Just when you think the games industry doesn't have any more battle royale modes to spring on us, another studio will set out to surprise you. Today that studio is Firaxis Games, and the new Red Death multiplayer scenario added to Civilization 6 looks like one of the strangest battle royale modes yet, both tonally and mechanically.
Red Death supports up to 12 players and, as you might expect of a battle royale, throws out Civilization's usual stable of non-violent win conditions. It also trades the real world-based factions out for ones that may as well have been plucked from a Mad Max or Fallout game. Each faction has a different ability tuned for the game mode; for example, the "Borderlords" get a bonus to combat strength based on their proximity to the map's safe zone. Instead of building units, you plunder them from city ruins, groups of AI-controlled Raiders, or Supply Drops (this goes for nukes, too). The mode's titular Red Death is this battle royale's equivalent of the closing circle/storm/ring, here themed as the advancing creep of a radioactive mass that threatens all life on the planet. The last player with a civilian unit left standing wins the game.
The narrator for the official Red Death trailer is definitely going for a "J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson or Cave Johnson" sort of vibe, and the visual theming of the mode's factions and units trends towards goofiness. It all stands in stark contrast to the latest Civilization 6 expansion, Gathering Storm, which focuses on incorporating severe weather and the impact of climate change into the game's mechanics. The series tends build mechanics around overcoming ruin, not embracing it. Granted, plenty of people play Civilization like it's only about turn-based combat and total domination, and community mods run the gamut of themes and degrees of seriousness. Still, doesn't a Civilization mode that's solely focused on culling a planet's population down to a single surviving faction seem like an odd addition?
Though Red Death is the centerpiece of Civilization 6's September update, it's joined by a lot of bug fixes, balance adjustments, performance improvements, and modding tool changes. If you're a Civilization player who's perplexed by this mode's existence, maybe it'll all melt away after you try it out. If not, surely you can still be sucked into a marathon session of any of the game's other solo or multiplayer scenarios.