The battle royale genre has become all the rage in the gaming community in the past year. For anyone that has been living under a rock for this time, the battle royale genre is focused around a multiplayer mode that drops a large number of players on a diminishing map, and the last player standing at the end of the match wins. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was the title to really light up the gaming world with battle royale gameplay when it debuted early last year; then, the behemoth that is Fortnite rolled in and seemingly stole PUBG’s thunder, and has since gone on to become a cultural phenomenon.
But before all of this, Brendan Greene (aka “PlayerUnknown”) was brought on as a consultant for H1Z1: King of the Kill developed by Daybreak Game Company, another battle royale game that has been changed since then to just H1Z1 on PC, and H1Z1: Battle Royale on PS4. So long before the explosion of the BR genre, Daybreak had been working on their own version, and it is finally coming out of Early Access and getting its fully free-to-play, built from the ground up release on PS4. However, despite being one of the earliest adopters of the currently popular genre, H1Z1 does not do much to make a splash in the vast ocean that is battle royale.
The gameplay of H1Z1 is mostly like any other BR game you can find on the market, just with some minor twists: drop into a big map, scavenge for weapons or supplies, and try to be the last man or team standing. But even though H1Z1 has all of the same mechanics or tools as those games, none of them seem to be executed as well as its counterparts.
When each match begins, you are randomly parachuted on the map near the beginning circle. This small change is a nice touch, as there is nothing more frustrating than dropping in PUBG, realizing the circle is on the other side of the map, and then sprinting for ten minutes because you cannot find a vehicle.
After dropping, you will find yourself in a pretty barren and dull environment. Not every building you see can be interacted with; some will be boarded up and inaccessible, and others you can actually go inside and loot. However, since the better weapons are found inside crates that are dropped from planes or that can be found by small camps, you are incentivized to go out in the open environment and try to claim a care package rather than exploring buildings.
Now because you are pushed to rush these crates, you will find yourself in many uncomfortable situations. I can’t count how many times I was running to retrieve a care package and was killed because I was out in the open and someone luckily was near me with some better gear. Because the game is built around gaining weapons and gear from crates, you have to put yourself in the open to have a shot at winning and that will leave you defenseless, and which inevitably led me to many frustrating deaths. If some of the better gear was scattered around in buildings rather then just containing low-level gear, then I wouldn’t have experienced so many cheap deaths.
This kind of takes away from the random craziness that this genre is known for. I know exactly what I could find inside a building, so why bother? In most matches, I found myself grabbing the normal pistol, riot shotgun, small machine gun, backpack, armor and maybe a crossbow in the first buildings, then aimlessly driving around until I found a care package. Every game seemed too familiar, and H1Z1 never spiced things up much.
What makes PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Fortnite such a unique experience is that you don’t know how each match is going to play out. Almost any building could contain some of the better gear in the game: you could find some sweet weapons and become a Walking Death Machine, or you could hide the entire round with just a Micro Uzi. But when the randomness gets taken out, you are left with a bunch of players mindlessly driving around the map in the search for crates.
Apart from dropping and finding your gear, the gameplay in H1Z1 is very tight and forgiving; most weapons do not have that much of a kickback and are fairly easy to control. After a few matches, if you are a seasoned gamer you should have no problem taking down enemies. But you should probably try to find some assault rifles in some care packages because you will be at a significant disadvantage if you do not have one.
In regards to customization options, H1Z1 is a real hit or miss experience. Of course, there are the typical in-game purchases that you find in most free-to-play games: you can exchange H1Z1’s in-game currency for new outfits or weapon skins. While there are plenty of options regarding your character’s appearance, there isn’t much else: weapons that are found in the game come with sights already attached, so there isn’t much flexibility with aiming down sights.
That would not be an issue if there was a wide variety of weapons with different scopes and ranges. But, every assault rifle contains roughly the same scope with varying red dot sights. So if you were lucky enough to find a sniper, you are put at an extreme advantage because your range is vastly superior to everyone else’s. I just wish that you could find some attachments that could increase your visual range for other weapons, rather than praying that you can find a sniper rifle.
What seemed to be the most disappointing aspect of H1Z1: Battle Royale was its stubbornness to conform to different play styles. If you enjoy gathering gear and materials before venturing out like myself, you probably won’t enjoy this title as much as you would other BR games because Daybreak incentivizes all players to rush toward care packages. And you need that care package if you want to have a fighting chance, because once you check one or two buildings, you won’t find anything different in any other ones. Nevertheless, if you are the type of player that wants to always be a part of the action and loves to take risks, then this game might be geared towards you.
Now I know most of what I’ve said so far has been fairly unfavorable, but H1Z1 can still show glimpses of those awesome battle royale moments that we find in other titles in the genre. Sneaking up on an enemy who just found a crate, killing them, and then taking the loot for yourself is still as satisfying as ever. Being one of the last surviving players and not knowing where the other two enemies are inside the last tiny play circle still makes your heart beat a mile a minute. While I wish there were some more customization to the game, this title can still provide an authentic battle royale experience.
To me, H1Z1 seemed to have missed a perfect opportunity to make a big splash on consoles. While the Xbox One version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is still extremely buggy and runs at a terrible framerate, H1Z1 could have swooped in, taken their thunder, and provided the best tactical/realistic battle royale experience on console. However, with the lack of in-game customization options, a small variety of weapons, and a relatively shallow and repetitive experience, H1Z1 doesn’t do much to separate itself from the pack.