H1Z1: seen at E3

By Ozzie Mejia, Jun 12, 2014 1:00pm PDT

Sony Online Entertainment is pushing through with its survival efforts in its upcoming open-world zombie MMO, H1Z1. As the zombie virus spreads, so too does the development team's ambitions. The studio brought a new build to this year's E3, showing that the game has made progress in certain areas.

However, the game's development has also struggled in other areas. Because of certain restrictions, the development team has found it best to push back its anticipated Early Access period. In the meantime, designer Adam Clegg offered up a chance to show Shacknews what's changed about H1Z1 for the better.

H1Z1's world has expanded since our last preview. The playable area has increased to 64 square kilometers, with the team looking to expand even further through tech that will allow them to seamlessly expand the world's borders. Clegg added that the goal is to create a fully playable, fully infected United States.

One of the other notable additions is a functioning UI system, one that allows players to check their inventory, their crafting recipes, and a dedicated menu for anything new they find along their path. The latter menu is used to match items with potential new recipes. For example, selecting animal fat will unlock the recipe for fuel. While animal fat is one ingredient, the recipe will also list other ingredients required for complete the mixture.

Looting empty areas continues to be a central feature in H1Z1, but this time, the resistance seems to have increased. A large warehouse looked to hold an ample number of items, but it was surrounded by about a dozen zombies. The idea is to weigh whether the risk is worth it and given Clegg's unsuccessful attempt to take out the group of undead, sometimes a tactical retreat is suggested. But those that do manage to pull off successful raids will potentially be rewarded with containers of items.

With the number of available items constantly increasing, survivors will need to find a place to store their stuff. That's where the game's base-building mechanic comes in, with players eventually learning enough recipes to build their own shed or safe house. Clegg estimates it will take several hours of gameplay, but players can eventually find an area to place a building foundation and build shelter with a barricaded door. The area serves as a place to return for supplies, in case of accidental death. However, players will want to keep it protected, as well, since someone else could just as easily come along and break in for an old-fashioned burglary.

H1Z1's wildlife, which appeared awfully glitchy when I previously saw it, has taken a major step forward. Wildlife is now reacting more to player movement. Though deer will still walk up to you and occasionally ignore human presence, they now react more when struck directly. Striking a deer with an axe will now cause it to react accordingly, as it will quickly run away.

The evolving gameplay moments also appear to be moving forward. While zombies and wolves were easy to come across previously, they rarely interacted with one another. This time around, there were instances in which wolves could be found hunting for deer, along with other instances that saw zombies and wolves spontaneously getting in fights. Even when all seems hopeless and zombies appear to be on the hunt, they will sometimes stop their chase entirely if they get distracted by a nearby wolf.

As development on H1Z1 continues, the team continues to find interesting features they previously weren't aware of. For example, chopping down trees is proving to be a pivotal way to pick up craftable supplies. However, the developers quickly began noticing that they could spot another player from far off in the distance cutting down wood. Regardless of how far off in the distance it's happening, players will see a tree fall and get an idea of who's potentially inhabiting that area.

While it sounds like H1Z1 is making significant progress, Clegg confessed that it's nowhere near ready to release to the public in any sort of playable state. The development team is committed to getting the basics right before release an Early Access build, as some necessities are missing. For example, players currently can't go prone. With some of these essentials currently missing, SOE does not feel they can release an alpha in good conscience at this stage.

But an Early Access build will come eventually, with the development team actively taking player feedback and using it to improve the zombie-filled world. Look for more on H1Z1 in the coming months before it comes to PC.

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