Word Play: H1Z1
By now, you're probably aware of what H1Z1 is: zombie survival post-apocalyptic PvP permadeath keyword keyword keyword. And you might wondering if it's worth the (current) purchase price to get into early access or to wait until it goes fully free-to-play.
It was a rough first day or two for H1Z1 and the SOE team after the servers went live – or at least tried to go live – on Thursday, but since then, the game's run about as smoothly as could be hoped for. For my money, I only experienced one disconnect on Saturday and Sunday. Others have reported more, but it's still a vast improvement over the game's rocky start.
But congratulating people for issuing a working product is a little like congratulating your dealership for selling you a car that doesn't fall apart in its first hundred miles: it's the bare minimum, something to be expected, not congratulated. So, assuming you can get into the game, how does it play?
H1Z1 has its bugs, as any game at this stage of its development should, but the most egregious ones were pretty well stamped out over the weekend, no matter how amusing they were. As I said when I first played the game at SOE Live, it feels more like a beta than an early access alpha. Arrows sometimes float in midair after they're shot, and it can be difficult to line up exactly right with an object to loot it, but that's about the worst I'm seeing. It's not perfect, but I haven't seen zombies running through walls or anything else quite so jarring since Saturday.
All the usual survival aspects – looting, eating/drinking, killing your fellow survivor for his shirt (I tried to do that. Didn't go so well.) – are there, as well as a fairly robust crafting and base construction system. It's still in its infancy, but there's room to add quite a bit, and as time goes on, we should see lots of little player-made habitations springing up all over the map. It adds a touch of permanence to a genre that usually stresses temporary existence.
Being built on the Forgelight engine, which SOE uses to good effect in PlanetSide 2, H1Z1 looks and feels great. The environments are lovely/spooky, and responsiveness in combat is excellent; there's nothing quite like clubbing a zombie to death with a giant tree branch to the head. There's a meaty sensation to combat that makes it feel properly visceral, though I think personal cues to damage, like grunting or blood spatters, could be a touch more obvious/loud/graphic.
But enough about the technical aspects of the game... how does H1Z1 feel? It will inevitably be compared to DayZ, and in this sense, I think it compares rather well, if not better, in most aspects. While I do think zombies have been toned down in their aggressiveness and difficulty since I played it a few months ago, they're still a threat, especially in numbers and at night. The enveloping darkness and mist-shrouded daylight hours lend an aura of danger to even the most seemingly innocent setting, and I was surprisingly relieved to see the sun break over the horizon, glad as I was to have survived another night. I'm a little torn on the music, which creeps in ominously when you're near population centers; on the one hand, it's a nice touch, but on the other hand, I don't want anything interfering with my ability to listen for bad guys.
The “encounter rate” is also a plus. With 100 players per server, I was running into people at a fairly steady clip, especially around population centers. Being the antisocial type, I was usually just content to wave at someone as he was walking by. Twice I was confronted by a group of people who ordered me about; the first adopted me into their “clan” and I ran with them for a bit, while the second murdered me in cold blood. As the weekend went on, I decided to be a bit more aggressive and adopt a bit more of a healthy paranoia regarding strangers and adopt a “shoot first” mentality if anyone seemed a little off. The rush of adrenaline you get from engaging in a duel to the death is definitely there, and the spoils of victory are sweet indeed – even when it's just a can of oranges and a few strips of cloth.
Dropping the mic
Let's talk for a moment about air drops, the controversial “pay to win” aspect of H1Z1. You can pay to have a plane fly by somewhere overhead – but not too close – and drop a load of random cargo. This cargo is available to be looted by you or anyone else who can get to it. The plane is noisy and it's sure to draw lots of attention both from other players and from any zombies who happen to be in the area.
On the surface, yes, it is “pay money, loot appears,” and that loot can include guns and ammo. From what I've found, though, it's not that simple. Lots of people have “stolen” air drops from the players who called them down, and there's no guarantee that you'll get anything useful. Even if your success rate at acquiring your own air drops was 50%, would that be worth the spend? SOE envisions them more as “content starters,” events meant to generate action rather than just supply one person, or group of people, with gear.
Air drops are something I want to get a little more experience with before I make a final decision, but I'm at least OK with them being experimented with at this early stage of the game. SOE has already made changes to air drops to make them tougher to acquire, by increasing the range of their potential drop zone (relative to the player who calls them down), and there's lots of time to adjust both their accessibility and their contents until the full launch. I do think their presence and effect could have been communicated a little better to the wider player base, or that the defense of their inclusion could have been better implemented across all of SOE's lines of communication, but that's another matter entirely.
Apocalypse now, or later
So should you buy H1Z1 at this stage of the game? If you've been playing DayZ standalone for a year-plus and have mostly acclimated yourself to the flaws still present in that game, I'd say yes. I'd argue that H1Z1 is more stable at this stage in both games' development and is more likely to see faster iteration and development improvements than its counterpart. While the “Hey, we're in early access, expect stuff to be messed up” warning is prominently displayed, it's still a pretty smooth ride, which is why we thought SOE took so long to get it ready for the public in the first place. In short, the core of the game is there, and it works well. If that's worth a purchase for you right now, go for it.
It is still early access, though, so stuff will get broken at times and the game will go through stretches of inaccessibility. If you're looking for a zombie survival game and are OK with spending $20 or $40 on a game that might still suffer bouts of instability, then jump right in. There's nothing wrong with wanting to wait until it's even better – not to mention free – though. SOE staff worked around the weekend to pound it into shape, and that should continue for the foreseeable future.
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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