'H1Z1' Early Access Review: Seeking Purpose - Bloody Disgusting
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‘H1Z1’ Early Access Review: Seeking Purpose

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It would not be controversial to say that Sony Online Entertainment’s H1Z1 had a rocky launch. When it entered Steam Early Access last week, the open-world zombie survival sim was plagued by numerous issues, including extreme lag, long wait times for servers, and not infrequent disconnections.

It also managed to stir up a bit of controversy regarding microtransactions, and now refunds have been offered to customers who felt the in-game purchases of loot crates — called “airdrops” — violated previous statements regarding the nature of the game’s systems.

It’s been a week since that bumpy start, so the question on a lot of people’s minds is: is H1Z1 worth a shot?

The answer is… maybe. On the upside, the community has been quite vocal about the myriad problems they’ve experienced in the game, and the team has done an admirable job in responding to many of them. Three substantial updates rolled out this week, improving the pure functionality of the game, as well as a few tweaks to a few of the systems, like like hunger and thirst so survival isn’t quite so difficult.

In that way, the game’s launch could have been worse. Having a responsive team making difficult decisions, a sort of video game triage, sets it apart from the innumerable buggy launches of the last few years. There have been plenty of other games to completely destroy good faith from customers, but so far H1Z1 isn’t among them.

Still, H1Z1 is riddled with bugs, oddities and just plain weirdness. It’s precisely the thing you should expect from a game full of emergent experiences — remember that word? — and yet, its relative goodness isn’t entirely contingent upon whether it is functional or not.

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I’ve put several hours into the game and can’t quite figure out what the allure is. I get the point is, I’m just having trouble finding the appeal. Apparently, I’m not the only one.

The user interface is there, but it’s not necessarily intuitive. Containers receive the Press [E] to Search treatment, but twigs and blackberries don’t. The countdown timer is not especially egregious, but all that time adds up, especially when searching containers that are ultimately empty.

It took a while for me to pick out the way to drag items from one side of the interface to another, which also feels weird when having to put items into a crafting “furnace.”

I get that survival games require a certain amount of situational decoding to be fun, and usually the fun is derived from that sense of discovery, but the problem with H1Z1 is the discovery isn’t altogether fun or inventive. All of that is exacerbated by the fact that the world can feel barren and unforgiving.

This is to be expected in a quasi-realistic — and I realize the irony of using that phrase in a zombie game — survival sim, but due to the amount of traveling required, the reward should be much higher than it is. If you happen to choose a Player-Versus-Environment server, rather than a Player-Versus-Player server, you’ll spend a lot of time searching empty drawers, refrigerators, and abandoned cars.

It’s not frustrating, but it certainly can be boring and tedious. For a game so reliant upon crafting, sometimes the lack of crafting is apparent.

The more than hour-long waits to get into an individual server have disappeared, but you’ll probably still experience minor issues with the servers, even now. I’ve only had ten or fifteen minute waits — not too bad — but I’ve been booted / disconnected from servers mid-game, which can be frustrating, since getting into a game requires a process.

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A few times, I couldn’t simply log out and then join another server; I had to force quit and then reboot the game entirely.

The final complaint to be had in H1Z1 falls on the shoulders of the combat. Ranged fighting is kind of exempt from this, because it feels a bit more natural, but using melee weaponry feels rubbery and without weight. You just sort of jump around and swing blindly until one side of the altercation goes down in a heap.

Since the game is in Early Access, the insubstantial combat is certainly an area where the game can make huge leaps in the future.

If you are going to enjoy H1Z1, you kind of have to buy into the game’s overall aesthetic. Ultimately, it feels like a giant, blunt object rather than a nuanced set of systems, but it isn’t really a bad game. It just doesn’t necessarily feel like a big studio doing an open-world zombie game.

To wit, there are more stylish, internally-consistent games on the market, but that can’t necessarily be held against H1Z1.

Since it is in Early Access and not a full release, H1Z1 is exempt from a scored review. Based on its current functional state, my advice is that people wait a while but eventually give the game a chance. The game does some interesting things but doesn’t iterate on the concept in enough new ways to warrant definite and immediate purchase.

H1Z1 can certainly profit from revisions and updates, and ultimately those changes will benefit customers down the road. That’s the grand purpose of Early Access.

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On a final note: Rather than end this review with a blanket recommendation, I’m going to provide a few words for those of you who are going to dig into H1Z1:

1. Play on the PVP servers. Even though PVP is probably where you’ll encounter the sorts of players who sparked the horror stories at the outset of Day Z’s release, you’ll also be treated to a lot more by way of supplies. The Player-Versus-Environment (PVE) servers are a lot more barren, so you’ll basically be engaged in a walking simulator at first.

2. Be a bit more social on the PVP servers. You’ll encounter more players, and since they might be out for blood and/or supplies, your gaming experience will be more intense. It’s also pretty hilarious to respond to someone’s threats and demands by punching him in the face. It’s a whole lot more funny than traipsing across the game’s vast landscape sometimes.

3. Don’t be afraid of zombies. My first, honest-to-goodness loot drop happened when I got bored and decided to start hunting down zombies. In a pack, they’re horrifying, but one-on-one they can be taken down, and very often they’ll drop useful items for crafting.

4. Craft, craft, craft. Start immediately by using the “Discovery” function to learn new crafting recipes. They stick with your character on a server, and you can then branch out and learn new ones as you pick up or combine new items. That will make the game seriously easier and less tedious, as you play through it.

The Final Word: As it is now, H1Z1 is not worth your time. It doesn’t quite stack up to the competition now, but that could change in the future. Until then, consider trying one of the more established survival games.

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