Fortnite is the biggest game on the planet right now. It’s played by more than 125 million people, including a host of celebrities, and it dominates services like Twitch. While Fortnite and its predecessor PUBG popularized the battle royale genre — where groups of 100 fight until only one player remains — that kind of success leads to plenty of imitators. Even blockbuster shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield are getting in on the action.
Amid this deluge, it can be tough to separate what’s actually cool from the games that are simply following a fad. There are a number of other experiences doing interesting things in this space. And since many of them also happen to be free, they’re worth checking out to see what else is possible in the genre. Here are a few options.
Cuisine Royale began as an April Fools’ joke, but it proved to be so popular that it stuck. The basic premise is silly. It’s essentially Fortnite, but all of the gear is kitchenware. You wear pots and pans as helmets, while a waffle maker serves as a solid breastplate. But even with those humble and goofy origins, the game is also shockingly competent. It runs fast and looks great, even as more established titles like PUBG struggle with performance.
It includes smaller-scale battles with groups of just 30 players at a time, which means that matches fill up quickly. Cuisine Royale also offers what its developers describe as “the most honest system for loot boxes”: they’re completely free and labeled with what exactly is inside. While Cuisine Royale is free to play right now, the developers say that as of June 25th they “will probably make it a paid game to cover server expenses and fund further development.” If you’re curious, you’ll want to check it out soon.
What if Fortnite was more like a fantasy role-playing game? That’s essentially the premise for Realm Royale, which is available as a free-to-play experience now on Steam. The biggest differentiator is that Realm Royale features a class system, allowing you to play as everything from a mage to a knight. This, in turn, means a lot more abilities. Mages can wield magical spells and throw fireballs, for instance, while hunters can wield bows. The class system also adds an interesting dynamic to team play, as you can form a squad with different abilities depending on the class makeup.
And while Fortnite focuses on building structures to help players create defenses or reach high points on the map, Realm Royale instead emphasizes crafting new gear. Just like in many other RPGs, you can find forges around the map, where you can upgrade your weapons to improve your skills and chances in battle. Also important: while the map is comparatively huge, you get a horse to ride around.
H1Z1 isn’t a new game — it actually came out before PUBG and Fortnite exploded in popularity — but it’s found a new life following a release on the PlayStation 4 and a new vehicle-centric mode called “auto royale.” The game features the core of what you’d expect from a battle royale shooter: you’re dropped on an island and forced to scrounge for weapons and ammo as you fight to the death. It features a lot of customization options and skews more toward the gritty, violent style of PUBG.
But the vehicular mayhem adds a different dimension to the game. H1Z1 already features cars in its main battle royale mode, but here, violence behind the wheel is the entirety of the experience. You play in squads of four, with up to 30 vehicles per match, and the goal is still the same: survive longer than everyone else while a poisonous cloud pushes teams closer together. H1Z1 is already a fast game, and the addition of vehicles manages to ratchet up the intensity.
While Fortnite and PUBG are both available on mobile now, that wasn’t always the case. And NetEase’s Rules of Survival was one of the first — and most successful — games to fill in that gap on your smartphone. While it’s not especially original, Rules of Survival has the advantage of being built from the outset for mobile, so that it features controls and an interface that’s slightly more in tune with a touchscreen.
It’s also impressive for its sheer scale: Rules of Survival currently boasts a mode with up to 300 combatants, with a huge new map to go along with it. The game launched last year, but it’s still regularly updated with new content and features. Most recently, NetEase added a first-person shooter mode for more intense combat.
In a way, all battle royale titles are survival games since the goal is to stay alive until the end, but Darwin Project is much more extreme than most. The game takes place in a near-future version of the Canadian wilderness, in which a game show pits 10 players against each other, Hunger Games style. So in addition to dealing with the other players who are intent on killing you, you’ll also need to contend with surviving the cold and setting traps.
There’s also a role for those who don’t want to fight to the death: the director. “He / she is the host and master who controls the arena with nuclear bombs, zone closures, gravity storms, and the power of their voice,” explains developer Scavengers Studio. Darwin Project also includes features that are meant to make it more interactive for viewers, like the ability to vote on what player should receive a bonus heal.
The big twist in Radical Heights — aside from its at-times overpowering ‘80s theme — is the inclusion of cash. Throughout each match, you’ll be able to earn money that you can use to customize your character, and it can also be banked so that you can snag some weapons earlier in another match. It’s an interesting concept, though Radical Heights is still very early in development, and chances are it won’t be around too much longer. The developer, Boss Key Productions, has shut down, and it’s unclear how long Radical Heights will continue to see support. Play it while you can.