I was extremely excited to get my hands on H1Z1 at E3 2014, and have been since it was announced. Enough so, in fact, that I told our Editor-in-Chief that he “better not take this away from me”. Probably not the best choice of words, but I was ready to fight it out. Luckily, he is easily swayed and I took my rightful place at the keyboard.
Level and content designer Adam Clegg created this demo specifically for the show. He did mention in passing that if I didn’t like it, to blame him. Luckily for him, I liked it a lot though it may have benefited from having other people online at the same time. After all, the humans are supposed to be more of a threat than zombies.
Clegg was going to run through the tutorial and show me the goodies, but I conned him into letting me drive solo. It was a bad plan, seeing as to how I broke the game (hello, alpha!), but also very gratifying. We’ve been hearing about H1Z1 and speculating on the gameplay since April, and possibly a little before thanks to John Smedley's unending teasing. Seeing that yes, the game exists, and yes, the game works for real, was all I needed to get excited again.
Run here. Click on this. See that deer? Scroll to your torch.
And light his ass on fire.
Controls & UI
The basic controls are highly intuitive. Scroll between weapons, left click for attacking, shooting your gun, or swinging your main-hand melee weapon. The polish for at least that part of the system is there, and it will lend itself well to controller support, provided they choose to go that route. The UI was uncluttered - food and drink meters, a gas meter while in a vehicle, stamina, and others were unobtrusive in the lower portion of the screen. Ammo was also visible - a choice that has been debated on the internets for a while. How much of a “survival game” is it really, if you can see at a glance the amount of ammo you have? Personally, I am glad the option is there. H1Z1 is a game, not a simulator, and sometimes “immersion” has to be broken to give players an optimal fun experience.
You’re not going to see anything too revolutionary or unfamiliar with the inventory system either. Again, intuitive is the modus operandi here, with the amount of inventory space being based on your clothing and backpack. My shirt had (I believe) 2 inventory slots. My pants had 4. My backpack had significantly more. There isn’t a size limit to the items you can carry in your “pockets” - I mentioned to Clegg that I was carrying 2 containers of gasoline on my pants. He seemed unphased. “Doesn’t everyone?”
Crafting & Base Building
The crafting system is really going to set H1Z1 apart from other games in the genre. If you played Guild Wars 2, you’ll be familiar with the “discovery” mechanic, although in H1Z1 it’s a bit more discovery-lite. Find an item, such as a piece of cloth or some wood. Open the crafting window, drag the item in, and click the Discover button. New recipes will then be added to your crafting log, and you can make items on the fly. Cloth, a stick, and animal fat netted me the aforementioned deer-death torch.
You’ll also discover recipes and items to build your base. We won’t have the same sort of freedom as is available in SOE’s “Landmark”, but the system is straight forward. Use a foundation to place it in the world (you’ll see indicators in areas that you can or can’t place a foundation, based on terrain), then put your pre-fab buildings on top. Shelter, doors, and other items will automagically “snap” to the valid places they can go.
This is a zombie game after all. In an undetermined amount of time since the H1Z1 outbreak, you’re supposed to be surviving off the land, scavenging for supplies, and fighting off the undead. At the moment, there aren’t many zombie models in game - 1 or 2 - but there are many more coming. They’re gross and scary, and make a very satisfying “crunch” when you run over them (which is a totally valid way to dispatch any enemy, in my opinion).
They’re also reactive, a very key component to gameplay. Loud noises will bring them running, so be careful when firing guns, driving vehicles, or chopping down trees. The AI system will ensure varied zombie actions to keep players on their toes. Perhaps this zombie hates towns, but loves the forest. Maybe this other zombie is attracted to lights, or will chase wildlife. This always ensures that we won’t be able to predict where zombies will spawn or roam to, giving an element of surprise and danger to the world.
Ready for Primetime?
Regardless of how much fun was in the demo, it is clear the H1Z1 is not ready for even an early access release - and Clegg agrees. After driving for a while, I accidentally flipped my vehicle on a rock. Upon trying to exit, I fell up and, in a strange way, through the world. If it is that simple to break on a 15 minute demo, the wrath of the internet will be far and wide as players attempt all manner of shenanigans to break the game. And they very likely would succeed at this point.
H1Z1 will come to Steam for $20 sometime this year, and waiting is fine with me. I’d rather a polished product that will keep players for a long time, than something half-baked to feed my desire for instant gratification. Of course, if you’d prefer not to bother with Early Access, the game will be free on release.
Want to know more about H1Z1 than I could cover here? Be sure to check out our interview with Adam Clegg here, and of course, leave any questions in the comment section below!