Counter Strike: Global Offensive is ready for the next era of shooters. Valve updated its esports wunderkind with a new battle royale mode, Danger Zone, and simultaneously made the game free-to-play. Call it the Fortnite effect--the world's most popular game doesn't cost a penny to play and has led the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield to include their own battle royale modes in a bid to remain competitive with Epic Games.
Most battle royale games follow a familiar pattern: Up to 100 players are dropped into an expansive map and forced to scavenge for weapons they can use to (hopefully) wind up the only survivor. Danger Zone is different. Valve limited the game mode to just 18 players--16 if you're solo queuing--and designed the mode to all but guarantee that individual matches are over within 10 minutes. That should lead to much faster and more frantic games.
Danger Zone features weapons ripped from CS:GO proper. Some will be found lying around the map, which is dubbed the Blacksite, but others can be ordered via delivery drones. Players have to pay for this upgraded arsenal, with money being earned by finding safes or escorting non-player character "hostages" to safe zones. Contracts will also be placed on well-performing players' heads to encourage other people to take them out.
As if that wasn't different enough from the formula established by PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite, Valve also included an in-game tablet that allows players to "track opponents' positions, track your deliveries, and chart a path to avoid the Danger Zone." The tablet can be upgraded to display more information, too, making it a vital part of surviving the onslaught of players on any given Blacksite.
CS:GO's shift to being free-to-play instead of a paid-for title could also make a big difference for its future. It's hard to compete with new, free titles with a game that debuted in 2012 and still cost $15. This way Valve could pick up more players for CS:GO and continue to subsidize the game's development with in-game cosmetic items like it was before. (It's hard for a six-year-old game to be monetized strictly via direct sales.)
Valve said people who already paid for the game will receive the following benefits:
"– All players who played CS:GO before the Danger Zone update will receive a commemorative Loyalty Badge they can display on their profile.
– All current CS:GO Players have been upgraded to Prime Status
— Prime Status continues to match you with other Prime Status players
— Additionally, your Prime Status will give you access to the new Souvenir MP5-SD | Lab Rats (available by earning XP while playing Danger Zone matches) and the new Danger Zone case."
More information can be found in the company's FAQ about the shift to a free-to-play model. But the bullet points above offer the gist, and at this point, Valve is essentially giving away goodies to people who probably bought the game years ago. It wouldn't have been surprising if the company had simply made the shift and introduced Danger Zone without compensating existing players. It's nice that Valve opted to go a different route.
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Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.