Before there was Fortnite: Battle Royale, before there was PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, there was H1Z1. Despite launching into early access three years ago, its development cycle hasn’t been the swiftest, and it’s been surpassed, numbers-wise, by those other two juggernauts of the battle royale genre. On PCs, Fortnite and PUBG reign supreme, with the former title making headway on both PS4 and Xbox One, while the latter caters to just the Xbox One crowd, at least for now.
Now Daybreak Game Company – formerly Sony Online Entertainment – is looking to gain a foothold on Sony’s current console, bringing H1Z1 to the PlayStation 4 in open beta form on May 22. Last week, we chatted with Director of Brand IP Eric Correll and Lead Combat and Systems Designer Tony Morton, who showed off the console build of the game and answered a few of our questions along the way.
At first glance, H1Z1 on PS4 looks and plays pretty much like H1Z1 on PC. You wouldn’t notice any differences with a casual glance, at least until you get a look at the UI and see where PS4 triangles and squares replace keyboard letters and numbers.
Correll told me there’s more than meets the eye, however. “We looked at the PS4 as a really interesting opportunity to bring a more pure, fast-paced, action-packed battle royale game to the console.” The dev team was targeting “a pick-up-and-play action shooter experience” with its approach to consoles, looking to streamline some aspects of the game’s more intricate details that slow down the action.
Inventory management – always one of my favorite topics! – is at the heart of this approach. Looting is a bit more “truncated,” as Correll put it (or “grab-and-go” as the press release says), with the intent being to get people into the action as quickly as possible. Once in the game, Morton showed me how quickly players could pick up items, by simply “walking up to a table full of loot” and “hammer[ing] on triangle to pick everything up” without “pixel-hunting.” Backpacks just add additional weapon slots, with the quality of the backpack affecting how many more weapons can be carried. An easy-to-use weapons HUD and the removal of crafting are further steps in this direction, ones that stand in stark contrast to the intricacy of inventory management in a game like PUBG.
Looting is a bit more “truncated,” with the intent being to get people into the action as quickly as possible.
There will no doubt be “battle royale purists” who think Daybreak is “dumbing down” the game, or even the genre as a whole, going more in the direction of Fortnite or Radical Heights than PUBG. While we can debate the merits of accessibility, I think the bigger point to take is the evolution of battle royale games from the survival genre they spawned from, such as progenitor games like DayZ and Rust and also Daybreak’s own Just Survive. In those games, you have effectively infinite time to do things. If you want to take two or three minutes to play Tetris with your inventory, mash gun pieces together, or whatever else, you can usually find a safe spot to do so. Battle royale games move at a faster pace, however, so it’s natural that those types of games would seek to simplify the inventory shuffle. That’s what we’re seeing more often in newer BR games and is probably how such things will go in the future – including H1Z1 on PC, if there’s enough demand, Correll told me.
A faster pace
It’s a good thing, too, because there’s going to be plenty of loot to acquire. Air drops activate at a rate of about one per four players, offering better weapons as the game goes on, and they’re indicated on the minimap, providing more opportunities for players to fight over the game’s best loot.
Vehicles are also core to the H1Z1 experience, and so there are more spawns for them on PS4 than in the PC version. During some portions of the playthrough, the match started looking more like Auto Royale than the base BR game, with three cars jostling with each other in tight spaces and, at one point, a flaming police car nearly running over the player.
“It keeps at its core the battle royale experience, which is these ebbs and flows that create adrenaline rushes because you only have one life,” said Correll. “It’s still a great BR experience, but it’s very handcrafted and tailor-made for a more action-shooter console player.” While the PS4 version of H1Z1 is the priority right now, Morton said that they’d be “open to considering and exploring other platforms” once the game is stable on PS4.
Shooting for the stars
I had to ask about H1Z1’s perfomance and future as compared to the pair of 800-pound gorillas in the battle royale room: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite: Battle Royale. While H1Z1 preceded both titles – with Brandon “PlayerUnknown” Greene himself working on H1Z1 – it’s fair to say the game has been surpassed by the competition. Plus, with PUBG on Xbox One and Fortnite on PS4 – as a free-to-play game, no less – it’s not as if H1Z1, on the surface, brings anything truly new to PlayStation.
“It’s still a great BR experience, but it’s very handcrafted and tailor-made for a more action-shooter console player.”
“We celebrate their successes, and we’re all fans of all games,” Correll said. He pointed to Auto Royale as a way that Daybreak still innovates in the space. “We’re looking at PS4 as an opportunity to present an iterative attempt at our brand. H1Z1 has always been that kind of fast-paced, action-packed mode with an arcade-y type of feel. We think that if we position it that way, we’re going to find success.”
H1Z1 on consoles has been a long time coming. The port was originally supposed to happen around the time of the PC game’s launch, which was itself supposed to happen in September of 2016. That took an extra year and a half, with Correll saying that changing market conditions, as well as the early access version of the game’s success, playing major roles in the delays. The team wanted to get the base game just right and tailor the PS4 version perfectly for console players once they could shift their focus away from the PC. “We felt like we’d be doing a disservice to the PS4 community by just doing a straight port, so we wanted to take the time to do it right,” said Morton.
You’ll get to try it out for yourself on May 22 when H1Z1 hits open beta on the PlayStation 4.