The war for Battle Royale supremacy is far from over. With its astronomical download figures, it’s fair to say that Fortnite is comfortably the leader in the genre, but there’s still plenty of games that are offering some competition. Of course, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is still going strong on PC and Xbox One, and Call of Duty has a Battle Royale mode to come later in the year, but H1Z1’s mode has finally launched in open beta on PlayStation 4 and it’s proving very popular. Popularity doesn’t mean quality, however. And while it functions better than other games that have launched in open beta, it offers very little to make you choose it over the competition.
The free game has already been downloaded more than 4.5 million times, but that is probably down to the name recognition H1Z1 has, and many players’ desire to try anything that has Battle Royale in the name – the latter of which likely being why the King of the Hill name wasn’t carried over from PC.
You’ll likely know this already if you’ve played H1Z1 in any of its forms on PC, but the Battle Royale mode works essentially as the middle ground between the other two juggernauts of the genre. The premise is the same: you’re dropped onto the map (starting your descent by parachute – which controls terribly – at a seemingly random location) and you scramble to find gear to take out other players as the toxic gas closes in. It doesn’t have the bright colors or cartoon styling of Fortnite, but it’s a faster experience than PUBG, with combat being more about straightforward gunfights than tactical plays.
Visually, H1Z1 is more like PlayerUnknown’s game. It goes for a semi-realistic look, with open, grassy plains, and outpost-like locations making up most of the map. It feels disappointingly lifeless and void of the personality that makes Fortnite stand out, with there being little difference between many of the areas, and most buildings being similar in terms of design. Seeing enemies that are far away is often difficult due to the subpar visuals, and everything looks decidedly grey. Locations aren’t themed in any way that make them a vantage point or point of interest, with many of them suffering from a low level of detail. Of course, it’s still in open beta, but so is Fortnite, and almost every location on that game’s map is so memorable and unique that the community now refers to them by a few fun abbreviations.
Gunplay is H1Z1’s strongest aspect. It feels solid and accurate, no matter which gun you’re using, you feel in control of your character’s movements, and the action moves at a satisfying pace. Not only do characters move at a decent pace, but other parts of the game are clearly implemented with speed being considered. The toxic gas begins to move after just two minutes and 15 seconds, which gives you significantly less time to get acquainted with your location and geared up than PUBG does, where the circle moves after five minutes. In comparison, Fortnite’s storm takes three minutes and 20 seconds to join the action.
Thankfully, you’re not left unarmed for long. Loot of low quality is everywhere. Even after searching just one or two buildings, you can expect to have a basic weapon in each of your three slots, a helmet, some basic armor, and a decent supply of medkits or bandages. You won’t be the biggest threat around, but even the basics will be enough to give you a fighting chance of making it to the game’s latter stages. Air drops and crates become a source of more powerful weaponry towards the end of the match, making loot a more important factor in the battle between the final 10, and it’s always quite a streamlined experience. However, that can make the opening five to 10 minutes of each game dull. You’re searching similar locations, finding the same items over and over again, and if you aren’t good enough to survive until the last few minutes, that’s all you’re likely to experience.
There’s no mile-high staircases to build, no fiddling with wall placement, and no customizable weapons to add variety. Some weapons come with scopes and such attached, but for the most part, the gun you find will remain the way you found it. That could be good for people that are after a more simple experience, but it more often than not makes the game feel bland.
Of course, with H1Z1 Battle Royale being a free-to-play open beta experience on PlayStation 4, there’s plenty of customization and cosmetic items to sink your money into. You can purchase and open crates, allowing you to change the colors and style of everything your character wears. Shoes, shirts, jeans, backpacks, sunglasses, and more can be changed in and out from the main menu, and there’s a long list of emotes to select from, too. They are quite basic as well, though. There’s nothing there to make you stand out on the battlefield, which might help for camouflage reasons, but doesn’t counteract the blandness of other aspects of the game, which is disappointing. Much of Fortnite’s popularity comes from the personality in the customization options. Seeing a particular skin running across the map in front of you can change your perception of that player. As they have a rare skin, you become fearful that they’re an experienced player, and someone to avoid. Cosmetic items don’t have the same impact in H1Z1, nor do they add personality to the game.
The people who stick with H1Z1 Battle Royale, in the long run, are probably those who have never been fully invested in another game in the genre. If you’re someone who is interested in the pace of the gameplay in Fortnite and the realism of PUBG, H1Z1 will probably be right down your alley. It does benefit from the fact that it is currently the only Battle Royale game on PS4 that is in any way realistic, with the exclusivity deal involving Microsoft and PUBG, and that will certainly bring in a huge number of players. However, it doesn’t have the personality, variety, or unique sense of fun that Epic’s game does. It’s a serviceable shooter, with a large map, and a good amount of basic customization options, but it doesn’t feel good enough to be something that should be chosen above other, better, and more relevant experiences.