PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds continues its slow and steady trek of battle royale evolution with its (unfortunately codenamed) “Savage” map that launched into limited-access beta earlier last month. It shows a new direction for the game, one inspired by that other battle royale that has stolen the spotlight, and not necessarily a direction Battlegrounds needs to pursue.
It’s a smaller map, clocking in at a total map size of 4km by 4km, a quarter of the size of its larger predecessors Erangel and Miramar (both about 8km by 8km). The total number of players on the map hasn’t changed, however, so you’re still dropping in with ninety-nine other combatants. This time things are just moving quite a bit faster.
It’s impossible to look at this new, jungled map and not recognize the influence of Battlegrounds’ most high-profile competitor, Fortnite: Battle Royale. The map of Fortnite is also much smaller than Battlegrounds’ first two maps, and uses that size difference in its more fast-paced and cartoonish action.
Beyond the obvious visual similarities between Fortnite’s map and Battlegrounds’ newest map, they have a notable similarity in their design, both being based around more “balanced” mapping than previous Battlegrounds maps. The villages and points of interest in Savage are relatively evenly-spaced, and the roads connecting them feel more purposefully placed than the more naturalistic design of Erangel and Miramar. It feels more designed than those earlier maps, which have a kind of unintentional sprawl that resembles how real towns are developed.
What this leads to is a strange crisis of identity. Playing in Savage feels wholly different than playing in the earlier Battlegrounds maps, and I’m not sure that this is a good thing.
The accelerated pace of the map lends itself to none of the calmer moments that define what makes Battlegrounds special when compared to a game like Fortnite: Battle Royale. To be clear, neither is “better” or “worse,” but the strengths of Battlegrounds are downplayed in its new forested map, and seem to be drawing all the wrong lessons from its competitor.
Dropping into a crowded area is fun every now and then when you’re looking for a faster game, but Battlegrounds’ newest map offers no alternatives. Due to the size and design of Savage, battles are nearly always fast and trigger-happy. Unlike in Erangel or Miramar, there aren’t really places to rest or find a break from the action. Savage is a sprint, without the quieter moments that make Battlegrounds such a uniquely stressful game.
While some players might welcome this, and I don’t think it’s a wholly bad design decision on its face, it feels limiting. Larger maps gave Battlegrounds its character, but Savage narrows that breadth of options to one specific style of play. It just doesn’t feel like Battlegrounds.
Dante Douglas is a writer, poet and game developer. You can find him on Twitter at @videodante.