Battle Royale is morphing into the next big genre. 105,000 people are playing H1Z1: King of the Kill right now. Another 18,000 are watching on Twitch. On a Thursday morning. If you’re wondering the power of Twitch in pushing a game, H1Z1 is your answer. And PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is almost certain to follow suit.
Before Battle Royale became a staple on Twitch and Steam, it was a fresh mod released back when the DayZ Arma 2 mod was around. Brendan Greene, aka PlayerUnknown, was the mastermind of it and is releasing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds with developer Bluehole today.
What is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds?
The official trailer makes it clear. “This is Battle Royale.” If you’re looking for an open-world survival game along the lines of H1Z1: Just Survive or 7 Days to Die, stick to those. This is all about dropping a bunch of folks on a big map and having them duke it out in an ever-shrinking area.
Matches are broken up into three tiers: solo, duo and squad. There were questions about whether we could play with more than two friends, but that was cleared up in the most recent closed beta. I believe the cutoff for squad is four players. At least, every squad game I played was with four people (including me).
The main Battle Royale mechanics we are used to seeing from King of the Kill are here. Instead of gas, it looks like some kind of force field shrinking the play area.
Also, you have control over what part of the map you land in. Instead of everyone just spawning with parachutes in the sky like H1Z1, you and your squad sit in the back of a C-130. Once you’re over the area you want to land in, hop out and skydive down.
Not only does it look badass; it adds another layer of strategy. You get some freedom in H1Z1, but not like this. The whole map is available for you from the get-go. Do you pile out of the plane near the start with everyone else? Or do you wait a little bit for and find a secluded place to get geared out before engaging. The choice is yours. You can pick the biggest city or the tallest mountain.
But how does it play?
This is the most important question of all. And it’s where H1Z1 and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds differ in the biggest way. Here’s how I see the two.
H1Z1 plays faster and arcadey. You can easily jump over most obstacles in your way. Hop out of a speeding car with no issues. Battlegrounds has a slightly heavier, more tactical feel. Jumping in H1Z1 puts olympians to shame, while it’s clunkier in Battlegrounds.
A broken portion of a wall might look easy to jump through, but it can take a handful of times to get lined up just right in Battlegrounds. This will get easier the more we all play, but the devs could give the jump height a small boost to help.
It’s also easier to tab between first and third-person aiming in Battlegrounds. A quick tap of the right mouse button brings up iron sights or whatever scope you have equipped on your gun. Or, you can hold the right mouse button to aim over-the-shoulder. It’s not a groundbreaking difference, but it’s one way Battlegrounds improves over King of the Kill.
But Bluehole games could also learn a thing or two from Daybreak Games (King of the Kill devs). One thing I missed big time playing the closed beta for Battlegrounds was a hotkey for healing. Maybe it was there, but I didn’t see it. Whenever I got shot, I had to go digging through my inventory for a bandage or medkit. It takes you out of the action, however briefly. A healing hotkey keeps the focus strictly on the action, where it should be. (Update: I was wrong here. Healing hotkeys are set to 7, 8 and 9 by default. I changed them to more like H1Z1.)
That leaves us with loot. This will be one area King of the Kill fans will notice the biggest difference. The official trailer highlights the diversity in weapons and it stands out as a big advantage over King of the Kill. Here’s a look at the guns in Battlegrounds right now.
And that’s not all. Yesterday, Bluehole announced a new gun for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – the SKS rifle.
— PLAY BATTLEGROUNDS (@PUBATTLEGROUNDS) March 22, 2017
It’s not just the variety of guns I enjoyed. It’s all the attachments. Red dot, holographic sight, ACOG, 8x zoom, silencers, chokes for shotguns. There’s a lot to like here.
One thing that will take getting used to is seeing the loot. It has a tendency to blend with other details on the ground. I would run into a building and stare at stuff on the ground for a second thinking its loot. After a game or two, I just tab-searched every room instead of looking. Plus, it’s quicker to loot instead of going through the grab animation. We’ll see if the devs decide to make loot stand out a bit more. It’s more of a nitpick really. After a couple of games you get used to it.
Getting around Battlegrounds is easier too with several different vehicles. A buggy, SUVs, cars and even boats. And yes, the boats are awesome. There’s nothing quite like cruising around the southern island while your buddy stands up right beside you taking potshots at people on the beach.
There is one thing you need to know about vehicles. This isn’t King of the Kill. You can’t jump out at full speed and start blasting away. Do that, and you’ll either be dead or hunched over waiting for your friend to revive you. You need to come to pretty much a complete stop before jumping out. But you’ll find out the hard way. We all do.
Is King of the Kill in trouble?
I think there’s plenty of room for both games to flourish. But ultimately, that’s up to Daybreak Games. Battlegrounds is doing a lot of solid things. Especially with weapon variety and attachments. And if you have a decent computer, it looks great. Smaller features like a Stats page and better presentation at the beginning of the match (parachuting from C-130 also eclipse what King of the Kill is doing right now.
But some will like the feel of King of the Kill better. Especially at first. I’ve poured hundreds of hours into H1Z1 and I’m still getting used to how the gameplay feels on Battlegrounds.
The release of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is only good news for us. Competition should foster more features for both games. Both devs teams will be watching each other to see what one is doing better over the other. Maybe we’ll see more weapon variety in King of the Kill soon.
King of the Kill will undoubtedly see a drop in players. Battlegrounds is the new kid on the block and many of us want to see what all the fuss is about. It’ll be fun to watch how gamers and streamers react to Battlegrounds and how it influences the Battle Royale of the top Steam games.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds went live about an hour ago and there’s already 18,000 people playing. There also seems to be some early hiccups with character creation. Bluehole is on it and says a fix is imminent.
PSA We are aware of the issue some of you are having when creating characters. We should have it resolved in approx 5 mins!
— PLAY BATTLEGROUNDS (@PUBATTLEGROUNDS) March 23, 2017
I hope Bluehole bought a bunch of servers. With the popularity on Twitch and the Battle Royale genre, they’re going to need them.
PlayerUnknown’s Battleground is available now in Early Access for $29.99.