EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
As a general rule, I don’t play Early Access games because I prefer waiting for the finished product, avoiding any bugs or design issues all the while. I still haven’t played DayZ because of this. But with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, I purposely break that rule. Though it is still in Early Access, the game is an innovative online shooter that manages to make every new game feel fresh despite starting the same way. It is unforgiving in design, focused in execution, and without a doubt the best Battle Royale game yet to be developed.
Battlegrounds places you and up to 100 other players in a small plane flying over an 8x8 km island, tasking you with jumping out, finding gear, and being the last individual or group alive by killing the competition. The plane flies different paths each time, and though you will recognize some similar flight paths after numerous playthroughs, the moment you jump will be an entirely different experience guaranteed. The first job also presents a dilemma: Do you try to land in an isolated location in order to scavenge for gear peacefully, or do you land in the middle of a city to potentially gain high level gear quickly at the risk of fighting another human sooner?
Item distribution is randomized with each new game, so even though an area may have powerful equipment in one game, it may very well be barren the next. That initial scramble in the first minute or two as players run frantically to find a weapon is exhilarating, as everyone starts on equal ground before the killing quickly commences. There is a healthy variety of guns to choose from, and protective gear like vests and helmets alongside medical supplies, weapon attachments and ammunition are also plentiful.
That said, good weapons and armor will often not be enough to keep you alive. Death comes swiftly in Battlegrounds, as silenced sniper fire can easily cut down a player walking through a field before they know what hit them just as easily as a man clad only in underwear can bash your head in with a frying pan. Good senses and caution will often win the day, and the sudden prospect of death fills the game with tension, even more so the longer each game goes on.
As players scavenge and fight across the map, a deadly force field will slowly encircle the island to herd the players into increasingly smaller circles. Players take damage when they are outside of the circle, and eventually it will be all but impossible for survivors to come into conflict with each other in order to avoid an embarrassing death from the environment. Random artillery fire will also lock down certain areas, leaving players to either huddle up or risk being destroyed by an errant shell. No matter if you’re a gung-ho survivor searching for prey or a stalwart defender locked up in a bathroom, Battlegrounds facilitates both playstyles equally, and both options are equally valid for winning.
A typical game of Battlegrounds will last between 25-35 minutes, as players slowly die out one by one the smaller the circle gets. I have had matches where I encountered no one for 20 minutes, only to get caught in the middle of a firefight that laid me out flat in seconds. And while the brief exhilaration does much to undercut the tension, it is easy to join another game and repeat the process all over again in hopes of winning it all.
Firefights can suddenly spring up through city streets, wide open farmland and mountainous forests, and each requires a different skill set and approach in order to come out on top. And due to the random distribution of loot, your gear will change how you do battle on a game by game basis. Sometimes you will be engaged in a sniper duel in the middle of a lumberyard, listening closely to try to hear a sound cue that will tell you from which direction the shot came from. Or, you could be crawling on your belly through a field of wheat with nothing but a shotgun to avoid the gaze of a jeep that is making passes close by. All of these different situations build on each other to create a tense survival game that is filled with fun combat.
It helps that shooting feels so good, no matter the gun equipped. Nothing feels particularly overpowered, and each gun has their own use that ensures that everything remains balanced. Aiming down the iron sights of a Kar98k or a M16A4 is satisfying, and as someone who has not played a hardcore military shooter like ArmA 3 on the PC, it is easy to pick up and learn.
Yet it is best to remember that Battlegrounds is still in Early Access. I have encountered a number of glitches in my time with the game, including a few crashes that sent me back to the desktop. Items have frequently merged into walls and become impossible to pick up, I have been stuck in doorways while trying to leave buildings, and lag is a common problem in many of the games I have played. As a whole though, Battlegrounds runs fairly smoothly, particularly in comparison to many other Early Access games. In addition, the developers have announced plans to add in new maps, a new vaulting system for getting over obstacles, and a number of other quality of life changes to further flesh the game out.
A blast to play
In its current state, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is one of the most consistently entertaining online shooters I have played in years. It is remarkably easy to pick up and learn, and each new game is an entirely different experience that is a blast to play. It still has some way to go before release, but I can’t wait to see how Battlegrounds will continue to evolve in the months ahead.
There are no guarantees - but we'd bet our own money on this one. If you're going to take a chance with yours, odds are good this one will deliver.