The ‘Battle Royale’ sub-genre of multiplayer games, inspired by the cult book and film of the same name, has exploded in recent months. H1Z1: King of the Kill has been in Early Access a little while and was born when H1Z1 split into two projects back in February 2016, with the survival mode spinning off into H1Z1: Just Survive.
Just as a recap, the basic premise of Battle Royale is that dozens of players are thrown into the world with nothing and have to scavenge for weapons and supplies and outlast everyone else to be the last man standing.
Variations of this idea have existed for other titles, like the popular Hunger Games mod for Minecraft, but the recent surge in popularity can be traced to the style of play made popular by Playerunknown’s Battle Royale mod for Dayz and Arma 3.
The popularity of those mods saw Playerunknown (Brendan Greene) act as a consultant for Daybreak on the King of the Kill mode for H1Z1 before creating his own vision of what a battle royale game should look like with Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds.
King of the Kill is most definitely its own beast, however, and whilst it obviously shares DNA and similarities with other entries in the genre it has its own sense of style. It takes a more arcade-like approach that fits well with the brighter, cheerier art style.
So what does the game entail? You can play on your own, in pairs or in teams of five and are pulled into a lobby while the game fills. Games typically start with upwards of 150 players as you are deposited into the air to survey your surroundings and hopefully pick a spot full of loot.
Shortly after the match starts a safe zone will be revealed on the map and a timer will start, once the timer counts down toxic gas floods to surround the safe zone and then the process repeats until a winner is found.
It’s a pretty simple concept to understand but it’s in the details where King of the Kill differs. As mentioned it has a more approachable arcade-like feel and this has a big effect on how vehicles and guns feel. Unlike other games that go for a more realistic feel, Daybreak’s entry eschews all that for simplicity and a more fast-paced approach.
Once you have a gun, you don’t need to think about finding things to clip to it, what you see is what you get. This does give the game a little more immediacy than the competition but it does make the weapons feel less interesting. There is also a simple crafting system that allows you to make some essentials like bandages in a pinch but it feels very barebones.
Once in the game though and time starts to roll on, with the gas funnelling people towards the inevitable conclusion, it’s hard not to get tense… there is something about surviving through the horde that gets your heart pumping. Travelling from safe zone to safe zone, unsure if someone is following you or can see you approaching is something this genre really nails.
There have been a good amount of patches to the game during its time in Early Access and the May update saw a decent amount of changes. The biggest for many is the work done to improve hit registration and gunplay in general, this includes changes to bullet trajectories and tracking to make them more accurate along with improved lag compensation. Ensuring the weapons feel good is hugely important.
The update also saw the return of Skirmishes. These are time-limited special events (specifically available on weekends) that mix up the game by restricting weapons or changing other elements in the game. To celebrate the return the initial skirmish was called Shotties & Snipers which as the name suggests restricts the weapon types you find to shotguns or sniper rifles.
New additions to the map, improved interiors, revised user interface elements like the inventory and crafting areas are also part of the update. Daybreak still seems committed to improving the game with frequent updates so it would seem there is plenty of room for the game to grow further.
H1Z1: King of the Kill is certainly fun and it feels distinct enough that it can co-exist with other games in the genre. There is no timeline for the game leaving Early Access but it will be interesting to see how it evolves over time compared to the competition.