When H1Z1 was announced, it was difficult to see it as anything other than yet another entry in the genre that DayZ had pioneered. After all, how many different ways can the concept of surviving a post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak be explored and set in a PvP environment? H1Z1 certainly shares similarities with other games in the genre, but it also seems to have a much more refined approach to the concept.
During E3 2014, we swung by Sony Online Entertainment's off-site location to check out the current state of the game. We were shown a current build that was demoed by one of the developers. Starting in the game's 64-square-kilometer world, you have little more than a fire ax and basic gear, and you must contend with the zombies that stalk the landscape in addition to your health, hunger, stamina and thirst. Your first course of action should always be to keep these stats in check; it should be easy to do if you're paying attention.
The crafting system largely starts with gathering wood by cutting down one of the nearby trees. Falling trees can be seen from far away, so it's a risk balanced between the need for wood and the fact that gathering it can announce your presence to watchful players. Once you have the wood, the first step in the crafting system is to examine the item to discover the recipes you can make with it. You can make wood planks, which can be discovered, and the cycle branches out from there. Later in the game, you can also use furnaces to melt down metal shards for use in higher-end crafting.
You can also use wood to construct your shelter. You place the floor structure on a relatively flat piece of land. This wooden platform is about 50 square feet by my estimation, and it's raised on a series of stilts with a stairwell that goes up from one side. Once this is built, you can snap additional building modules on it, such as rooms in a grid-based system, or build a set of stairs to create a second level. This makes the building process look quite intuitive, and the grid allows you to make a structure that lacks any unintended gaps. These parts must be maintained, but there weren't any details about how that would work.
Players can also construct traps to defend their base. A spike trap was shown, which was made of wood and did pretty significant damage to anything standing on it. This would seem to allow the ability to fortify your base, and other traps, such as barbed wire and animal traps, were mentioned as well. As with the base-building, these traps also need to be maintained, and they degrade based on how often something is damaged by them.
The zombies are capable of moving up to a jogging pace, and they seemed to be a manageable threat until encountered in greater numbers. Wolves and bears are also a threat, though they can be hunted for meat as a food source. Killed animals also drop animal fat, which can be discovered and refined into fuel. The zombies chase them as well, and I saw a couple of hungry zombies chasing a terrified deer through the forest. Water is another factor in your survival, and it can be gathered with a rain collector at your base or from a lake or stream.
Your health is the most important stat. Let your other stats get low enough, and your stamina begins to deteriorate, followed by a slow drain to your health. Taking injuries from combat or traps also damages your health. To regain health, you can craft bandages or medical kits, or you can slowly heal as long as your other stats are maintained.
H1Z1 features the same hardcore permadeath that is the hallmark of other titles in the genre. Get killed, and all of your hard-won gear is left on your fresh corpse. If killed by a player, you can kiss goodbye to the choice pieces of your kit, but if killed by a zombie, you have a chance to run back to your corpse and retrieve it. Wait too long, and your corpse reanimates, wearing all of your gear and acting like a zombie but unable to use things like firearms. Happening upon a zombie wearing a backpack is like happening upon a loot piñata. Kill it, and you might get some interesting gear.
The game features a day and night cycle as well as a dynamic weather system. Sunny days make the landscape look idyllic if it weren't for the ambling zombies, but foggy days reduce visibility and lighting and make everything look like Silent Hill. Zombies and players can easily get lost in the mist, and woe to the guard who is trying to keep watch through that mess. Rain can be a mixed blessing, since it causes poor visibility and makes your character cold (hit to the stamina), but it also provides a source of clean water if you have a rain collector.
Vehicles usually need to be repaired before they can be used. Fuel level, tires, and the battery were mentioned as parts that may need to be scavenged before the vehicle can be operational. Much as in other games in the genre, vehicles allow for greater mobility but at the cost of being loud so any player or zombie knows where you are.
Other aspects that were mentioned but not shown were the ability to set permissions on your base so only your friends can enter it while you're away. The game will have local VoIP, so you can talk to players in the immediate vicinity. Though the focus seems to be on PvP for now, the servers will have other rule sets, such as a PvE mode where players are safe against one another, but the zombies are a more significant threat. Characters made on one server stay on that server, so you can't gear up on one server and play with that character on another.
The zombie horde mechanic was briefly mentioned. The more players who hang out in one area and the more activity they undertake, the more likely it is that zombies band together as a mob and make their way toward the area. Establish a base that attracts a lot of attention, and you might end up with a mob of 50 zombies running toward your position. The mechanic has a lot of interesting repercussions and is another reason for players to work together, even on an otherwise PvP server.
H1Z1 is in closed beta for now and is slated to be a PC-only release, though that may change down the road. The game could easily be disregarded as a DayZ clone, but although it shares a lot with that title, H1Z1 aims to be a more expansive and polished take on the genre. We're working on getting beta access and will keep tabs on it.
More articles about H1Z1: Just Survive