H1Z1 Hands-On Impressions

H1Z1 is Sony Online Entertainment's latest free to play title. How good is this zombie survival horror? We found out.

My experience with H1Z1, so far, has been smooth and challenging. Unlike many people I didn’t play on launch day because when the game finally unlocked on Steam it was the early hours of the morning here in the United Kingdom. As a father with two children, who enjoy nothing more than waking at 5am every day, the prospect of playing H1Z1 in the gloom at 2am didn’t particularly appeal. Although my colleague and I played the game briefly the following morning (we were separated by miles of land) I’ve spent the majority of my time by myself. It hasn’t gone particularly well, for a variety of reasons.

When I first logged into H1Z1 I was being punched in the face. Some kind gentleman decided that he wanted to take a swing at me and in the pouring down rain, we went toe to toe like Neo and Agent Smith. Barely able to hit the thug, I began to run away blindly into the dark only to stumble across a couple of zombies. In the melee, my assailant struck one of the shambling creatures. Unsurprisingly, hitting a zombie is a sure fire way to piss it off and sure enough it turned away from me and began to chase the individual over the nearest hill. It was only when I followed them that I saw he had eventually died atop a deer. Welcome to H1Z1.

Following my early altercation, I decided the best course of action was to secure food and water. It turns out I was pretty close to a huge lake and wading into it, I discovered it couldn’t simply be drunk and instead, I needed something to hold it in. Taking a leisurely stroll up the hill opposite the lake I found a graveyard which conveniently had an empty bottle of water resting on a gravestone. Besides that I also found a few pouches of food and plenty of blackberry bushes. With my inventory almost full, I went to have a look inside the church that was a little further up. Although there was nothing inside, two things began to become apparent. The first is that loot, of any particular value, is incredibly hard to find. Secondly, although the game looks fine in the daytime (lighting isn’t particularly great), it truly comes alive at night. So much so that more than once zombies and the footsteps of others have scared the life out of me.

Unsurprisingly and in the same vein as Day-Z, you spend a great deal of time in H1Z1 scavenging for food and objects. Whether it’s a knife or a scrap of cloth to craft with, you instantly become a hermit who wants to horde absolutely everything. It’s relatively easy to find food and water because there’s such an abundance of blackberry bushes and plastic bottles. What becomes challenging however is not only purifying the water, but also managing your limited inventory space and the need to adventure away from the comforts of such bountiful food. Considering the value of possessions, it isn’t surprising to find almost all players are willing to kill on sight.

When I left the church I ended up bumping into such an individual who was sniping at players with his bow from the cliff edge. I ended up killing him in a few hits with a stick I’d found and when looting his corpse found an awesome backpack, some water, food and a knife. Loot is a good incentive to kill players, it’s also the best incentive to avoid them if you don’t want to always lose what you’ve obtained. Part of the problem at the moment and soon becoming the victim of it, is the fact that movement and combat are incredibly choppy right now. Players don’t move quite naturally and hit detection is pretty dismal. It didn’t take me long to die soon after killing the Sniper when a player shot at me when I arrived in the nearest town. Seemingly missing by a mile (he wasn’t even facing me) he still managed to put a bullet through my head (thanks Ebola123!). Several hours later, I was further killed multiple times by dodgy arrows or bullets that were seemingly nowhere near me.

The nervousness you experience when entering a town or village is frighteningly real but it’s the players that cause this, not the zombies. At the moment these lumbering nuisances do little besides make an awesome noise and chase you a little bit. They die easily and deal very little damage if you happen to be slow enough to get caught: a few good swipes of a stick or knife is enough to kill them. Sony Online Entertainment likely already know this but they need ramping up rapidly.

Going into villages or camps is a very necessary part of H1Z1 but it’s also a laborious task. Looting everything, Bioshock style, is exhausting. Everything you interact with takes several seconds and by the 50th time of staring at a time-wheel when exploring an object, only to find nothing, does become tiresome. That doesn’t mean it isn’t satisfying when you do locate something of value but I can’t help but feel the current system is poorly designed and a bit of a nuisance. I suppose it boils down to whether or not you can be bothered to loot to such degrees - several hours of me searching in one particular town resulted in absolutely nothing. Even multiple villages and camps miles up the road that I combed for objects only resulted in a single T-Shirt. Sadly I promptly lost this after a player who was armed up to the teeth killed me instantly with a Shotgun blast to the head. What I’d like to see implemented is much more physical objects in the game to reduce blind searching. A colleague located a compass in a bin, but it was only discovered from the bins inventory screen. Seeing the compass at the bottom of the bin would have surely been much better.

Objects I’ve found on my travels so far include:

  • Blackberries
  • A motorbike helmet
  • A T-Shirt
  • A plastic bottle
  • Tinned food (of varying types)
  • A knife
  • Some metal
  • Fertilizer
  • Charcoal
  • Wood

All of these things, with the exception of blackberries and wood, were single items and all of them I’ve already lost. None of it is irreplaceable or particularly valuable, but the thought of starting again with nothing but my fists and a torch takes some getting over, especially when it has taken so long to obtain such measly amounts of gear. The bright side of death in H1Z1 is the fact that all your crafting recipies that you discover remain through death, meaning that irrespective of where you spawn it’s only physical items that you lose.

On the subject of crafting, I actually really like what Sony Online Entertainment have done here. Some of the recipes make no sense (wood and cloth create a Bow - eh?) while others are perfect (blackberries and water for a juice). I love systems like this because they encourage experimentation and although there will be crafting recipes online that people can use, players are free to find their own regardless of temptation. The only problem with crafting at the moment and due to itemisation is finding the components in the first place. Sony Online Entertainment have stated however that they’re hoping to address this.

At the moment, then, H1Z1 is a game with a lot of potential and all the jankiness you’d expect from an early access title. There’s loads of potential here, the framework is solid and if the game engine and its combat is brought up to the standard of PlanetSide 2, it’ll be quite exceptional to play and look at. All the game needs right now is time in order to bug fix and expand on what it’s already doing. Zombies, combat and itemisation desperately need looking at first, before anything else, because they’re core to the games success. After that, there has to be some sort of long term objective for players to strive towards. Player versus player action, looting and the sandbox stories that develop as you play are enough of a drive for many but I’ve always found that even when playing Day-Z, you reach a point where you need something more.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on H1Z1 over the coming months and like many of my colleagues will be streaming it as often as we’re able. There has already been a fair few patches since launch and there’s another one due this morning. H1Z1 is looking promising and if you don’t mind me, I’ll be heading back onto Reanimation.

 


To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our H1Z1 Game Page.

About The Author

The only game to have distracted Lewis away from MMOG's over the last 15 years was Pokemon Red. Despite that blip, Lewis has worked his way through countless games in the genre in search of something that comes close to his much loved (and long time dead) Neocron. Having written for several gaming networks before Ten Ton Hammer, Lewis likes to think he knows a thing or two about what makes an MMOG and its player-base tick.

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