PREVIEW: H1Z1 [Early Access, PC]

There’s little sense dancing around the obvious. H1Z1 is very much hoping to ride the coat tails of the Day Z juggernaut. Coming from a well established studio like Daybreak Games (formerly known as SOE, creators of Everquest) there’s reason to be more optimistic with H1Z1 than some of the others on this particular bandwagon.

Simply replicating the Day Z experience in a more well polished package would probably draw a reasonable crowd and Daybreak has the basic run-loot-survive hooks in already. It’s what they’re doing beyond that that stands them in good stead.

To begin with you choose a server to play on, as you’d expect. However not all servers are running the same ruleset. Some wipe your discovered recipes on death, some force first person perspective at all times… and some you best be aiming for the head, because on those servers that’s the only way to put a zombie down.

Pleasingly they also have distinct rulesets which allow or disallow player on player violence. If you want the thrill of not knowing whether someone is friendly when they approach, you can have that on the PvP servers. If you’d rather a more cooperative experience with your fellow survivors, stick to the PvE options.

Interestingly the game has proximity voice chat built-in. While checking cars for some much needed scraps of cloth a random stranger approached and said hello. Repeatedly. Then tried to shoot me. And hit me with an axe. It seems even the “friendly” servers can’t entirely save you from other people loutishly invading your space.

While player on player violence is not allowed on PvE servers, that’s not to say you can’t mess with them in other ways. After scrounging around for an hour or more I managed to cobble together a barbecue, one of many items that can be crafted and placed in the world. Fueling it up with some charcoal I’d procured earlier I proceeded to roast up some rabbit I’d trapped. Next I decided I should purify some more drinking water from my dew trap (a tarp and some scraps of wood) but as I was checking my water stash I heard footsteps behind me, then the fizzle of my fire being extinguished.

A random had stolen the two pieces of charcoal in my barbecue and scurried off into the night. Sigh.

It’s that sort of petty behaviour that has turned me off other games of this ilk, but with the endless and mysterious resupply of the wrecked cars, wooden boxes, kitchen cabinets and the trees themselves, such losses are typically trivial. It’s once you start gathering materials for fully fledged structures you’re really going to find your patience tested.

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Early in the game you have very limited options for carrying gear around, but you need to carry almost everything you can find. The game requires you “discover” recipes for new items by having them in your inventory and trying various combinations in the Discovery menu. You can craft items so long as the ingredients are in your immediate proximity, but if you don’t have the capacity to carry something, you can’t discover anything new based on it.

Fortunately one of the easier recipes to discover is for a satchel, allowing you to carry much bulkier items, or many more bits and pieces. An upgrade to a proper backpack is available from there, which means a lot more items you can lug around and experiment on.

At some point you’ll find the recipe for a small shack, which you can place almost anywhere in the world. It doesn’t come with a door, which is a bit daft if you ask me, but you can craft one of those as well. Attaching it is very simple as it snaps into the hole where you’d expect a door would be, except for the aforementioned daftness. And even a rustic wooden door can be locked with a keycode, to prevent other players simply opening the door. Beware, though, as other players can simply smash their way inside if you’re on a PvP server.

The benefit of having a shack is you can place a storage container inside, letting you offload some of your heavier bits of scavenged materiel. If you placed the container in the open world then anyone would be allowed to access the contents. You might also be able to put a bed or sleeping bag inside, but if those things exist I am yet to find them.

All this scrounging and crafting and building is ultimately to stave off death as long as you can. Whether it’s due to hunger, thirst, sickness, animal attacks or other players, you’re probably going to die. But right now you’re probably not going to face death by zombie, because there just aren’t that many of them.

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It’s unclear whether the low zombie population is intentional. It could be that even when new zombies enter the world they’re killed by players so quickly they don’t have time to appear in any great number. Two weeks ago this was not the case as I strolled into a small town and was ducking and dodging zombies as I picked my way through. Today I only saw one zombie, but at least a dozen different humans and at least as many deer, bear and wolves.

The zombies, when they do appear, shamble towards you quite convincingly. No walking through walls for these guys. You learn to very quickly decide whether to stay and fight or bug out. It’s not like a standard MMO, where an enemy will have a “leash” beyond which they won’t pursue you, you need to leave their line of sight at the very least and it’s usually best to keep going. They’re just smart enough to look for you where they lost track, or at least the AI does a good impression of the behaviour you’d expect of a decaying corpse.

For a game still deep in development H1Z1 is quite enjoyable, if a little grindy at times. There’s a lot here to like, if crazy post-zompocalypse survival simulators float your boat.

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