Battle royale-style games are experiencing a surge thanks to the likes of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and with the impending arrival of battle royale modes in AAA games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, the phenomenon is only going to continue to grow into the phenomenon that it is at the moment. However, before that moment there was the survival-focused title H1Z1 that helped to shape the genre, and with the game’s upcoming PS4 version about to debut, the real battle royale will begin as the title prepares to bring its own brand of survival-shooter gameplay to PS4 owners among the others trying to claim their stake in the genre.
We recently had the opportunity to check out an early preview of H1Z1 from developer Daybreak Game Company on PS4 Pro and had a few chances to engage in battle royale in the post-apocalypse with the development team, ahead of its open beta release next week on the console.
For those that may be unfamiliar with the title, H1Z1 first started its life as a much different sort of game, and initially had a survival focus around players gathering resources, banding together, and building up defenses to outlast zombie hordes. Initially debuting in January 2015 as H1Z1, the title then spun-off into two different games — the original version of the game was renamed to H1Z1: Just Survive (and has now been rebranded into Just Survive entirely) and focused solely on the survival elements, and Daybreak then created the standalone spin-off H1Z1: King of the Kill, which was wildly successful and gave a window into the success that the current battle royale genre is experiencing now.
Following its three or so years in Early Access, H1Z1 has moved into the next stages of its development after officially launching for PC back in February (and transitioning to a free-to-play structure on PC in March), and is now preparing for its console release this year. The PS4 version of the game will be launching in open beta next week on May 22nd, 2018, and the Xbox One version of the title is expected sometime later this year, though no specific release date has been provided for it at this time.
As one of the titles that fed the sort of preliminary “fuel to the fire” of the current battle royale craze, H1Z1‘s current form has come from experimentation with gameplay and structure on PC, and it will be interesting to what life the game takes on on consoles. Much like Fortnite and its own “Save the World” and “Battle Royale” modes, King of the Kill‘s popularity quickly surpassed that of the original survival focus of the first game, and now with with the game just called H1Z1, the title (as a brand) comes full circle in providing a dedicated battle royale experience on consoles and PC.
The core gameplay of H1Z1, by and large, follows a pretty traditional setup for most battle royale titles. The map — which is set in post-zombie-apocalypse America — plays host to 150 players (a notable size increase compared to many other battle royale titles) that are trying to outlast one another and work their way to the top. By scavenging for supplies, gathering weapons and armor, and figuring out crafty strategies, players have to find strategic ways to take out players and take risks to outlast the competition and come out as the ultimate survivor.
This all will most likely sound very familiar if you’ve played any battle royale game in the past year, whether that be PUBG, Fortnite, or even King of the Kill on PC. But what H1Z1 might lack in providing new change-ups to the battle royale format, it makes up for with one main goal on PS4: accessibility and a smoother, intuitive experience tailored for consoles.
The most apparent changes that Daybreak have made with the PS4 version of H1Z1 have been in streamlining the play experience from its PC roots to be as fast and efficient as possible on PS4. In one example, the game’s “circle” — in this case a dwindling barrier of green, poisonous gas — initially starts within a much tighter area than in some other battle royale titles like PUBG or Fortnite, and thereby the game forces confrontation between players much more quickly.
Now as a caveat, the matches in our demo session were altered slightly (in terms of the circle size and the rate that it grew smaller) to provide more rounds within our demo: I played around 4-6 matches altogether within an hour of playtime. Though the accelerated matches I played are different than what will end up in the final game, the developer from Daybreak on-hand during the preview session said that matches should last for about 15-20 minutes (on average), which is definitely shorter than other battle royale titles and done purposefully to cater to console audiences.
Likewise, H1Z1 also places more emphasis on supply drops and crates to not only provide players with the chance of grabbing higher-leveled gear and armor, but also in forcing players to take more risks. Air drops regularly fly their way through the map in H1Z1, but the airdrops will also contain specific levels of gear depending on their color — green, blue, and yellow. While green and blue crates correspond to Level 1 and 2 gear, yellow creates will be the rarest type of gear and the ones that players will surely want to go after, given that they can provide some game-changing advantages for those lucky enough to grab them.
The loot system itself plays well into one of the other big changes that Daybreak has implemented, which are the controls and inventory management. This is perhaps where the PS4 version of H1Z1 is going to be the biggest departure compared to the PC version, in that this version completely removes the crafting system from the PC release, and rethinks weapon switching and management. Compared to experiences like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on Xbox One — which struggled in translating the PC version’s inventory to console — Daybreak went for a far simpler weapon-wheel system, bringing it closer to the experience of something like Call of Duty.
That all translates to a battle royale experience on consoles that feels designed for consoles, and so far from what I played, H1Z1 seems to be delivering that much more more effectively over its counterparts. While the controls took an initial bit of getting used to at the start of the demo, I ended up picking it all up within a few minutes of playing a match, and even got a few kills in the process without either dying embarrassingly or accidentally blowing myself up with a grenade or explosive crossbow bolt. H1Z1 on PS4 felt satisfying control-wise as it would like any other third-person shooter, but effectively merges battle royale gameplay (where many games in this genre often feel best on mouse-and-keyboard) in a console setting.
The real question that remains when H1Z1 launches on PS4 will be how it can carve out its own audience in an increasingly popular playing field. While PUBG has yet to land on PS4 and eliminates one of the most direct competitors to H1Z1 there, Fortnite‘s dominance across consoles at large is surely going to be an uphill battle no matter what for Daybreak. And if the recent announcement of Call of Duty incorporating a battle royale mode is any indication, the competition is only going to grow larger.
While everyone and their mother is attempting to get in on the battle royale craze, H1Z1‘s PS4 version shows that Daybreak is hoping that the game catches on to a console audience in the way that King of the Kill exploded on PC previously. What’s most apparent (and admirable) is the fact that Daybreak is going beyond just taking the PC game and porting it over to PS4, and instead adapting and altering the gameplay to suit a console audience – so much so that the PS4 version could almost be considered a different game entirely.
Though it’s competing inside of a wildly-popular genre at the moment, H1Z1 is coming soon to PS4 (much sooner than PUBG, at least), and hopefully the tweaks and alterations that Daybreak have done for its release will give it a shot at outlasting the rest of its competition.