PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, more commonly known as PUBG or Battlegrounds, belongs to an emerging sub-genre of video games referred to as battle royale. PUBG isn’t even the first major hit in this sub-genre. Recently H1Z1: King of the Hill was surprising many with its Twitch and Steam popularity, yet PUBG has eclipsed it entirely.
PUBG is something of a phenomenon, emerging from nowhere and, as an early-access title, dethroning Dota 2 as Steam’s top played game. PUBG is also pretty popular on Twitch as, according to Dot Esports, it ended League of Legends’ 31-month long winning streak as the most-watched Twitch game.
In PUBG players choose from 100-man free-for-all or squad-based gameplay, and can play in the third- or first-person perspective, unless one selects perspective-locked matches.
You spawn over a fairly gigantic map in an airplane, choose when to jump, then adjust your falling angle and parachute to the ground. One may fall to any number of locations on the map. Picking where to land is a risk-versus-reward calculation, which adds a ton of depth to the gameplay. Want to play it safe? You can drop on a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere; chances are you’ll be alone, but the loot will likely be lacking. Want to go for that sweet, sweet loot? Then drop at the military base, but you likely have to fight for it. Some of the more practiced players are able to guess how many others will go for a particular location by factoring in the path followed by the spawn airplane, which makes certain areas more or less convenient.
After a few minutes of looting and fighting, a blue circle spawns and starts closing in on the map in phases. Players who tarry outside this circle take damage, which increases in severity as the game progresses. The approximately 100 players in a game are constantly forced into a smaller area, increasing the likelihood of fights. Eventually, the circle of safety would disappear entirely, but in all likelihood players will have killed each other off well before this occurs. The last player or squad standing is victorious and receives a lot of points that can be used to unlock random cosmetics.
The gunplay in PUBG has quite a learning curve, one which I personally have yet to grasp. Bullet drop and flight time become very noticeable when fighting over long distances, a core part of PUBG gameplay. Players must be able to gauge distances, zero their scopes, and lead targets. You need to know what shots you can hit, which ones you can’t, and the likelihood of giving away your position by taking a shot. If you take a shot you can’t hit with your gun, the person you’re shooting at might turn around, or someone sitting off on the wings might notice you and headshot you. It takes a lot of practice to juggle all this, and making mistakes can be quite frustrating.
There’s also a lot of little tricks that players need to pick up to do well in PUBG. For example, grass doesn’t render at large distances, so if you’re prone in a wheat field, you might be invisible as far as nearby opponents are concerned, but if a distant sniper’s scope passes over your location, you may as well be lying out in the open. You need to know how fast the circle moves and when it’s time to stop looting and start running.
Weapon balance seems to be a bit of an issue at this point, as shotguns are almost never used, and several submachine guns are just plain weak. A shotgun can beat an assault rifle in houses, but most fighting won’t happen there. Due to the map design and functionality of the closing circle, most fighting takes place in open spaces; this necessitate guns that cover a wide variety of ranges. You want something that works at close-to-mid range, and another gun that works at long distances. The assault rifle and sniper combo seems to work rather perfectly in open areas, and is thus the typical loadout of choice.
Weapon balance aside, you aren’t guaranteed to find assault rifles and snipers every game, so sometimes you end up making do with less. When you first drop from the plane, there is often a mad scramble to find a weapon—any weapon—and kill nearby players before they can do the same. If you find an assault rifle, you’re probably going to do just that; if you find a frying pan… let’s just say fighting isn’t your best option.
One might expect the PUBG community to be particularly aggressive or toxic, as such is often the case in competitive video games, and competition is the core attraction of PUBG. However, in my experience, this hasn’t been the case. It’s simple to mute the mics of oneself and others. Most do just this, and there’s no other medium for communication. Put simply, limited means of communication leads to there being less toxic communication. Also, the fact that it’s quick and easy to start a new session and get back into the action reduces players’ perception of competition.
Even if there isn’t toxicity, there is plenty of instrumental or goal-oriented aggression to be had in PUBG. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it gives games a fast and frantic feel. I remember playing with a four-man team of my friends, and when one of us would go down and bleed out, the order of the day was vengeance (if a player goes down and then bleeds out, they’re done for the match and are stuck spectating).
Often when you’re sure that your squad is going to lose, the goal becomes simply to kill one of the other squad’s players by any means necessary, just to ruin that person’s game in retaliation. This is akin to trying to win a battle in a losing war. The game actively incentivized this behavior by rewarding kills with substantially more currency than hits and by not rewarding downs at all. I remember pulling the pin on a grenade just before a guy wielding a shotgun rushed me, and taking both him and his buddy out when they tried to loot me. Moments like these are a ton of fun, especially if you’re playing with friends.
PUBG is an early-access game, and while it isn’t flawless, it’s easily among the smoothest early-access titles I’ve seen. Glitches are few and far between; I’ve seen maybe four in the thirty-five hours I’ve played PUBG. It’s also being actively maintained, with weapons being regularly re-balanced, the map updated, and new content added. The biggest problem with PUBG at this stage appears to be optimization. Players will often have to opt for lower graphic settings to achieve a high frame rate.
Sound is incredibly important in PUBG. My squad has won by one of our guys shooting toward the sound of another player who was prone in grass without ever seeing him. Often sound will be all you can go on to get a bearing on someone’s location, or whichever player hears another player’s footsteps first will be able to get the drop on them. You have to pay attention to hear that quiet clink of a grenade that someone threw towards you so that you can react in time. Perhaps you can also hear if a grenade bounced and reason out the thrower’s general location by the direction. An experienced player might know whether to run toward a fight or away from it by the gunshots heard. In-game weather conditions further affect the importance of sound; on a rain map it becomes more difficult to hear, whereas on a fog map the limited vision makes listening all the more important.
In conclusion, even though I’m admittedly quite casual when it comes to hardcore multiplayer shooters, I’ve been wildly impressed by the PUBG early access, and recommend it strongly to those interested. Further, considering that it sells at thirty dollars, the price is just right.
PUBG offers a great experience, especially for an early-access title. I look forward to seeing what new content is added to the game and am curious to see if it maintains its current level of popularity.