H1Z1 has come a very long way since its Early Access release in 2015. Originally debuted as a zombie survival shooter similar to DayZ, H1Z1 today is the separate game mode previously known as King of the Kill, the original online battle royale, which was so popular that it inspired two highly prominent successors — PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite. Now that it has finally come out of Early Access as a free-to-play title, how does H1Z1 hold up? Not well. Though still a competent shooter, H1Z1’s straight-forward approach to the genre limits its appeal and longevity, especially in the face of stronger competitors.
In H1Z1, up to 150 players drop onto an island and battle until only one survivor or team is left standing. The action takes the spotlight here, and combat is faster-paced and smaller-scale than in other battle royale games, with an emphasis on frantic close-quarter engagements over long-range sniper standoffs. It’s less about strategic planning or even gear collecting, and more about taking other players head-on and scoring kills.
The way you drop in each match directly supports this tenet. In the pregame lobby, you choose which area of the map to parachute in to, with information such as the location of the safe zone and player density being visible. This ensures you’ll never be far from the action or have to waste much time chasing the safe zone and helps keep the length of each match short and sweet.
Gunfights are arcade-like in nature and play out similarly to Counter-Strike and Call of Duty in that quick reflexes determine the victor. Even when equipped with armor and a helmet, death can come in a split second. It’s a punishing system that requires time to master but can come off as too unforgiving at times. If you’ve spent some hours in Battlegrounds like me, you may even feel frustrated that the skills you’ve acquired – like stealth and strategic positioning – don’t necessarily carry over to H1Z1. Thankfully, there’s a Combat Zone that serves as a training area for new players to get the hang of things.
Since weapon variety is limited and there are no attachments to find, the act of looting is a simple experience. Within minutes of landing, I was always able to find enough guns and equipment to sustain me for the duration of the match. As a result, you have more time to focus on the actual shooting. This is, however, a double-edged sword, as it also leads to mid-game lulls when you have no incentive to continue searching for better gear. I found that two rifles, the AR-15, and AK47, were enough to handle practically any situation, rendering most other weapons irrelevant. In addition, the crafting system is a missed opportunity. Gear is so readily available that I was never inclined to gather the supplies to craft makeshift equipment.
H1Z1’s straight-forward action-oriented take on battle royale has its moments, but there’s an undeniable sense of staleness that grows over extended play time. Unlike Battlegrounds with its realism or Fortnite with its structure-building, H1Z1 lacks a larger conceit to fall back on. Every match has a sameness to it: land, find an assault rifle, and kill. There’s less room for the creativity, team tactics, and random chaos that you’ll find in the other battle royale games, and it takes a toll on H1Z1’s overall replayability. The visual style also does no favors; graphics look dated and character animations are noticeably clunky.
“There’s an undeniable sense of staleness that grows over extended play time.”
The new Auto Royale mode is a step in the right direction in establishing a unique tone for H1Z1. It’s like the vanilla Battle Royale mode, only everyone is duking it out in cars rather than on foot. A person from each squad serves as the driver while the rest gun from the passenger seats. The map receives a complete makeover to accommodate the change in mechanics, with ramps and floating power-ups dotting every street. It’s wonderfully absurd and anarchic in nature, providing a welcomed change of pace from the standard gameplay.
H1Z1 may have been the king of the battle royale market back in its days of inception, but with Battlegrounds and Fortnite both evolving the genre in distinctive ways, it no longer feels as relevant. For H1Z1 to regain its audience, it needs to take more creative risks as demonstrated by Auto Royale. Unless this is your first foray into the genre, there may not be enough here currently to maintain your interest once the initial combat high wears off.
*** Steam key provided by the publisher ***
- Action-heavy battle royale gameplay
- Auto Royale takes the game in a fun, unique direction
- Looting is too streamlined
- Crafting is almost never needed
- Gameplay gets stale quick