It seems like every other day there’s a new early access title popping up on the Steam marketplace. Two of the earliest adopters of this trend are DayZ, and it’s direct competitor, H1Z1.
DayZ came first, as a mod for Bohemia Interactive’s tactical war shooter Arma 2 back in January 2012. It was created by Dean Hall, while he was a soldier in the New Zealand Army, as he attempted to design a game that realistically portrayed the harsh reality of what it takes to survive without the comforts provided to us by modern society. He was badly injured during a training exercise in Brunei, and this experience directly affected the development decisions that went into the DayZ mod. He attempted to capture the tension, emotion, and quite frankly frustration, that exists in real world survival situations, going against the grain of where most games derive their entertainment. In DayZ, when you die, you lose everything and start from scratch. This helped kickstart (at least in the public consciousness) the trend of early access ‘open-world survival’ games – and one that shows no sign of slowing down.
If you’ve never played a game like H1Z1 or DayZ (or similar games such as Ark or Rust), the premise is pretty straight-forward. You start in the middle of nowhere, with only minor items to help you survive. From minute one, you’re dying. In most of these games, you are required to eat and drink to stay alive, but have to scavenge for necessary sustenance. The inconvenience on top of that (at least in DayZ and H1Z1), is that you’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. On top of that, you’re tossed into a world populated by dozens of other players, many of which will do anything to survive. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve gotten incredibly far (in either game), running around with a buddy or two when a jerk-squad of bandits came along and killed us for our supplies. Back to square one. Again and again. I love it.
However, DayZ began to get old. By now, the game had a standalone, early access counterpart on the Steam marketplace, which my friends and I had been playing for months, but it seemed as though development had stalled. There was hardly anything new being added to the game, and it seemed that the same glitches that bothered us from day one of launch were still present.
In November 2014, Dean Hall announced he was leaving Bohemia Interactive to start his own gaming company. I sensed that this was where the seed of DayZ standalone’s downfall was planted. The driving force behind the standalone’s development was leaving. To make matters worse for Bohemia Interactive, an exciting juggernaut of a competitor in the form of H1Z1 launched only two months later on Steam.
When H1Z1 hit Steam, the initial reactions were hugely negative across the board. The game, created by Sony Online Entertainment (now Daybreak Game Company) was riddled with disastrous technical issues, failures to start-up, and broken AI. Upon hearing the first reactions, I was bummed that it seemed like a failure as the progress behind DayZ’s development appeared to be at a standstill. I wanted a designer to really nail the formula that Dean Hall created. Over the next few months, I went on ignoring H1Z1, occasionally playing DayZ only to be disappointed, until I began to see ‘so-and-so is playing H1Z1’ on my Steam friend list. Interested, I probed my two friends for their thoughts on the game – and was eventually talked into buying it. The idea of a better, more polished DayZ was too good to turn away from.
A few months after having access to both games, I can safely say that H1Z1 is the horse I’m putting my money on in this race. While it is still very much early access, the game is better than DayZ in almost every way. The survival mode provides you with more tools to survive (finally, a map!), but doesn’t diminish the challenge. There are cars to drive, functioning forts that can be crafted, as well as much larger population limits on the servers. Don’t even get me started on how fun the battle royale mode, inspired by the movie I’m sure, is to play with a few friends!
I’m not sure what is going on with the DayZ standalone development, but the race to release day is getting populated by more and more competition every day. I assume that H1Z1 has a lot more money going into it than it’s competitors, having the powerful Sony fronting their bill. I’d love nothing more than to load up DayZ in a few months and be absolutely blown away by the progress they’ve made. It’s like the Field of Dreams. To whoever builds the best open-world survival game, we will come. We will come with our hatchets and assault rifles, ready and willing to die over and over again in fits of frustration, anger, and above all else, fun.