You can't throw a rock these days without hitting a battle royale game developer. From established titles like Fortnite: Battle Royale and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, to quirky indie games like Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and Cuisine Royale, it's safe to say the genre is booming. Each game offers its own take on the concept, and so far, Hi-Rez Studio's Realm Royale is my favorite battle royale to date.
I didn't expect that to be the case. Hi-Rez Studio's other games never captured my attention--Paladins and Smite paled in comparison to Overwatch and League of Legends. So when the developer announced that Paladins was getting a battle royale companion I assumed it would be just another "me-too" release. Yet it only took a few matches in Realm Royale for me to get hooked on Hi-Rez Studio's spin on things.
Let's start with the battle royale basics. You're tasked with surviving on a map littered with resources while anywhere from 85 to 100 people attempt to do the same thing. That map also shrinks in ever-shorter increments to prevent you from simply hiding in a building or squatting behind a bush. Most games also let you play either solo, with a duo partner, or in a squad of up to four people if you want to play with friends.
Each game puts a spin on those basic concepts. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds aims for realism with its shooting mechanics and lets you choose between a first-person and third-person perspective. Fortnite lets you magically build complex structures to reach new areas or evade shots. Realm Royale, on the other hand, combines the battle royale genre with the basic trappings of a hero shooter like Paladins or Overwatch.
There are currently five classes to choose from: warrior, engineer, assassin, mage, and hunter. Each class has access to unique abilities that let the warrior ensnare opponents in a net, for example, or the mage throw a fireball. You start with a movement ability that differs based on the class and then find other abilities just like you would a new weapon or piece of armor. The abilities you use will probably vary between matches.
You can also use resources to create potions, armor, abilities, or class-specific legendary weapons at forges located throughout the map. These forges are essential to Realm Royale--they're often hubs of activity, and if you somehow live to the end without hitting a forge, chances are good that your opponent will have better equipment than you. That doesn't mean it's unwinnable--skill is a factor--but it definitely makes things harder.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that if you're killed, you turn into a chicken waving a flag of surrender. If you manage to live 30 seconds in this form you'll come back with all your gear and a portion of your health intact. You have to kill a chicken to fully remove someone from the game and retrieve their loot. This is a nice twist on being "downed" that removes your dependence on teammates. (And looks pretty frickin' adorable.)
All of these changes make Realm Royale feel distinct from its predecessors. The abilities offer more options in combat, having unique legendary weapons makes each match feel unique, and the emphasis on forges creates natural focus points instead of merely forcing people to inhabit the same portion of the map. And, as an added bonus, you don't have to learn how to build the Sistine Chapel on demand like you do in Fortnite.
That isn't to say Realm Royale is perfect. Some of the classes (mage) are stronger than others (engineer) and Hi-Rez Studios is continually releasing new weapons or fine-tuning existing ones. This is also an alpha release, so bugs are common. Character models get stuck in weird poses, rounds pass through people, and the servers often make your opponents stutter unpredictably across the map.
Still, even in this early state Realm Royale has managed to become my latest gaming addiction. It has a strong "just another round" appeal that quickly turns into "well, I can probably keep going for another hour or so." I'll probably still dabble in Fortnite--it's a bit more polished and I'm intrigued by the building even though I suck at it--but right now I can't think of a better game to kill time with than Realm Royale.