When I first saw footage of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, I was more than a little confused. What had quickly become the biggest gaming phenomenon on the planet was, at first glance, an amalgamation of every military gaming cliché you could think of. Drab, gritty colors, an emphasis survival above all else, remarkably unpolished and unfinished gameplay had me convinced it would soon go the way of Pokémon Go, with players ready to embrace the next fad on Steam.
Trying the game on my friend’s PC didn’t help. Thrown into a match, I was killed before I had a chance to grasp the controls or understand the game’s many moving parts, and I was left scratching my head. Just how could so many people be head-over-heels in love with this game when I found it so dreadful?
Then, something changed. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds released on Xbox One, and I tried it on my Xbox One X with a community of players who were also new to 100-person battle royale mayhem. We were all on an even playing field, and something began to click – I was enjoying myself in a game I had written off. Whereas I had previously voiced my dismay with the game’s inclusion on “game of the year” nominee lists, I finally understood what all the fuss was about.
Slowly but surely
It didn’t happen right away. Through my first several games on the console, I was having a similar experience to my time on PC. The frame rate was lousy. The buildings I chose to visit were loaded with other players ready to murder me. Occasionally, I didn’t even manage to find a weapon and had to run away from danger instead of attacking it head-on. But over time, I began to figure out how to get the edge on my opponents.
Instead of choosing a building located on the outskirts of the enormous map, I’d choose one near the center, allowing me to stay in one position for longer as the deadly force field began to draw near. I learned where I was likely to find the best weapons, attachments, medical supplies, and ammunition, and which buildings could offer me the most protection from enemy players. I found a personal favorite house – there are several of the same design scattered throughout the map – that was the perfect ambushing spot, and was able to slaughter several opponents without having to put myself in harm’s way.
“Then, something changed. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds released on Xbox One, and I tried it on my Xbox One X with a community of players who were also new to 100-person battle royale mayhem.”
Within a few hours, the switch had been flipped and I was completed enthralled by Battlegrounds. The opening moments of each match were intense, with dozens of players diving down to the surface as we hoped and prayed that no one else had chosen to camp out at our selected destination. When that did happen, all-out brawls broke out using the game’s janky and imprecise melee controls, but it added a certain charm that isn’t seen in more polished AAA releases.
In one of my earliest matches, two of us ended up dropping in just a few feet from each other. As we sprinted into the nearest building, I punched him in the back of the head and he ran through the door to pick up the M9 pistol sitting on the ground. But I grabbed all the ammunition, and he ran out in a panic, never to be seen (by me) again. It highlighted how wrong I had been about the “authenticity” aspect of the game. The dull colors and environments were merely a façade for a relentlessly silly game, perhaps best represented with the “chicken dinner” congratulations the lone survivors receive.
I expected earning my first win in the game would take weeks, if not months. Friends I followed on social media would post their own victory screenshots, often incredulous at the fact they had managed to survive against 99 other people. Instead, I managed to win a match in my first 24 hours with the game. After using the greatest strategy available – hiding in a bathroom as other players murder each other – I saw the “alive” counter continue to drop. First it was cut in half, then it entered the teens. Around this time is when another player walked right into my room and I blasted him with a shotgun, and I began to realize I had a real shot at winning the watch. Exiting the building carefully, I caught a stealthy player off-guard and took him out, and only two of us remained. After firing a few shots at each other, the forcefield finished him off, and I was left in disbelief – and with a thirst that couldn’t be quenched. I needed to get another chicken dinner. I had turned into Eric Cartman from South Park, desperate to get my hands on another crispy piece.
But unlike Cartman’s insatiable appetite for the Colonel’s extra-crispy recipe, I wasn’t angry whenever I lost. Battlegrounds matches are often prolonged and can result in a quick, unexpected death, but there is very little truly on the line. Die and you’re sent back to the lobby to try again. Succeed and you receive more credits for purchasing clothing, but the clothing you wear at the beginning of a match is almost never what you end up wearing just a few minutes later. Kill-to-death ratios exist but they’re almost irrelevant to the average player. The game truly exists as a time-waster, and it does a hell of a job at that.
Time will tell
It’s unclear whether or not Battlegrounds will continue to engage me as it has recently. Even competitive games can eventually fall by the wayside, and in the case of Battlegrounds, its one map on Xbox One (the second is coming in 2018) could eventually grow tiresome. But as games like Call of Duty and Star Wars: Battlefront insist on rewarding good play – and pay – with better rewards, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds doesn’t feel like it has a long-term goal. Surprisingly, this sense of aimlessness is relaxing, even as I’m hiding from an approaching mob hoping to blow my head off and loot my body.
Disclaimer: The following article was written freely based on the author's opinion, and it may not necessarily represent Inven Global's editorial stance.