H1Z1: King of the Kill Early Access Preview

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There’s a palpable stigma surrounding the survival genre right now – particularly the many games appearing in early access with promises of grandeur from developers – and I’ll admit I’ve experienced my fair share of disappointment last year, watching and waiting for my favorite early access games to bloom into release with little or no results. What Daybreak has done with H1Z1: King of the Kill, though, merits praise.

The studio developing the popular zombie survival title H1Z1 has, according to an announcement in February, decided to split the game based on its hugely-different game modes, “through in-game feedback, as well as discussions on Reddit, Steam, and Twitter.” As a fan of the more flashy, competitive fight-to-the-death game modes in shooters, I couldn’t help but turn my attention toward King of the Kill – and after hours of scrapping with strangers, zombies and toxic gas, I’ve got my verdict.

Plummeting toward the earth among 49 other players (pictured above), I was immediately dragged into the hype of King of the Kill‘s Battle Royale mode, a fight to the death in a large, contained environment that shoves players closer together over time. The first thing I noticed (other than, “Hey, there are players all around me!” and, “Oh no, there are players all around me.”) was how well the game runs. Using a modest quad-core processor and a GTX 970, I’m accustomed to surpassing the 60 FPS mark in most demanding titles, but there’s something about zombie survival that just seems to ravage frame rates. In a competitive environment, thorough optimization is much more a need than a perk, and it made for one less obstacle I’m used to fighting in comparable titles.

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After braving – as in, luckily sprinting past – the early-game craze of players rushing for weapons and promptly slaying their unarmed peers, I managed to get a hold of a pistol in a small house. The lonely all-wooden cabin reminded me of DayZ‘s structures, with more furnishings and loot to be had. The presence of a gun, although weak compared to loot found in larger structures, put to ease my fear of there existing too few weapons for most players to survive in the early phase of the round. Gripped by anxiety after hearing footsteps outside, I proceeded to crouch in a corner with my new best friend and stare at the entryway for a solid two minutes. Frequent death announcements only worried me further, because I’m by no means an aggressive player (mind you, this is exactly the feeling I’d hoped King of the Kill would instill).

Calming down a bit and breaching the safety of my cabin, I ventured toward the safe point – a marked area where players aren’t killed when toxic gas is released in waves – and noticed how pleasant the game’s lighting is. So much of the environment, in fact, warranted a closer look, from crisp shadows of tree cover to fine, high-density foliage to the occasional bird speeding by. Animations were also given plenty of attention to detail, making both zombies and players appear more human than I’m used to. Most importantly in my opinion, sound plays a huge role in the game’s dynamic, as gunshots immediately give away players’ locations and eerie sirens sound at the beginning of each toxic gas wave. I found myself aiming at anything that moved, while remembering not to fire until it I had no other choice. This influenced my encounters with zombies in that I opted to sprint by them and avoid letting them swarm rather than wasting ammo and risking detection.

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Several strong design choices make the moment-to-moment gameplay in King of the Kill entertaining: loot distribution weighted toward clumped buildings and an increasingly small safe zone that’s in a different location each round, both of which draw players together; telling the player what section of the map they’re in rather than showing their exact location; snappy gun play and a low number of hit points for players to have intense, fast-paced encounters. These decisions help mitigate the use of dominant strategies like always going to the same location at match start, and excessive camping (though I find a responsible amount can win matches). But the game does have its blunders.

Survival being the primary directive, I found myself doing lots of cautious travel. In an average match (anywhere from five to forty minutes of play, provided I survive the early-game rush), I typically come into contact with about three to five other players. Moments of climactic battle aside, rounds played strategically can become quite boring. If I win a match, it’s usually because I held down “W” for thirty minutes (running forward), occasionally mashing “E” (collecting items) – and there’s also a measure of luck associated with each victory. I find it especially discouraging to be unlucky in King of the Kill, because any more than two consecutive early-game deaths can make the game feel like work due to the lack of payoff. In light of its “hardcore” competitive nature, and while I enjoy my time with it richly, I typically can’t spend more than thirty or forty minutes at a time in the world of King of the Kill.

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