There are a lot of battle royale games out there. So anything a game can do to stand out from the crowd is a plus. Fortnite: Battle Royale has its building aspect and, at the time, a cartoony aesthetic that was unique to the genre. Battlerite Royale has its top-down view, which is sure to attract plenty of fans once it goes live.
Other battle royale games, like The Culling and SOS, had unique elements and then chose to strip them away to go generic. Xaviant realized its mistake with The Culling and reverted to its “Day One” version, which has had a marked effect on its player numbers, while SOS … well, it peaked at 2,589 players in March and then, following changes (and a free-to-play transition), it can’t even top 100 six months later.
The latest battle royale to go this route is Realm Royale. In the Aug. 31 update for the game, Hi-Rez Studios and Heroic Leap Games listed this bombshell as the #1 item in the patch notes: “Classes have been removed from the game.” The number of abilities have also been reduced, from four to two (with no class restrictions, obviously), and defeated characters no longer drop their loot on death, instead dropping 50 Shards.
The latter two changes are perhaps stylistic choices – and a reminder to me not to get too used to how a game plays in early access because core features might change dramatically, a.k.a. “the Firefall Rule” – but, combined with the removal of classes, it’s got the community in an uproar. The recent reviews for the game fall into the “Mostly Negative” category, with only 32% positive, as compared to a 61% overall positive rating, and the subreddit is a hot mess of angry and departing players.
While the player numbers (via SteamCharts) are down since the start of the month, they seem to at least have stabilized, peaking at around 2,000-2,500 players daily. I think that early reports of the game’s crash were based on unsustainable numbers from a hot start, but Hi-Rez would probably still like to bring back at least some of those players – unlikely as that may seem, judging by the response.
It’s likely, though, that the changes were made more to simplify the game and make it more accessible to new players and easier to design for in the long run. When I asked Hi-Rez about the changes, I received this response, from Heroic Leap Brand and Design Director Rory Newbrough:
“Realm Royale has always been defined by its unique ability-based combat and power-up style looting. It made sense to us to wrap these looting options in thematic archetypes that our players would recognize from a fantasy world. However, restricting players to a specific class created a few issues in the experience. It limited the amount of viable loot that you could pick up, as loot wouldn’t always be usable by your class, and this problem would only magnify as we added more classes to the game. Lifting these loot restrictions now lets players combine abilities in new ways to craft their own playstyle based on what they find in the world, and thereby opening up new possibilities for classes.”
From a design perspective, it makes some sense. Still, is it a good idea to change such a huge part of your game, when you risk angering your current player base? And yes, the game is technically in early access, but it’s available to everyone and taking money. It’s effectively launched.
Maybe such a radical change will be good for the long-term health of Realm Royale. That’s clearly what the developers have in mind, especially as they were considering the difficulty of adding new classes to the game. Then again, battle royale is an incredibly crowded field right now. If you want to stand out, you might have to take on some extra difficulty.