Many video games today exist as evolving platforms. Developers who use the games-as-a-service approach update, expand on, and improve their games over time. This type of ongoing support and enhancement--with regular updates and the introduction of new features--is part of the appeal of so-called "live service" games. They can feel fresh and new when you play.
GameSpot"s Best Evolving Multiplayer Games category celebrates five games that experienced meaningful changes in 2019. In this roundup we"ll discuss and highlight what made these great experiences even better. Our criteria was based on what made these games stand out and how they went above and beyond throughout the calendar year, not necessarily when they released. As you"ll see immediately below, only one of our five selections for 2019 actually released this year.
In no particular order, the following are the five best lifestyle games of 2019.
On the Tuesday following the Super Bowl, Titanfall developer Respawn--with no fanfare or any pre-announcements--released its own battle royale game, Apex Legends. The free-to-play battle royale game was a swift success, racking up millions of players right out of the gate. Unlike other battle royale games, Apex Legends launched in a more complete and polished state, featuring tight controls and excellent shooting mechanics that were developed by people who worked on the Titanfall and Call of Duty franchises in the past.
Apex was also praised for some of its battle royale innovations, including the ability to bring teammates back to life with a respawn mechanic and the celebrated "ping" system. In team-based battle royale modes, communication is paramount to success, but not everyone can or wants to use a microphone. With Apex"s ping system, players can quickly and easily highlight important objects in the world--like item caches, enemy combatants, and where to go next--with the press of a button. It"s such a useful and compelling system that moving to other games without it feels like something is missing. As it happens, Epic Games would eventually borrow Apex"s respawning and ping systems for its own battle royale game, Fortnite.
Launch was just the beginning for Apex Legends. The game was supported with three "seasons" worth of new content and updates. Season 1, which was called Wild Frontier, ran from March to June with the Battle Charge Season 2 spanning July to October. Season 3, which is called Meltdown, began in October and is continuing through February 2020. Each of the new seasons introduced new weapons, items, and characters, as well as a completely new map, which provided new opportunities for players to return to find something new. While Season 1 was criticized by some part of the audience, the following seasons landed better with fans.
Bungie"s sci-fi shooter Destiny 2 started off 2019 with big news when Bungie and Activision ended their publishing deal. This did not spell disaster or the end for Destiny, as Bungie--in winning back the publishing rights to the Destiny series--continued to support Destiny 2 with more content and features in 2019.
The biggest new release for Destiny in 2019 was the game"s fourth expansion, Shadowkeep, which launched in October (following a delay from September). Shadowkeep takes players back to the Moon from the original game, and it also features new missions, a new raid, and extra content for multiplayer. The Shadowkeep expansion was generally well-received by critics across the board. GameSpot"s Phil Hornshaw commented, "It"s hard to overstate how much better Destiny 2 has become in the last year ... these are improvements that represent a giant leap forward for Destiny 2."
It also bears mentioning that Destiny 2 added a new Armor system in 2019 that expanded on the RPG aspects of the game in a significant way. In essence, character builds now matter in a way the game struggled with before. The new approach to seasonal content is amping up Destiny"s approach to storytelling and making content only available for a limited time, which is making the game feel more alive and active since you have to tune in to be a part of what"s going on, or run the risk of missing it.
It wasn"t just a new expansion that demonstrated Bungie"s ongoing commitment to Destiny 2 in 2019. The company, now free from Activision"s influence, launched a new feature for the game in the form of a character-progression transfer system. Players can now freely move their characters and content between platforms in a step that gives players more freedom and control. Here at GameSpot, we found this to be a wonderful new, consumer-friendly system. Additionally, Bungie brought Destiny 2 to Steam in 2019, following its exclusivity on Activision"s own Battle.net.
With Bungie and Activision separated, it will be intriguing to see how Bungie moves forward as it relates to ongoing support for Destiny 2 and the eventual expected Destiny 3. What is clear, however, is that Bungie is now fully in control of the series--and that may be good news for fans.
Epic"s impossibly popular free-to-play battle royale game Fortnite had another blockbuster year in 2019--and it did so in an unconventional way. In October, a black hole inside of Fortnite"s map gobbled up the entire island. For a period of around 36 hours, players were completely unable to play the game or spend any money on its numerous microtransactions. Booting up the game led to a screen populated only by a black hole. People freaked out. They smashed things. They screamed. But this was no accident.
The team at Epic purposefully brought down Fortnite as part of a masterful marketing and promotion move to get people excited again--and it really worked. Everyone wanted to know what was going on. The New York Times wrote about the downtime. The story made international headlines; it"s not every day one of the world"s most popular pastimes completely vanishes, after all. When Fortnite eventually booted back up, it did so with a massive overhaul as part of a significant Chapter 2 refresh. The update added a completely new island, new water-based vehicles, and new ways to heal and support your teammates. It also introduced a new fishing mechanic, and it"s about damn time, according to this editor.
Chapter 2"s release led to a huge spike in player interest and spending, and fans and industry-watchers will be keeping a close eye on the game to see if Epic is able to continue this momentum into 2020 amid increased competition.
Fortnite also succeeded again in 2019 by doing what it does best--releasing exciting new content on a regular basis. Over the course of the year, major brands used Fortnite to promote their new releases. The game offered Pennywise the Clown skins, Stormtrooper skins, and it brought back Thanos and related Avengers items. This is only continuing, as Disney will debut a new scene from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker inside Fortnite on December 14.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Nintendo"s popular fighting game Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launched one year ago this month, and what a first year it was for the Nintendo Switch title. Nintendo has supported the mascot fighting game with heaps of extra content, both paid and free. After giving away Piranha Plant for early buyers, Nintendo released numerous extra fighters. Persona"s Joker was the first to debut, followed by Hero from Dragon Quest.
After that came Banjo -amp; Kazooie from the Microsoft series thanks to a partnership with the Xbox company. The latest character, Terry Bogard from the Fatal Fury franchise, debuted in November. At least one more DLC fighter is coming by February 2020, but we don"t know how it is just yet. In addition to the DLC characters, Nintendo has added new music tracks, items, and stages to Smash Bros. Ultimate, which provide even more reasons to return to the game.
Nintendo has also committed to supporting Smash Bros. Ultimate with updates for Spirit Board fights. The game regularly offers new content and specials for Spirit Board fights, inspired by Pokemon Sword -amp; Shield and Resident Evil, among other games. On top of that, Nintendo released a handful of balance patches to improve the feel and flow of combat, while also remaining committed to supporting Smash as an esports game through various tournament and campaigns throughout 2019.
Intriguingly, Nintendo has said the roster of fighters for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will continue to grow after the Fighters Pass DLC is finished up, so it seems 2020 may be another year of ongoing support for the fighting game.
Rainbow Six Siege
Ubisoft"s enduringly popular Rainbow Six Siege lands in our list again in 2019, thanks to another year of solid ongoing support for the team-based tactical multiplayer shooter. Similar to Warframe and good wine, Siege has only gotten better with age, and it remains a prime example of games-as-a-service done right. In 2019, Siege introduced a handful of significant updates and events that added new operators, more maps, and new features.
In 2019, Siege added eight new operators--all of whom were generally well received. A new map set in Australia, called Outback, was also released and quickly became a fan-favorite. Also worth noting is the developer, Ubisoft Montreal, showed its commitment to balance and fair play, removing an entire secondary gadget and operator for an extended period of time due to a glitch.
This ongoing support continued all year, including with the recent Year 4, Season 4: Operation Shifting Tides update that added two more operators--Kali and Wamai--and tweaked one of the older maps with some notable changes.
Also in 2019, Ubisoft added a new bullet penetration system that varies based on what part of the body the bullet connects with. In some cases, a bullet can now pass through a body and take down a nearby combatant.
Fans worried that the upcoming release of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Scarlett might encourage Ubisoft to create a new Rainbow Six and abandon Siege can breathe a sigh of relief. Ubisoft also confirmed this year that it plans to bring Siege to the next-generation consoles--and while it remains to be seen specifically how it"ll work, the idea is that your characters and content will move ahead to the new systems should you decide to upgrade. Ubisoft has said it may not release Siege 2 because it does not want to split up its active and engaged playerbase.
These are just a few of the notable developments for Siege during 2019--the developer also transformed the Presidential Plane into a child"s bedroom for an April Fools" event. There were also new cowboy skins released for a Wild West event and a new gametype featuring only revolvers and double-barrel shotguns. In short, Ubisoft demonstrated an impressive and ongoing commitment to Siege in 2019.
Rainbow Six Siege is a behemoth with 50 million registered accounts by Ubisoft"s latest number-crunching. That is a massive audience, and you can expect the company to continue to support and evolve the game into 2020 and likely beyond.