Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is easy in ways other games are hard

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Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds [official site] is about being dropped onto an island with nearly 100 other people, and then fighting til there is only one person left alive. It’s a terrifying scenario and I have never won a single round of it – and yet, I wouldn’t call it a hard game. In fact, it is easier than most of its contemporaries in not only the survival game genre, but multiplayer first-person shooters at large.

I think the first time I played Battlegrounds, I survived for around half an hour and placed 25th or so. In the 40-50 rounds I’ve played since, I have consistently finished in the top 20. Finishing in the top ten is semi-regular. These aren’t winner winner chicken dinner results, but if I were to drop into a game of Overwatch right now – a game I played for a few weeks near release and not since – there’s not a chance in hell that I’d finish in the top 20% of players on the server. Same for Counter-Strike, a game I’ve played in its various incarnations for a thousand hours. This has nothing to do with the overall larger player numbers in Plunkbat.

If you’re joining in during Battlegrounds moment in the spotlight, you’re possibly thinking to yourself: yeah, but that doesn’t count. Let me explain how to do this for people who don’t play the game, before I loop back and try to explain why this is significant even if it hasn’t yet lead me to victory. Here is my one paragraph guide for being perfectly serviceable at Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds:

Jump off the cargo plane on which you begin each round only when it is near the end of its journey across the island. Not at the very end, when it will push all the stragglers off together, but ten or twenty seconds before that. Speed towards the ground as fast as possible. While parachuting, scan the horizon for any other nearby players. There won’t be many, because most people jump off early. Visit small houses in search of weapons. Avoid obvious landmarks like the military base, power station and other larger buildings, since players will be attracted by the superior loot found there. Move quickly to each new safe zone on the map as the circle closes inwards. Use vehicles whenever possible until the circle is very small.

That’s about it. In short, how do you place in the top 25 percent of players? By avoiding everyone.

By playing this way, you’re still engaging with the game’s systems. Brendan ‘Playerunknown’ Greene defines Battlegrounds by three distinct subgames: the air game, in which you make decisions about when to skydive from the plane and where to land; the loot game, where you gather weapons and armour from locations spread across the map and make choices about which to use; and the combat game, where you fight with other players. It’s only this last third that you’re really avoiding by playing this way – and even then, not really. You’re still going to be scanning the horizon for other players, moving slowly in and around buildings, and getting into occasional, unavoidable firefights.

I think some might argue this way of playing doesn’t ‘count’ because it doesn’t necessarily make it easier to win. By playing aggressively in the early game, other players will often end up with better equipment. The guns and armour discovered from high-population locations and scavenged from fallen enemies can provide an advantage in the closing minutes of a game, where players are forced together in a relatively small area with few places left to hide. I think the gains are marginal though: visit enough small, abandoned houses in out of the way places and you can accrue an arsenal just as good as those you’d find in a single, large building like a school or hospital.

I say that as someone who has never won using this strategy. Battlegrounds doesn’t make it easy for people to win, and if winning is your only goal then maybe this is all meaningless to you. I don’t have that kind of expectation from the game (yet). What Battlegrounds does give me is a broad enough spectrum of risk versus reward that I have almost total control over the arc of my emotional experience.

Want to get straight into the thick of it and enjoy an immediate adrenaline rush by running towards guns with enemy players right alongside? By all means, go for it. Want to play it safe and turn the next thirty minutes of your life into a slow-burn of tension, culminating in a heart-pounding battle where you’ve got something substantial to lose and victory feels as if it’s just within your grasp? Yep, you can have that, it’s your choice every time. Want to oscillate between these two states within a single round, starting in a rush and then cooling off again, or vice versa? That’s fine, too.

I can think of no other multiplayer game which does this. First-wave survival games like DayZ are too open to make action a player’s choice; action is more often just something that happens to you after potentially hours of nothing happening. It is boring and then extremely tense and often you can’t control when either state happens, even if you head towards the towns. More traditional multiplayer games like Overwatch and Counter-Strike thrust you into the fray and demand constant frontline action, and even with game modes that narratively support quieter play styles (protect the hostages, etc.), the community stamps it out by labelling it “camping”.

The only time I’ve ever felt in control of my own arc in multiplayer games is when I’ve been really good at them. After years of practice with something like Counter-Strike 1.6 or Team Fortress 2, I knew I had it in me to perform a certain way and create the experience I wanted to have. Yet this only ever lead to terrible frustration, as I inevitably had bad games and bad days and bad weeks and knew it was because I was underperforming.

With the exception of winning, I feel as if I have a huge amount of control over my experience in Battlegrounds, even after a relatively short amount of time with it. There’s still plenty for me to get good at in the game; it is not, on the whole, ‘easy’. I’m still learning how to handle the game’s umpteen different assault rifles. I’m gradually getting better at moving across its terrain, using ridges to break sightlines and avoid sniper fire. I’m learning when to be cautious and when to be bold in the late game, when hiding is no longer an option. I think I’ll one day get my chicken dinner. But I appreciate the game most for letting me choose the emotional journey of any round I play, whether I want to throw caution to the wind, or whether I want to take a boat out to sea and float out there, alone and out of reach for 40 minutes, crossing my fingers that the last player slips and falls to their death without my intervention.

21 Comments

  1. Alarion says:

    You know, I never really “got” Battlegrounds. A really tough insta-die multi-battle-arena? No thanks, Overwatch at least lets me respawn. But an arena where I can choose my approach, where I have much more agency than in other shooters? Suddenly I’m intrigued!

    • 9of9 says:

      Worth pointing out, also, it’s not really insta-die. I had that same misconception at first, because I expected something closer to DayZ given its roots, but the time-to-kill in combat is actually much closer to something like Counter-Strike. You could get taken down pretty quickly by someone with very high-end gear while you have no protection, but most encounters actually take a lot of time, and if someone starts shooting at you, you’ll usually have a lot of options unless you’re in an especially compromising situation.

      So all in all it’s pretty forgiving, for the most part :)

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      Mikemcn says:

      When you do get insta-killed, maybe 15% of the time, it’s usually either from being unlucky and getting headshot at the very start of the game. (before you have a helmet) Or it’s from someone sniping you from far away in a manner that isn’t so much frustrating as it is awe-inspiring, i’ve played 70 hours of PUBG and have had a handful of deaths that annoyed me. The rest were either really cool ways to go out or simply my fault.

    • vahnn says:

      Yes, firefights are rarely instant, and usually not quick. Especially in duo/squad games where players can be picked up by their teammates. Luke these other guys said, dying is most often a consequence of your own actions. The few times I’ve been Insta-killed involved me running in a straight line in the open or standing still in a bad spot for extended periods while checking a corpse’s contents.

      Move quickly and in a path where cover is only a couple seconds away. And if you can’t do that, stay low and try to minimize your exposure to as few directions as possible. Be aware of the circle relative to popular loot spots, as you can often predict which routes players will be moving to get to the next circle, and you can ambush them.

      There is much, much more at play than simple gunplay and quick reflexes. Tactical and strategic considerations play a much larger role in how far you make it.

  2. Walsh says:

    I won my third game by playing the avoid everyone strategy. My first two games, I died quickly because I jumped out of the car while it was still moving.

    My gear wasn’t even that amazing by the end of the third, I had the Ak47 and a shotgun. I had killed three players total by the end of the game, two in the final minutes.

    It seems a lot of folks have the same strategy, everyone jumps out at a regular clip instead of all at once, so everyone isn’t as clumped up and I always encounter someone earlier.

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      DuncUK says:

      I’m not sure I agree with the premise of the article. Finishing in the top 25% by avoiding everyone is not really much of an achievement in a game with only 1 winner. The game as much about looting as it is surviving and if by avoiding everyone you end up with a crappy loadout in the late game, you’re not going to win. It’s all about preparation for the endgame which requires both survival AND preparedness.

      There’s sometimes more to be said for parachuting into a popular area like the big cities, looting around the edges quietly and letting the hotheads whittle one another down. By the time there are only 1 or 2 left, they’ll be injured and often all too willing to noisily give their location away. I’ve ended up with a great loadout by holding back and waiting, then blowing away the injured sole survivor and benefitting from their crowdsourced looting.

  3. TotallyUseless says:

    A grossly inferior and muddy graphics. Ugh. And massive hype that causes people who don’t even normally play on PC, to join the bandwagon. Double ugh.

    • Humanabyss says:

      @TotallyUseless

      1) The game doesn’t have muddy graphics
      2) For years gamers used to go “graphics over gameplay”. What happened to that?
      3) The game is genuinely enjoyable, so yes, there’s “Hype” over it.

      I get not liking what other people like but don’t be dishonest with everyone and yourself just to be “that guy”.

    • Deadly Sinner says:

      The PC’s audience is being expanded? OH HOW AWFUL!

  4. TimePointFive says:

    Are you playing mainly Solo? It’s pretty much a different game in duo or squad. I actually avoid playing squad like the plague, while having the most fun in duo and playing/placing the best in solo. The social aspect of duos/squads really does change each facet of the “three distinct subgames.”

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      Graham Smith says:

      I play either solo or duo, and found I have this control over the experience in either. I should give 3 and 4-person games a go, though.

      • vahnn says:

        Queue up for Squad games and turn off matchmaking. 1 v 4 v 4 v 4 v 4 v 4 v 4 v 4…

  5. ironman Tetsuo says:

    I’ve been really enjoying PUBG, all my friends are playing so it’s easy to get in a good team and it’s a nice change of pace to the traditional survival games like DayZ, but it is also reminding me of everything I loathe about competitive gaming on PC and that’s inconsistent graphical settings between players.

    I mean, at least I know when I play Battlefield on a console all of my enemies are seeing the exact same arena as I am, no one is turning off grass and reducing shadows to spot other players who believe they’re hidden, or boosting their gamma level to max in order to turn tense night-time play into an afternoon stroll shooting blind men.

    The only solution seems to be to join them in turning my settings down to potato quality, rendering an otherwise gorgeous and tense game into an ugly remake of duck hunt. I refuse to though, I didn’t spend a bomb on a high end PC to play a game that would look more at home on an N64, it just grinds my gears that’s all.

    /rant over

    • Gwyddelig says:

      Hum, I get that this is irritating in principle (and devs really should do something to ensure there is a “fair” setting baseline) but I feel this is a problem more in people’s heads than in practice. How do you know that a particular death was the result of such chicanery? Why let it bother you?

      Why give a second thought to somebody potentially making the lovely graphics of their game (and BF1 with all the bells/whistles is ruddy gorgeous) look like a rhino’s poo-clad arse in search of, what, a few extra frags?

      My KDR can take that (probably small) hit so that I get to enjoy a more immersive, aesthetically pleasant experience. YMMV of course.

      • hausser0815 says:

        Yeah thats what i dont understand, you shouldnt be able to turn the shadows off, the lowest setting should be a big black blob on the ground, for example. Same with bushes etc. Imo, the “best” graphic settings that give you the most advantage should be the medium ones, so you dont have to have the best pc to play the game, but dont get an advantage in turning stuff of.

        Edit: Damn, That should have been an answer to ironman

      • ironman Tetsuo says:

        Oh it’s definitely just a pet peeve of mine, I try not to let it ruin my experience and I certainly don’t disable my settings just to even the playing field, it’s just on my mind after recently looking for tutorials on PUBG and finding many videos promoting the behaviour as a “good tactic” to use.

    • Marley says:

      turn your AA and textures up to max and set almost all other stuff to low and you should still get good performance without overly sacrificing the quality. I believe view distance is one that will have one of the biggest impacts on performance though so make sure its low or at most med.

  6. DThor says:

    This is precisely the way I’ve been playing since I started, just recently,and it’s been working out for me. I would never have guessed that a permanent death multiplayer would hold my attention. I had dabbled with the Day Z thing and found it incredibly boring for long stretches, but I’m loving PUBG so far. I’ve only played solo.
    The tension can be unbearable sometimes, as can be the crack of gunfire in the distance and “I’ve got you now…”

  7. fish99 says:

    I guess the only thing wrong with this strategy is it’ll take you a long time to get good at the shooting part of the game, since you won’t see much combat. You’ll get a couple of fights in 30 minutes, whereas if you drop in Pochinki, the military base or the school, your average game length will probably be 5 minutes, but you’ll be getting to shoot the guns a lot more frequently. Then once you’re good at the shooting, you can move on to a more strategic approach.

  8. toshiro says:

    This article actually made me buy the game. It’s been years since I bought a online shooter game, but oh boy it is fun! The article sums it up well. Everytime i’ve been shoot so far has made me burst out laughing, as well as every kill. Super fun game! Hope it stay legit.

  9. Marley says:

    To be honest I think this is probably the biggest mistake new players that are wanting to win in battleground make.
    I would recommend any new or learning players actually do drop onto the school and mil base repeatedly and simply get used to rapidly looting and taking fights, far too many new players spent 30mins getting looted in isolated spots, and then simply die in the very first fight they have to take, as the player they run into has much better aim.
    This is because they have no practice actually aiming and hitting shots, and sure you can make it to the top ten without engaging anyone, but your never going to consistently win without good DM abilities.
    And once you DM is sharp (or at least decent) that is when you should dropping into isolated areas and going for long 30min+ games.