H1Z1: King of the Kill has sat on top of the Battle Royale genre of multiplayer games for far too long. Due to a severe lack of competition in this niche genre, Daybreak Games has taken advantage of their monopoly by putting out cosmetic crates instead of quality optimization patches to create a solid and stable gameplay experience for its player base. So when Playerunknown, the original creator of the Battle Royale mods for Arma 3 and H1Z1, decided to break off and develop their mod into a standalone game with the help of Bluehole studios, the community erupted with a flood of support. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds launched on Steam Early access with massive success, selling almost 360,000 copies in just three days and quickly topping the Twitch charts as one of the most streamed games on the platform. But what makes this game the fabled H1Z1 killer?
For readers unaware of what Battle Royale games are, the rules are incredibly simple; only one player can be left standing. A game of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds begins with up to 100 players at a time jumping out of an aircraft and parachuting around the massive map with only the clothes on their back. Once players land, the first phase of the game begins, where everyone scrambles around the surrounding houses and huts looking for weapons, armor and vehicles. Games can quickly end at this point for unlucky players because loot is dispersed randomly, leaving some players with the best equipment possible and others left with only a basic pistol to defend themselves. It only takes a couple shots from any type weapon to decide the outcome of a fight so a majority of players take a slower, more tactical, pace in Battlegrounds compared to H1Z1: KOTK.
After 3-4 minutes an electric field begins to slowly zone off the map, harming the players caught inside until they make their way to the next safe area. This process continues every couple minutes, restricting the map even further until only a single player is left standing. These are the core building blocks that make up every Battle Royale game, but the difference that makes Battlegrounds “special” is that the gameplay actually works. I’ve never felt like a competent player in H1Z1 due to the games atrocious hit registration, but in Battlegrounds I can actually aim my shots properly and know that they’ll hit their mark. There’s no more guessing whether my shotgun will actually fire or if my rifle will become caught in an indefinite reload animation, I can actually play the game with my complete focus and faith it will perform correctly.
That isn’t to say everything is perfect at launch with Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. As with any Early Access title, glitches, bugs and stability issues will inevitably occur. I personally run the game on lowest settings and achieve an average of 55 FPS, stripping away anything strenuous that might impact the performance of the game on my system. After 15 hours with Battlegrounds I have only encountered minor rendering issues and a couple of connection drops, but others have reported these issues happening on a regular basis and to differing degrees. However, Bluehole is addressing these issues and at the time of writing this article, have already released a 4GB patch to optimize the game. This developer is communicating with their community properly and is set on exiting Early Access after six months.
There are only a couple of gameplay tweaks that I would love to see implemented into Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. Right now, looting and interacting with objects feels sluggish and inefficient, forcing most players to handle everything through the inventory screen if they want to save as much time as possible during the process. Smoothing out the animation and making it more responsive would go a long way in my mind to solving this issue. The biggest concern however is the lack of action during the midgame. Battlegrounds houses a larger and more fleshed out map then H1Z1, but it only supports up to 100 players at a time, 75 players less than their competitor. Due to the lack of enemies, players can see long stretches of time where nothing exciting is happening and they’re just running from safe zone to safe zone. When the game becomes better optimized I hope that a larger amount of players can be added to each round to keep the game feeling exciting throughout.
I don’t believe that Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds will be the H1Z1 killer the community desires. Both games have unique feels and playstyles that keep them from being carbon copies of each other. What I want from Battlegrounds is to wake Daybreak Games up from the situation they’ve taken advantage of so that both titles can flourish and become stronger from healthy competition. Right now I prefer the more tactical feel of Battlegrounds, but at times I find myself still craving some of the arcade nature of H1Z1: KOTK. Both games can exist and satisfy different player bases.