It has been impossible not to feel the effect that Fortnite has had on the gaming world. People talk about it, professional athletes use the dances in celebration, and parents are now hiring Fortnite coaches in order to make them better. Similarly, the PUBG Global Invitational drew over six million viewers with 429,697,418 hours viewed while also boasting a prize pool of three million dollars. What was once thought as a fad in the video game world seems to have planted its flag for good. The Battle Royale genre is here to stay.
While my feelings on battle royale are my own, I see the value and the appeal of these games. They are fast, they can be fun, and they play well. However, playing a battle royale game is a bit like eating Chinese food; you consume it quickly, it tastes pretty good, but in the end, you’re left feeling a bit unsatisfied. The lasting impact of a battle royale contest leaves players chasing that high they might never get again.
Yet, in the year of Battle Royale, the buried lede is that the gaming industry is currently having one of the best years in history in terms of narrative-driven story games, and they aren’t even close to done. Games like God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, We Happy Few, Far Cry 5, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider have shown us that there is some value in playing games alone. Not only that, but we still have Red Dead Redemption 2, and quite possibly Cyberpunk 2077 and The Last of Us 2 to look forward to this year. It would be easy to dismiss these at great games for people who aren’t good at Fortnite or any other battle royale, but the numbers tell a different story. Over the course of this year, the top three selling video games are Marvel’s Spider-Man (3.5 million copies and counting, God of War (4.8 million), and Monster Hunter World (4.3 million). While Fortnite stands as a complete revenue machine, people are still buying and very much enjoying single-player adventures and the stories get better with each year.
What this tells us is that story still matters. While the thrill and social aspect of playing against other people fails, gamers can still rely on narrative-driven games to create a more personal experience. I think about my time playing God of War constantly. I think about the complicated relationships between the characters and meditate on how much time and effort it took on the developers part to deliver a product that meant something to the audience. Similarly, I found myself upset at my co-host on #Dork Podcast because he wanted to do an entire episode on Marvel’s Spider-Man because he simply didn’t want to finish the game. I found myself enthralled in the rhythmic swinging around the city looking for every little easter egg, every little breadcrumb that the team at Insomniac and Marvel left for me to find.
I don’t want to wax too poetic on the appeal of single-player gaming. As a matter of fact, one of the great gifts that multiplayer games give to us as gamers is a way to connect with other people. We can meet new friends, interact with our favorite streamers, and all of that can be meaningful. Yet there has always been a personal connection to the titles that gamers play, and never have single-player adventures felt more “real” than they have this year. It seems as though while battle royale is ruling the moment, it has never been more clear that single-player narratives continue to be the luxurious steak dinner in a world of fast food; once consumed you will tell your friends how good it was and find yourself thinking about it randomly.
No matter how much older we get or how much better our games look we will always love to be told a good story, and we have been told some phenomenal ones this year.