Call of Duty: Warzone added a loot train, Apex Legends got rid of its loot train, and Fortnite has cars that play Lady Gaga songs - a lot has changed in the world of the battle royale in just a few short months.
The fight for relevance means these games have become mercurial, with developers obsessively adjusting guns and abilities, drastically adjusting maps, and pinching ideas from each other in an attempt to make their battle royale the one that gets the most players and Twitch views. According to Twitch Tracker (opens in new tab), Fortnite (opens in new tab) is the number four most-viewed game, with Call of Duty: Warzone (opens in new tab) at six, and Apex Legends (opens in new tab) at 11, and while this isn't by any means a measure of their merit, it is interesting to see where they rank in terms of viewership. Could Apex Legends' currently lack of crossplay be hurting its Twitch popularity? It certainly seems like it, although that'll be fixed within the year.
So, just how fresh are the three major battle royales as of this precise moment? Is the Warzone loot train worth boarding? Does Apex Legends' derailed loot train damage its gameplay? Are the Fortnite cars about to get pulled off the road? Let's check in on all three and see how their current seasons are doing, and what could be changed to make them better.
Call of Duty: Warzone is freshly weird
Call of Duty: Warzone is in a uniquely difficult position to stay relevant and fresh considering most of its features are rooted in the realism now standard with the franchise. When battle royales need to shake things up, they tend to lean further into the spectacle of their universes, but Call of Duty can't really do that.
That's why season 5 of Warzone feels a bit absurd, as Infinity Ward has added a bevy of vibrant and "out-there" skins, a loot train ala Apex Legends, and an attack crow/raven finisher which is also a direct rip-off of Bloodhound's finisher. In what realistic warzone would a soldier have trained a crow to peck their opponent's eyes out?
Gimmicky additions aside, Warzone cleverly opened up Verdansk Stadium for Season 5, drastically changing the map for the first time since the game launched in March. The open stadium allows for some great new battle zones, and the vehicles littered across the football pitch make things even more interesting. Stadium is also incredibly labyrinthine, which creates some hilarious moments of panic when the gas rolls in and you can't find the exits - although I can't imagine this particular stadium passing any sort of fire safety codes. Opening up Verdansk Stadium needed to happen, and it's a welcome addition to a map that was beginning to feel stale.
Where does Call of Duty: Warzone go from here? Less gimmicky finisher animations and more clever and concise map changes will only improve it further. Considering it's the newest kid on the block, it's done a pretty good job of staying fresh thus far.
Fortnite remains Fortnite, but different
A lot of players will say Fortnite chapter 2, season 3 is the most entertaining season yet, thanks in large part to Epic submerging a huge portion of the map underwater and adding driveable cars.
Epic set the stakes rather high in terms of battle royale map changes when it blew up the original Fortnite map at the end of chapter one. That's why submerging portions of the map was a brilliant idea - it radically changes the existing map without completely wiping it away, giving players a frame of reference for the "new" map while also forcing them to adapt. Plus, Fortnite added boats, the ability to swim, and AI sharks that you can ride (or get eaten by), just to keep things interesting.
But Fortnite's curse may just be its state of perpetual chaos that leaves many of its young fans constantly demanding more - after you submerge part of the map, what next? This time, Epic went with cars, because more mobility just means more chaos. The cars (which until this recent update were scattered around the map but not driveable) have made it much easier to get around and add a lot more fun and ridiculousness to the game - not to mention some great beats, as you can hear songs from Drake, J.Cole, and Lady Gaga when you hop in the driver's seat.
Just where Fortnite goes from here is unclear, but you can expect it to shake things up - for better or worse. The game remains perpetually fresh and that's commendable amongst a surplus of battle royales, but Fortnite often goes too big with its adjustments and changes the meta too much for it to be coherent/fun - remember the mechs?
Apex Legends season 6 goes for subtlety
Apex Legends has a unique advantage in the battle royale face-off in that its combination hero shooter/FPS elements means adding a new character easily shakes up gameplay - most of the time.
In the last two seasons, Respawn added two characters who ultimately didn't do much for the meta, but made some serious changes centered around pain points and meta adjustments that were a long time coming. It also drastically changed the map by cleaving World's Edge in half and blowing up a favorite section of Kings Canyon. You won't see as many drastic changes in Apex Legends season 6 - and that's not a bad thing.
First, there's Rampart, undeniably one of the more interesting and diverse new Legends to join the fight. Her cosmetics are gorgeous and her personality is fantastic (she's voiced by Overwatch actor Anjali Bhimani), but it's her abilities that are of note. Rampart's "directional defender" role seems poised to shift the meta back towards more defense-based play rather than the offensive onslaught of the last few seasons. Since Rampart can throw down Amp Walls and quickly set up her ultimate (a mounted gun that absolutely rains bullets) she can help nail down a location better than many Legends. Imagine a team with her, Wattson, and Caustic? You absolutely love to see it, but hate to fight it.
The changes to World's Edge aren't nearly as drastic as in previous seasons, but they do adjust some problematic choke points while giving an entire area a face-lift. What was once Drill Site is now a massive rocket base complete with moveable components that will shift the map right underneath your feet. Plus, the loot train is gone, broken up into pieces and scattered across the tracks to provide cover - may the Allfather be thanked.
The new gun, the Volt, may not do much to change the feel of Apex Legends season 6, but it's the first energy-ammo SMG, so that's something.
In short, Apex Legends is consistently and successfully fresh without feeling like it's offering us off-brand changes or absurdity piled on top of absurdity.
The winner of the freshest battle royale? Apex Legends, for knowing its base and its core IP while consistently trying new (but not too new) things.