By Remko Molenaar (Proxzor)
After the success of the Battle Royale mod in ARMA 3 and the King of the Hill “mod” in H1Z1, the mastermind behind these two games is finally putting their mark in the industry with a brand new success, PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS. Normally at the end of an article I have in mind that most people reading it probably haven’t heard of the game in question, but if you haven’t heard of Battlegrounds by now, you probably haven’t had your computer on in a while. Because the next big thing is here, and you better be on the train while it lasts.
Battle Royale is a concept that’s best described as the general ruleset of the Hunger Games and what made it still a good film series. People randomly thrown in a world having to choose between life and death and having one goal at the front and center of their mind: to survive and win the fight. This concept in itself isn’t really new to many gamers now, and I suppose it’s best to skip the principles of the game of looting up and fighting it out, and go straight towards the differences to the games that were already available on the market. Obviously the first question that comes to mind is what makes this game any different than the still current most popular alternative, H1Z1.
And that is a fair question, so let’s break it down in a few key aspects of the game. First of all I want to mention once again that both the H1Z1 version of this concept and ARMA 3 version is made by the same person behind Playerunknown’s Battleground. What he understands best about this sub-genre is that everything has to build up from solid gameplay. If it isn’t fun to have a shootout with something, it doesn’t matter how cool your weapons or epic your map is. The rest of the game can’t survive without that proper pyramid base. In this area up till now, H1Z1 was the king of the jungle. In H1Z1 the game feels very ‘smooth’ in its own arcade style of gameplay. The game paces itself relatively fast and it feels like you could easily grind out games one after another and you will have fun doing so. In comparison, ARMA 3 felt more simulation based and was extremely slow. Battlegrounds is a game that sits perfectly in between these two games – not too serious, but still trying to make the game realistic where possible without hindering the fun factor.
No more jumping out of driving vehicles, no more rushing into battles without actually coming up for a strategy. You actually have to use your brain while playing, and one might say that the smarter more tactical player will win 4/5 times in Battlegrounds. When dropped out of the airplane you have to come up with a strategy right away, and that starts with choosing where exactly you want to land. Landing in a city is obviously more crowded while small villages or groups of houses are usually a bit less popular. And while going to the other end of the world of where you and the others landed is a viable strategy, it also has its own risks. This is because of the circles of death… it’s always about the circles and these circles now keep me awake at night. After a few minutes of looting up and trying to get yourself set as best as possible for the later stages of the game, the circle will slowly and randomly shrink to somewhere on the map. And the circle in itself shrinks faster after a while, and you will always be aiming to be ahead of it. Obviously this usually doesn’t go as you had hoped and you will be running for your life catching up to the ever shrinking circle. When you are outside of the circle you will start losing health, and depending at the stage of the game you will also lose more over time.
Loot is randomly generated in buildings, and thus there isn’t really a set location where you should be aiming for. But the loot in itself is really straight forward as to what to aim for. It’s best to divide your choices through the ammunition you have. Right now for your primary weapons the main ammunition is 5.56 millimeter bullets, and 7.62. Now while the game does aim to be as realistic as possible, the guns using both of these bullets in the game sometimes aren’t as realistic as its real life counterpart. The 5.56 ammunition is used for your typical Assault weaponry automatic rifles as you’d imagine them. The good old M16A4, SCAR-L and M416. If you have played shooters you probably have seen most of these back in some shape or form, and the 7.62 ammunition based weapons also have their set of iconic weapons. The AK47, KAR98k and SKS. And those two sets of weapons are what players currently mostly aim for. While there are shotguns in the game, and most of them are very, very strong. Outside of the early stages of the game, they fall off as long range snipe before they know you’re there weaponry takes center stage. So when going through all the buildings and loot spots you will focus on getting these weapons and yourself a nice set of armor. Armor also has different levels, and these levels basically tell you how strong the armor is. For example, the head armor starts out with just a motorcycle helmet for tier 1 armor. The tier above this is a Kevlar helmet and obviously from the sound of it you already know that this is a major improvement. The same goes for armored vests. When you are done looting in the early stage of the game you obviously want to end up with the best possible gear. But do note, armor can break, so when you get shot in the head and manage to survive, chances are that your helmet didn’t and is shattered into pieces on the ground.
The gameplay is all that matters, and it’s what makes these game so extremely addictive. Battlegrounds sits on the fine line of being not too ‘arcadey’ like H1Z1 might be, but its also not a simulation like ARMA 3. Meaning that the game does take itself serious, and knowing when and where to take a fight is usually the deciding factor of winning them. Since the circle usually forces people to come together and fight it out, the game can be extremely exciting and challenging in the early stages as well. Sometimes you have to fight over the loot and the first half of the players usually die quite fast. Battlegrounds is a game that makes you think about your actions, and since most of the circles tend to go to open spots throughout the world, you really have to think of all the objects around you. From the moment a circle is drawn on the map, you have to think about what your next step is. I personally love hovering around the outer edges of the circle, and stepping inside of the set circle at the last second the wall of doom comes to kill off the players outside of it. This gives me somewhat of an edge to surprise people from behind, and except for the odd occasions when someone is camped and waiting for last minute stranglers like me. But typically those in the circle early have more pressing issues on their hand than a late comer. The true danger of my strategy tends to be from vengeful too late stranglers that will try to pick you off as a last breath vengeance as they bleed to death.
Since the circle slowly gets smaller every few minutes or so, you have to inch your way forward until you get to the ‘end stage’ of the game. This is usually when there are around ten people left in a tiny little circle and your position decides if you are able to survive longer than the others. And this is where I personally can find the only fault in these type of games, and it’s not specifically Battlegrounds’ fault. Usually these Hunger Games based games are played in a third person aspect, meaning that you can stand behind a wall while safely using your camera to peak around corners. It’s unrealistic and an unfair advantage at the same time. Obviously everyone is able to do it so you can’t argue it isn’t balanced, but since the game is all about having the best possible spot until the last minute or so, it isn’t really fair for the players who barely make it into the fast moving circle at all, and get shot straight away because they weren’t as lucky as the guy rolled the RNG dice favorably and found his bunker smack in the middle of the final circle. Most players sit behind trees, rocks or any obstacles they can find to soak up bullets and wait for opportune moments to strike. And while you cannot blame them for this game winning strategy, it does frustrate the living hell out of you when it happens to you, since its often a rare occasion you even live long enough to experience this final circle showdowns. And while the hardcore matchmaking mode is on its way that forces players to play in first person, right now we still have to do with the normal third person mode.
The weapons feel satisfying but can be quite tricky to control. Since the game still tries to aim for realism in one way or another, the weapons are also a deciding factor in the outcome of fights. When you find weapons they are in their plain form without any attachments on them. But alongside weapons, ammunition, armor, and other supplies that help you out in one way or another, you can also find weapon attachments. From extra grip on your weapon, to different variant scopes that help you out a ton in fights. Even a simple red dot sight is a major improvement over the normal iron sights of a weapon. Some attachments are better than others, and the actual scope variants to put on the weapons give you an edge over people who do not have them, and thus you want to get these in the early stages of the game as well. If you do not manage to find them you are definitely in trouble because the game isn’t really focused on the close ranged fighting. And this is one of the elements that also make the game somewhat luck based.
Luck based games always walk on this thin line of being fun, and being extremely frustrating when you end up on the other end of the stick. And right now Battlegrounds’ only flaw besides the horrible optimization that slowly gets better every week, is the luck factor of the game. Right when you are thrown out of the airplane that usually flies a random route over the island, and you have to get lucky hoping solid loot is within close walking distance of where you land. If the plane flies only a small bit of the island, you will obviously have more people around you and in general that one single city you fly over is usually pretty crowded. So you have to get lucky with your loot. If you aren’t packing a fully loaded assault rifle within a minute of landing, you likely are in the sights of someone who is. Even if you manage to overcome a near impossible battle but didn’t have the fortune to stumble on a medical kit, your journey can also end prematurely.
The next thing that comes to mind is the ever scary circle. It could be on the complete opposite of the map from you, and if there aren’t any vehicles around you, well you are simply put just screwed. It’s a bad scenario for everyone around you, as those that rush the vehicles are likely speeding off to a quick underequipped death, while those that take the time to prepare will be left behind with no mobility to catch up. That’s just the start of it though. Obviously the circles shrink and your position and cover plays more and more of a role. If you are alive and there is around 50 or less people around, you better have yourself at least one proper weapon with attachment, or the chances of winning are already slim. Mind you, all this has likely happened in the first ten minutes of a round, so every second wasted is cutting your potential of victory. At this moment you will most of the time be running towards the end circle and you have to hope and be lucky not to get caught in the moment or the chances of getting to the later stages of the game get slimmer. Because of this the game is really camp heavy, and while that is realistic, I sometimes get a little frustrating because it can be quite boring. Something you didn’t necessarily experience all too much with a game like H1Z1.
State of Early Access: Great
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is an extremely fun game but it walks on this very thin line of realism and fun that can be challenging for a designer to maintain. With this said, I myself absolutely love the challenge and I know from many others that they share this same idea. It isn’t a surprise that this game is the next ‘hype’ explosion on the market and that the game in general is received quite well. While the game is still early access and the developers haven’t worked on optimization as of yet, the game can still be a bit tricky to run well. Most players are forced to play the game in a lower graphical setting, and the general atmosphere of the game is a bit off. But despite its flaws, the game is still very much a must have in my book, I definitely recommend everyone check it out, and while early access games are always a tricky purchase, seeing the track record of PlayerUnknown, I have no doubt that this becomes another success under his name. Some might say it already is, and I agree.