PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has sold 10 million copies since March, and its astronomical success was always going to lead to imitators of both the cheap and triple-A varieties. While I find perverse joy in the iOS and Android clones, like the shameless BulletStrike: Battleground, I’m fascinated to see what bigger, established studios will do with the formula. When it comes to Rockstar Games and GTA Online, however, we already know the answer thanks to the new Motor Wars mode in the latest update to the long-running multiplayer crime sim.
And I think Rockstar has accidentally revealed one of the biggest strengths of Battlegrounds.
Motor Wars is a remix of GTA Online’s existing player-versus-player combat missions. It enables up to 28 players to enter a large map carrying nothing but a pistol, and you have to find weapons and vehicles to ensure you’re the last person standing. Motor Wars is a team mode, so it plays more like the duos or squads modes you’ll find in Battle Royale games like Battlegrounds or H1Z1: King of the Kill.
But if you try to bring any PUBG experience into Motor Wars, you’re going to find that most of those skills don’t translate to Rockstar’s game. GTA Online doesn’t have mechanics like armor or medical items. And Motor Wars puts every firearm, vehicle, and enemy on the map, which is very different from Battlegrounds where you have almost no info on your map.
The biggest difference is that Motor Wars is primarily about car combat (and that you have to manually pull your parachute). You want to find a vehicle with the most armor and the biggest gun as quickly as possible. That mounted weapon is going to do the bulk of the damage for your team. It almost renders ground combat pointless.
I had fun driving my teammate around and getting them into position so that they could get kills from the gunner position, but it wasn’t a deep or revelatory experience like Battlegrounds.
Rockstar isn’t the last company that will come chasing after PlayerUnknown and his pile of cash, but other developers should probably learn a lesson from what GTA Online does with Motor Wars, which is that Battlegrounds works because it is not a mode in a larger game — it is just Battle Royale.
That focus on making the entire game this last-person-standing style of play means two things. Bluehole can build every mechanic around making this concept as refined as possible, and players can invest a lot of time learning Battlegrounds because they know it’s where the developers priorities are.
Even though Battlegrounds is still unfinished in Steam’s Early Access program, it is still far meatier than Motor Wars. And of course it is — Motor Wars is just one of a million things you can do when you boot up GTA V. But because Battlegrounds is fleshed out and constantly improving, I have no problem playing it for hundreds of hours. If Ubisoft or Electronic Arts want to get in on this, I would hope that they would build an entire game around this premise. But I fear that they would rather pop it in as another mode to convince people to buy the next Tom Clancy or Battlefield game. I think that strategy is bound to fail.