Ah, the battle pass. Once a feature seemingly reserved for the battle royale, it’s now as ubiquitous in the gaming industry as everyone’s favorite dripless MC. In the past year or so, franchises like Halo and Overwatch embraced the battle pass for the first time, likely in the face of proof that the live-service format leads to increased revenue (last year EA reported that just a third of its profits came from the initial sale of full games). They joined an extensive list of live-service titles with extensive (and expensive) battle passes, from Valorant to Rainbow Six Siege to Rocket League. It’s no wonder why 2022 feels like the year of the battle pass.
Battle passes are often billed as a way for players to get more content out of their games, but we all know that they’re really a method for developers to keep the money rolling in. And yet despite the transparent cash grab, there is value in these battle passes—some more than others.
So what makes a good battle pass? Again, value is key—so many games with battle passes introduce a new one every few months, and often have buyable cosmetics available outside of those passes that may entice players to shell out even more cash. As such, it can be easy to spend more on a live-service title than you’d spend on the tag price for a full game, so it’s crucial that these high-cost schemes are actually worth their weight in V-Bucks.
The best battle passes offer a mix of quality cosmetics and incentive to progress along that battle pass, whether it’s because completing it will offer you an especially shiny cosmetic or because you’ll earn enough to get the next pass without dipping into your wallet (or, even better, both). But different games’ passes have different kinds of value, whether that value lies in resources, cool cosmetics, or a chance to progress along at your own speed. So, I’m going to give them superlatives like this is senior prom. I’ve already spiked the punch.
Say what you will about the Epic Games Store, but Fortnite has a pretty solid battle pass. For 950 V-bucks (a 1000 V-buck bundle costs $8), you can get some great cosmetics and earn more than enough to secure the next season’s battle pass without spending a dime. And this may be Fortnite cleverly appealing to its younger audience, but it’s easy to progress along the battle pass without being an expert shooter player—you can earn XP through various quests and goals that don’t necessarily require you to get 50 headshots or win 10 matches.
Plus, the cosmetics offered are quite high quality: skins, backpacks, weapons—all things that are super visible when playing and have that special Fortnite flash that makes them feel especially worth it. As the cheapest battle pass on this list, Fortnite is definitely the best value.
Like its meta, the Apex Legends battle pass has had some ups and downs since its inception way back in the Before Times of February 2019. Issues with progression plagued the battle royale in its first year, with Respawn frequently tweaking things to add value to players’ time. At first, a halfway decent Apex player could easily feel disenfranchised by the grind, which favored wins over anything else, but now that there are other modes outside of the battle royale offering a chance to progress along the battle pass, even the worst of us can earn some cool shit and feel good for doing so.
A good Apex Legends seasonal battle pass can net you a nice collection of goodies without you needing to spend more than the cost of two oat milk lattes. However, the cosmetics can be…rough. Every season has a theme, and sometimes those themes translate poorly to cosmetics. But when the seasons hit, they hit hard—like the latest, which is all spooky witch stuff and stars and spiders and some of the best seasonal skins I’ve seen in a while (this Ashe one is especially good). And since you can earn enough coins through the paid battle pass tiers to ensure you won’t have to pay for the next one, you could ostensibly buy one Apex Legends battle pass, grind it out, and never have to buy one again. That’s a good pass.
Genshin Impact’s battle pass is generous, it is kind. If you don’t want to shell out the extra cash for the paid tier in any given month, you don’t have to, as the weapons waiting behind those tiers never change. No matter when you buy the pass, or whatever version of it is up for offer, you’ll still unlock the same weapons as players who bought the battle pass months ago. It’s a nice way to ensure that players don’t feel pressured to consistently put their time and money into a game.
The Genshin Impact battle pass is also a solid method to obtain resources, grow your characters faster, and get extra goodies for whatever it is you’d like to do in the game. But what’s great about it is it’s completely optional—you won’t feel like you’re missing out if you don’t max it, and that’s super important.
Players were shocked when the Overwatch series ditched its single-purchase experience with loot boxes in favor of a free-to-play sequel with battle passes, and irate after Overwatch 2 launched and more details were revealed (some even called for the return of the loot box). Not only did Blizzard reveal that it would be locking new heroes behind the battle pass (and all other future heroes), but it soon became clear that progressing along the paid pass wouldn’t earn you enough Overwatch coins to buy the next one.
And if you do shell out the cash to get the battle pass, you’re getting a very mid collection of cosmetics. In the Season 1 pass, there are only nine skins available across 100 levels, many of which are thoroughly uninspired—like two military skins for Winston and Sojourn and a Pharah skin that doesn’t stand out from her existing ones in any demonstrable way. Much of the battle pass is dedicated to new cosmetics like weapon charms (which you have to look past in order to actually play as they dangle from your guns or, weirdly, your hands) and souvenirs (which are just big items you can procure out of thin air as a new type of emote) as well as your bog-standard emotes, player icons, victory poses, and voice lines.
But the biggest grievance I have is the aforementioned inability to earn enough through progression to get the next battle pass for free. That’s a low blow, Blizzard. Changes are coming, but not this year, so I guess I’ll sit here and bitch about it until then.
Halo Infinite lets you choose which of its battle passes to progress along, and they never expire. This is a lovely sentiment, one that allows players to pay for a pass and work towards completing it at their own pace—for those of us who can’t grind through levels with reckless abandon, it’s an act of good faith from 343 Industries.
But the fact that I can progress along any of the battle passes I’ve purchased at any given time doesn’t meant that that I want to—because most of what they offer are fuck ugly.
Maybe my bias is showing, as I believe the Hayabusa armor from Halo 3 to be the pinnacle of Halo cosmetics, but the Halo Infinite battle pass customization options just feel like the middest of the mid. The unlocks are basically just a collection of desaturated parallelograms you can snap onto your Spartan bit-by-bit—you can only earn pieces of armor per battle pass level, so a left shoulder here, a right wrist there, until you’ve Hasbro-d together a boring little soldier. The shaders, meant to offer a Destiny 2-esque selection of color schemes for your armor, are so lackluster and samey that I genuinely can’t tell the difference between most of them.
I’m not a huge fan of the contents of the latest battle pass (it offers Halo: Reach inspired cosmetics and 343’s take on Master Chief’s iconic helmet, but yawn), but it is a welcome change. The current battle pass only has 30 tiers, and it’s completely free, because the team wanted to test match XP as a new progression system, and give frustrated fans some freebies. There’s good vibes coming from 343 Industries, and I’m excited to see some sexy content coming down the pipe.
After hewing to tradition with its previous battle passes, the latest iteration of Call of Duty swings for the fences. “Unique” in this sense doesn’t necessarily mean good—after all, it’s what every guy who broke up with me in college would refer to me as—but Activision’s attempt at re-jigging the battle pass is commendable.
With the ushering in of Warzone 2.0 came a battle pass that’s more tac map than timeline, with a collection of items laid out across a nondescript desert mountain range. The name of the game here is choice, as you can decide which sections of the tac map you want to use your tokens towards. Hell bent on making it to the southeastern section of the map so I could nab a new Stiletto skin, I used every token I had unlocking the sections leading up to her—but ignored the top half of the map, which offered skins for operators I don’t use.
It’s a smart way to give players some agency regarding how they spend their time and money, even if it’s a bit confusing to get the hang of at first (and most of the cosmetics are currently big yawn boring). It’s unclear if this new tac map battle pass will stick around, but it’s a cool take on what has quickly become a pretty boring formula.