Matteo Spezialetti
Apex, Anthem and the Future of Narrative in Video Games
Opinion, Games
5 mins

There is a single, bright little dream that I have been keeping well hidden in the depths of my (incredibly stuffed) imaginary closet, since booting up a borrowed copy of Final Fantasy IX on my old Playstation at the age of nine…writing the story for a video game.
Give life to an immense fantasy world, let the players experience an epic journey through breathtaking views, laugh and cry with amazing characters, and create memories the same way I did.

That was my vision.

In other news, Apex Legends came out a few weeks ago.

Wait, what? How is that even relevant? Well, first, we need to take a step back and look at the whole picture.

“Something something NEW Battle Royale, ANOTHER Battle Royale, MORE Battle Royale” - Everyone and their dogs in the last couple of years.

Yes, as you might have heard, the battle royale genre has taken the video gaming industry by storm and it’s refusing to let go. A game where a large number of people - usually 60 to 100 - are dropped in a deserted island where they have to fight each other with randomly found weapons and tools, until only one remains standing. Yep, it’s basically “Hunger Games - the video game”. PUBG gave it popularity. Fortnite made it a worldwide phenomenon. Apex Legends did it right.

Boy oh boy, did they do it right.

I have never been much of an FPS (First Person Shooter) player, but I’ve been enjoying every single minute I have put into this game. It’s PUBG without the clunkiness and long games. It’s Fortnite without the cheesy dances and hilariously random shooting patterns. It’s the perfect mix of serious and funny, with weapons and characters that feel great to control and master, and it runs so smoothly (even on my “potato” PC), I want to send the developers a thank you card.

You know, another game came out a few weeks ago: Anthem.

Anthem is a massive, multiplayer online game. The player takes the reins of a futuristic fighting suit and shoots monsters to earn rewards and unfold the carefully-crafted, in-depth, extremely long story and lore, created by one of the best developers in the industry.

Anthem flopped pretty hard.

So what? Apex won, Anthem lost. These things happen all the time in the shark-infested pool that is the video game industry. But why does that clash so much with my writing aspirations?

The battle royale genre showed the world, and especially video game developers, that they don’t need an engaging story to sell their game. They don’t need a deep world and lore for the players to immerse themselves into. They don’t need compelling characters with their beliefs and dreams. They just need to make a good shooter.

As a writer and video game lover, this paints a bitter smile on my face. Is the future of video games riddled with soulless battle royales with predatory business schemes and micro-transactions? Will I ever be able to even find a video game to write for? Only time will tell.

Although, luckily for us, there are some upcoming titles that might re-adjust the video game industry towards a healthier balance (I’m looking at you Cyberpunk 2077 and The Last of Us 2).

In the meantime, I’m gonna go back home and boot up my old Playstation One to play Final Fantasy IX for the 57th time.

Just kidding, I have it on Steam.

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