H1Z1: King of the Kill
Launched: February 2016 (Early Access)
On the surface, King of the Kill and Battlegrounds are the same game. You drop onto a massive map, you look for gear, and you try to take everyone out while also trying to stay in a safe zone. Again, it makes sense that they are so similar, since they both spawned from the mind of PlayerUnknown. But anyone who has spent a significant amount of time with both can tell you, King of the Kill and Battlegrounds are miles apart.
PUBG is going for a military-sim style of play. It is closer to the Arma side of the spectrum, which is the Bohemia Interactive-developed infantry game that creator Dean Hall built the DayZ mod on top of. King of the Kill, on the other hand, is more of an action-arcade shooter. On the shooter spectrum, H1Z1’s take on this genre is closer to Call of Duty than it is to Arma.
King of the Kill’s matches are nonstop chaos. Up to 200 players enter a map and are randomly dropped in the sky to find a landing spot. Once they are on the ground, it is a mad dash for essential items: weapons, helmets, and vehicles. If you can get a decent rifle, a helmet, and a car, then you are set up for most of the rest of the match.
Where PUBG is about making tough choices regarding the use of a loud car in certain circumstances, you almost always want to use a car in King of the Kill. That way you can roll up on stragglers, jump out of the vehicle, kill them, and move on.
That style is going to appeal to some people more, but I think that it makes for a less interesting experience. King of the Kill doesn’t have a lot of downtime to go with its intense moments. You don’t have time to think because it is all go go go. When King of the Kill does pause, it’s so you can craft special items like armor or explosive arrows. And that distracts from what makes this genre special in the first place.
But King of the Kill does do some things better. It feels less janky. Its animations are smoother, its vehicles are more fun to drive, and loot is easier to spot in the environment.
Oh, and King of the Kill’s loot-box-opening sequence is a million times better than PUBG’s.
And while I appreciate the dedication to tactical clothing and gear in PUBG, I also love the wacky skins you can get in King of the Kill.
Finally, Daybreak Game Company nailed the audio design in King of the Kill. Everything sounds realistic, and the positional audio is crucial for pinpointing enemies around you.
It also still sucks, though
King of the Kill still has a ton of technical issues. Connecting to a server is occasionally a matter of getting lucky. It has wonky hit detection that doesn’t seem like the developers will have an easy time fixing.
King of the Kill’s real problem, however, is one of potential. Even once the game exits Early Access and gets a couple dozen more updates, it will probably have the same core action-packed loop. As broken as PUBG is, it has already surpassed the H1Z1 spinoff and it still has a lot of room to grow and improve.
That doesn’t mean no one should choose King of the Kill over PUBG. You just need to decide if you want the emotional up and down of Bluehole’s game or the relentless shootathon that is Daybreak’s version.
PUBG and King of the Kill are the biggest games in this space, but they aren’t the only entries. At the same time, I’m putting the others in a section called “the rest” for a reason: They simply aren’t as interesting as Battlegrounds of King of the Kill, or they have some fundamental problems that should keep you from buying them.
Launched: March 2016 (Early Access)
In March 2016, developer Xaviant launched The Culling for PC (and for Xbox One earlier this year). It is a 16-player last-player-standing game that has a heavier emphasis on melee weapons and traps.
At its core, The Culling is solid. It has different pace than the other games here because of its smaller match size and close-range combat. It does have crafting, but that can work in a smaller game like this that needs to elongate that period of tension at the beginning of a match — even if I think that the genre is better off without it.
But The Culling’s real issue is that it doesn’t have a huge active player base. On PC, you need 16 people to start a game, and sometimes fewer than that will be online trying to play. It’s a little better in North America or on Xbox One, but you’ll never have to wait for a match with King of the Kill or PUBG.
Ark: Survival of the Fittest
Launched: March 2016
Price: $60 (it’s part of the Ark: Survival Evolved package)
Ark: Survival of the Fittest is another spinoff from a survival game. It is the most crafting intensive entry in this space, which means you’ll spend a lot of time in menus. Like The Culling, it also has small match sizes. You and 23 other people jump into a small circle in the middle and then rush out into the surrounding jungle looking for resources. It’s much more intense because of this, but you also have less time to think and experiment. Every match is a race to the basics, so it can get repetitive.
Also like The Culling, not a ton of people are playing Survival of the Fittest. Matches will start if they’re not full, but I was only finding one or two servers at any one time.
Finally, you could still play the original Battle Royale mod that PlayerUnknown built for Arma III. You can subscribe to it on Steam. But like with some of the other games here, not many people are playing it. It’s also an abandoned project now, and PlayerUnknown has learned a lot of lessons that are much more apparent in King of the Kill and then Battlegrounds.
Still, as a legacy of this genre, it’s nice to see where it started.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is the best you can do. It’s still early in development, so Bluehole could still crap the bed, but that doesn’t negate that it is already an excellent experience right this moment. With its excellent pacing and smart limitations, Battlegrounds is a game that players could sink hundreds of hours into. If it keeps improving without losing that core, it should continue to dominate this genre for a while.