H1Z1 Early Access Alpha Review
TBD Overall Score
For early alpha it still looks good, very adrenaline pumping gameplay and strong core features
Not enough zombies (may change), players natural killing spree mentality needs to be curtailed somehow
This week we took some time out to play the Alpha access of H1Z1, the new zombie survival MMO from Sony Online Entertainment, the game is set in a classic post-apocalyptic setting where players will roam around a sandbox map trying to survive. The game is currently in Alpha, but players are able to purchase access through Steam to help with testing and shaping the game, though the final release will be free to play.
The game is in Alpha. The game is in Alpha. The game is in Alpha. We had to say this to ourselves a few times before we started playing, if you read a lot of the feedback and reviews from many of the people playing it a lot of it is very critical because people are expecting that because they can play the game it should be more polished than it is… the game is in Alpha. As soon as you login the Early Access Alpha note pops up emphasising this point and letting you know it is incomplete, buggy and in testing. From here you decide which server you want to play on with different servers having different regions as well as rulesets, ranging from PVP, PVE, Death Only By Headshots and more; to get the full experience we obviously jumped onto a PVP server.
Right now there is no character creation, there’s not even a female character model as of yet, though it’s only in hindsight after reading the Alpha notes that we realise this as in game we only seemed to come across male players, or women with extremely male sounding voices over the in-game voice comms.
Now this was our first survival horror MMO, having never played similar games such as Day Z or Rust, we didn’t really know what to expect other than a few trailers we’ve seen pop-up on various websites showing some people screaming, being chased or dancing naked; the usual kind of madcap adventures. A quick check over of the controls and we found that we could pop-up a vitals HUD which showed our Health, Hydration, Energy and Stamina. You get hurt your Health goes down until you reach zero and die, you run for too long and your Stamina drops until you’re fatigued and aren’t going to be able to get away from any of the threats that will pursue you. Energy and Hydration constantly drop and if they reach zero you will starve or die of thirst, so players must constantly seek out sources of water and food.
You start in the wilderness, every time you die (which will be a lot) you will respawn in a random wilderness location, and so your first port of call is to try and find civilisation be it a larger town, a trailer park, gas station or anything to scavenge your first items. If you’re unlucky, as we were many times, you just drift endlessly through forests and mountains trying to find a road and given the vast size of the map this can easily eat up 20 minutes before you decide to call it day throw yourself off the nearest cliff to respawn in a better location. The one redeeming feature about getting lost on top of a mountain is the pretty spectacular view as you survey the endless misty forests all around you. Reaching an open plain and seeing the moonlight create a silhouette of the trees definitely created an ominous feel to the game, but personally we do wish night was a lot darker, you begin with a flashlight in your inventory but you don’t need it and if anything all it does is give your location away to other players so we never bothered using it to try and find our way around.
No doubt as players become more familiar with the game they will start to get a better idea of where to go when they spawn, there’s no in game map so for us as often as not it was running around with our fingers crossed, though we found out from a guy in game that you could hit a /loc keystroke command to get your coordinates and cross-reference to some maps available on the web.
So what happens when you do finally stumble into civilisation? Well you have an encumbrance total meaning you can only carry so much stuff, so first and foremost you need to find a backpack to increase your carrying capacity, load it up with food, some empty bottles and then scavenge every cupboard, garbage dumpster, wrecked vehicle and abandoned campsite that you find in search of items such as binoculars, lighters, food cans, crafting materials and of course weapons.
Weapons can be as basic as a metal pipe, hatchet, fire axe and combat knife or pistols, shotguns and rifles and even machine guns (but they are pretty rare and we didn’t see any whilst playing). Hatchets and blades, whilst basic, are still needed for cutting up crates to get wood which can in turn be used for crafting stuff like a bow and even huts to hide in, they are also good for some basic defence when fighting, though if you don’t have any then you can try to beat people to death with your fists.
One of our very early experiences we came across a random guy who decided to take shots at us with his bow, a pretty common and easy to make weapon (albeit we never learned how…) but with some quick attacks, flanking we managed to get some early punches in before he finally ran out of ammo and was then forced to fight us hand-to-hand having already taken a few hits. The fight lasted for quite a while but as he started to run it was pretty clear that we had him on the ropes and upon his demise he did not sound happy over the mic (not sure what he was saying as it was Russian but it sounded angry). We came across another guy in a warehouse at one point who also decides randomly try to kill has with his bow from up on a gantry, only this time we had an axe and managed to close the gap pretty quickly shouting over the mic “It didn’t have to be this way! We could have been friends!” as we butchered into death. After that we didn’t think much of bows as they were so fiddly to fire we could take some down quickly once we closed range so they never seemed worth picking up.
It took a while to realise but the way you need to play in order to survive requires two rules. Firstly trust no one, even the guy walking around with you when you respawn might start to get envious as you start picking up better gear than he does. Second of all until you have a firearm you hide from everybody because everybody in this game is out to kill you. Period. In our time in game, playing nearly 4 hours, we only had one person that didn’t act with aggression because we were both newbies that had nothing worth taking off each other so managed to help each other out, gets some gear, right until we walked into a building and both got shot in head by two other guys with pistols. Rinse and repeat. Firearms are hard to come by, it was in our last respawn before we stopped playing that we managed to come across a rifle and a pistol and even got ammo. About five minutes later we were killed by somebody who was hiding in a trailer.
He killed us with a bow.
Whilst the game is in Alpha it’s hard to fully know what the endgame is going to be like, but as far as we’re concerned there really needs to be some kind of penalty to killing other players or at least some greater reward for working together. Right now there’s no reason not to kill somebody who doesn’t look like they the can defend themselves other than to take the moral high ground and not be a jerk (that said we tried to kill people as well). The endless loop of spending 30 minutes to collect gear to only die and respawn with nothing is extremely frustrating and realistically it is the players that stick together that are going to be able to last the longest, friends that play the game together, clans that form through the game. The problem is that not everyone is in that position and so for the lone survivor (as realistic as a quick death is in the setting) the game can quickly lose its appeal and more often than not you leave the session feeling annoyed with the how you just died.
The game has the right balance of wide open spaces and empty land, enough that because you almost don’t expect to see people, when you do see someone moving around and you have no suitable weapons then you do feel the need to abandon your location and just run. If you come face-to-face with someone and show weakness they will completely take advantage of it, after coming across two guys with weapons we did our best to appease them as they were telling us to dance, in fact they were tricking us to hit the surrender button and sit down so that they could one shot as an head. Another guy I saw was in newbie clothing and was stood on a car trying to hit a zombie with an axe; I’d picked up an extra backpack and so over mic said he could have it as he didn’t have one. What he did have was a gun… and bullets... and then two backpacks, along with the rest of my gear.
Such is life at the end of the world. The biggest frustration is that it takes so long to get back to where you were, to recover the basic gear, so much so that we didn’t even get the chance to delve that deep into the crafting because we always died before we had enough tools and resources to try out (and hell no were we playing on a PvE server…)
So almost at the end of the article and you may be asking “where are the zombies?” Well we were asking ourselves the same question whilst we were playing. Not entirely true as you do see them every so often, but literally you can run around for 10 minutes without seeing one and they typically only ever spawned one at a time, no The Walking Dead zombie hordes to run from. No sudden scares as they walk into a room that you are trying to scavenge (actually we don’t you think we saw any of them spawning inside buildings, even the biggest ones such as apartment blocks and supermarkets). We can only presume they are going to up the amount of zombies that appear in game, but for Alpha they might as well have not been there as the ones that we did fight even hand-to-hand weren’t much of an issue and we never had to fight more than one at a time.
There are lots of features promised and we hope that the game delivers, for an early Alpha it still has its appeal and for players managing to work together we can definitely see the game getting a lot of support and a big community. There is an undoubtable addictiveness to the game, even dying over and over and over and logging off unhappy, a few hours later we were always starting to think “what about if I do it THIS way next time?” At this stage we could obviously put together a wish list as we have no idea what the final game will look like, things like players being killed by zombies getting to rise up and players are zombie themselves would be a good giggle, night time been darker and scarier, mission objectives other than pure sandbox gameplay to give players something to do other than survive, a reason not to kill people.
Still Early Alpha? Very much so. Worth purchasing to play? We say yes.