As battle royale games continue their utter domination of the video game market in 2019, developers and publishers are scrambling to catch up to whichever title is perceived to be the industry leader of the week. While Epic Games’ Fortnite long held that crown, EA and Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall spinoff Apex Legends, which dropped back in February, now maintains the tenuous title of BR champion.
Yet, Apex is faced this week with competition from an unlikely source: another EA game. Battlefield V’s long-anticipated Firestorm game mode finally debuted yesterday, and it has managed to ignite at least some interest in DICE’s most divisive series entry. With influencers like DrDisrespect and Shroud hopping on the bandwagon (possibly after cashing a check from the publisher), it’s safe to say that Firestorm has the attention of at least some BR fans.
While the new mode is somewhat of a mixed bag, it seems to have been relatively competently developed. DICE has a long history of successful Battlefield titles under its belt, but this marks its first attempt at anything remotely related to the latest industry trend. Some have praised it, while others have complained about the slow overall pace of the game and lackluster, clunky looting mechanics and interfaces. Yet, the most controversial aspect of this new experience seems to be its lack of Apex-style post-mortem revival systems.
When battle royale games were first taking off, it was common knowledge that, once a player kicked the bucket, they may as well have been kicked from the server. While they could usually watched their remaining squadmates attempt to forge on without them, there was no way of bringing them back into the fight once they fell. Apex Legends changed that by allowing still-standing players to collect respawn tokens from their fallen enemies which, if taken to a specific spot on the map, could be used to bring defeated partners back into the fight.
This has become such a popular mechanic that Epic Games — once the oft-imitated, never-the-imitator harbinger of all things battle royale — is planning on introducing it to Fortnite via a new respawn van system which allegedly leaked a few days ago. While virtually unprecedented just two short months ago, this mechanic seems to have become a requisite in the genre, and Battlefield V’s late-to-the-party rendition of the mode has caught some flack for not including it.
The typical Battlefield revival system is still present here, and players can revive downed teammates much as they would in typical BFV combat. However, once they’ve been eliminated, they’re gone for good. There’s no card or token which can bring them back at the moment, which may inhibit squad play for some. This would be most impactful in a duos setting, but DICE has said that co-op battle royale modes won’t be making an appearance until some time in April.
Would the inclusion of Apex’s revival system be all that consequential to the Firestorm experience? That’s a tough question to answer, but it seems like, at the moment, the mode may need to do everything in its power to stay relevant. It’s no secret that battle royale titles are almost literally a dime a dozen these days, and, should DICE be skimping on some important, popular features, it could spell disaster for the recently-released Battlefield component.
While the ability to revive defeated teammates seems to have been well-received if appropriately balanced, detractors have voiced grievances with the fact that it could essentially undo some of their efforts; there’s no worse feeling than nearly wiping a squad only for a lone straggler to revive his buddies and come back with a vengeance. Yet, that’s much easier said than done, and it should have players who manage to pull it off feeling like John Wick avenging his dog.
At the end of the day, this seems to be an issue of a lack of innovation in a relatively stagnant pool of titles. Proponents can brag until the cows come home about the slight differences between Apex and other games which sets it apart, but indifferent onlookers will still have a hard time telling the difference between the two. These games are so similar that each small, incremental gameplay change is treated like a major revolution, and it’s indicative of the relative lack of ideas circulating in the AAA development space at the moment. Apex may be separate from PUBG, Realm Royale, Firestorm, and Fortnite stylistically, but it hardly feels all that unique when it comes down the brass tacks. No, battle royale games don’t all need to have Apex’s revival system—they need to have the next big thing which makes that system seem out of date.
There’s something desperately "me too" about Firestorm which makes it unappealing. It exists merely because EA mandated it, not because DICE had any genuinely new ideas for the genre. The mode plays it safe and fails to innovate in any meaningful ways, and it almost feels like a mockery of the traditional Battlefield gameplay with which we are all familiar. Plus, while most games in the genre are free to play, Firestorm comes locked behind a premium sixty-dollar price tag, which means that very few curious players will be likely to jump in to check out what the new game mode is like.
Much like Anthem failed because it tried to be Destiny without forwarding any genuine innovation or reason for being, Firestorm will likely fall flat because it doesn’t supersede Apex in terms of new modes and methods of play. What’s worse, EA is effectively competing with itself in this scenario, which can only hurt in the end.