights go, outside of even the static environment. Actually implementing such a system is a masterstroke.
Fortnite’s system works so well because the actual building mechanics are so simple. Push button, build thing. Even if there were only one material type and one object type, I believe Epic Games’ cash cow would still dominate the market.
But they went further.
Instead, there are three different material types that come from different destructible objects, and you can add doors and traps and campfires and bouncy pads and all manner of additional silliness. Like the split second decisionmaking required at the start of every match, in Fortnite a calm moment can quickly become a spastic build-fest free off the need to find cover and return fire.
No, here you make your cover yourself, and you decide how to engage. Other players will just have to adapt.
A Good Match For:
Anyone with two thumbs and access to darn near any form of playable media. More seriously, Fortnite is great for players with above average reflexes, a love of colorful aesthetics, and some deep mechanics buried beneath an accessible exterior.
Not A Good Match For:
Anyone who wants a more streamlined shooter experience. Fortnite’s gameplay takes some getting used to, and though it embraces many of the standards set by other top third person action games, it makes several innovations that more conventional players might not enjoy.
The Final Question
So which battle royale spoke to you? Do you want the simple, precise tension of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or the insanity and heroes of Apex Legends? Does the chance to redefine the battlefield in Fortnite speak to you, or do you want to be everywhere at once in Blackout?
As I said at the start, I don’t think there’s a wrong answer, only different choices. The best part about that is, none of these games are going anywhere fast, and if the past is any indication, they’ll be evolving for a long time to come.
See you in the ring.