Battle royale games have established themselves as more than just a fad, and as the space becomes more crowded, games strive to carve out their niche. With the console port of H1Z1, focusing on simplicity and streamlined mechanics is how it stakes its claim. Significant changes were made to H1Z1’s original formula on PC to get you moving and encourage more action, which is further supported by intuitive controls. Where H1Z1’s lacking is in variety, due in large part to an uninspired map that’s missing interesting setpieces for its most intense firefights. But if the thrill of besting 100+ other players is what you seek, H1Z1 delivers just that.
As with many battle royales, your first objective is to quickly scavenge the dropzone for anything to improve your chances of survival. H1Z1 limits what’s available on the ground and in abandoned structures to common loot, but you’ll find enough to stay competitive in the opening minutes of a match. It’s not too difficult to get equipped with a pump shotgun, basic assault rifle, a few healing items, low-level armor, and small backpack, which alleviates the frustration of coming away with nothing even after combing through buildings. However, the good stuff is tucked away in supply crates that litter the map as the match progresses. Boxes of high-level equipment dropped from the sky is a genre staple, however, H1Z1 focuses on this element by strictly keeping the best items exclusive to crates.
By cranking up the frequency of supply drops and shining brightly colored beacons on them (that are visible in the distance), crates serve as hotbeds for action. The risk-reward nature instigates tense firefights, and encourages improvising a tactical approach; will you stake out the crate from a distance and use it as bait, or do you rush to loot it and get out of dodge before you’re preyed upon? When powerful weapons like the RPG, scoped burst rifle, or automatic shotgun are likely within grasp, it’s impossible to ignore these drops. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the effectiveness of specific gear, traditional color-coding to indicate rarity–white, green, purple, gold–makes it easy to identify what’s worth swooping up. It’s not groundbreaking, but H1Z1 devises a way to sensibly deliver the better elements of battle royale.
It also helps that H1Z1 doesn’t hide much from you as it conveniently plots out nearby vehicles and supply crates on the map. While it takes some of the mystery out of this style of game, it’s another tweak that gives you the tools get to the fun parts without delay. Especially because the deadly gas zones close in on the remaining players quickly, it’s nice that the means for mobility are readily available. Considering that players parachute into the map at random locations (there’s no choosing where to drop), making resources available and visible upfront mitigates the feeling of getting the short end of the stick.
The systematic changes to the core of H1Z1 would be all for naught if there wasn’t a practical control scheme to tie it all together. Thankfully, the changes to gameplay mechanics feel as if they were done with a gamepad in mind. Support items like grenades, bandages, and first-aid kits have dedicated buttons, and swapping out weapons or changing your armor is as easy as picking up a replacement. Small backpacks open a third weapon slot, while the rare ones grant a fourth slot in a simple weapon wheel, effectively negating cumbersome weight management that’d be tough to incorporate for gamepads. Most significantly, item crafting has been nixed altogether. As a result, combat flows smoothly, and you’re a lot less likely to fumble around with the controls under high-pressure situations since there aren’t any clunky menus to navigate.
As with the PC version of H1Z1, though, there’s a dissonance between its military-sim DNA and quirky rules of engagement. Movement and weapon behavior are still very much in line with what you’d see in a tactical shooter. But being able to instantly pop out of cars at full speed without taking damage itself seems incongruous, and using that as a tactic to close the distance for shotgun kills adds further dissonance. To top it off, vehicles don’t inflict damage when ramming players. The wide-open design of the map makes these oddities stand out in a way that feels both thematically incoherent and disparate in a gameplay sense.
H1Z1 also falls short in its single map that’s largely made up of open fields and a scattering of deserted buildings. There’s a striking lack of features or interesting backdrops to stage the frantic firefights and make encounters feel fresh from match to match. The more dense locations like Pleasant Valley, Ranchito, or Dragon Lake offer some of those tense moments when you don’t know if enemies are weaving through buildings or peeking around corners. But overall, even marquee locations are visually uninspired and plainly laid out, which makes battles grow stale over time. Outside of outlandish cosmetics, the distinct lack of style or variety to how the game presents itself makes it hard to want to stay for long.
As a free-to-play game, microtransactions come part-and-parcel. Crowns work as purchasable in-game currency, and Credits are solely earned through playing the game and completing daily challenges. Here, H1Z1 has evolved with the times by incorporating a Battle Pass which unlocks an exclusive line of rewards–like cosmetics, emotes, and in-game currency–to earn as you level up (though nothing that provides gameplay advantages). It may be irksome that a loot box system remains the prevailing method for rewards, but it’s worth noting that each box spells out the rarity of the items you’ll receive.
H1Z1 doesn’t shake up the battle royale formula in any big way, but instead offers a simple, streamlined experience. It differentiates itself from its PC counterpart to its benefit by revamping the core systems at play, giving you just enough to work with in battle without being overwhelmed. But it’s still missing diversity in its action that would create lasting appeal. Bare presentation aside, the only map available isn’t the best vehicle for solid gameplay as its largely made up of uninteresting locations. In a crowded space of battle royale games all vying for your attention, H1Z1 makes room for itself by just focusing the action-packed moments–nothing more, nothing less.