Has Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds been improved by its updates?

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Update Night is a fortnightly column in which Rich McCormick revisits games to find out whether they’ve been changed for better or worse.

“Golf is a good walk spoiled,” Mark Twain is supposed to have said. If he was writing about videogames in 2018 (and not, you know, dead for the last century), I think old Twainy boy would have said the same about PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

PUBG’s huge new Miramar map is starkly beautiful. It’s a warm and sandy coastal area that would be ideal for a beachside stroll — were I not being shot at every few minutes. It’s as large as Erangel — the eight-by-eight kilometer stretch of lightly wooded land that until recently served as PUBG’s only map — but feels more expansive. Some of that is due to the decor: the desert-ish Miramar feels more open because it has fewer trees, bushes, and hedgerows to provide cover. Darting between buildings was dangerous in Erangel, but foliage allows the player to break up both their journey and their opponents’ line of sight. Make that same trek on foot in Miramar and you’ll find yourself silhouetted against the undulating sand for lethal seconds at a time, an easy target for anyone who happens to be looking down a rifle scope.

There are wider gaps between those buildings, too. More so than its predecessor, Miramar is built from self-contained settlement pods. The focus here is on larger villages and towns, each one feeling more like designed combat arenas than some of Erangel’s cut-and-paste clusters of outhouses. This helps to give the map’s areas a more coherent flavour, differentiating north from south, east from west. It also helps funnel players into killzones, making it more likely that they’ll come into contact with opponents as the ever-shrinking blue circle forces everyone to make a move into already inhabited spaces.

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The biggest of these towns is Los Leones: a large coastal settlement that dominates the south-east of the map. Los Leones is as close as vanilla PUBG has got to a Call of Duty level, with half-finished buildings, car parks, and stubby concrete terraces making blocky and angular shapes against the horizon. Ambushes are easy here, especially from above, and especially when you’ve got a Kar98. I found one of these semi-rare sniper rifles at the top of a scaffold during one solo match, and paired it with a double-zoom scope I picked up from a scruffy house a few minutes earlier. With their power combined, I was able to pick up a brace of kills from players trying to make their own fortune in the city — that is, until someone down below heard my Kar98 bark and came upstairs to claim it from my cold, dead hands.

The power of elevation is also explored in Miramar’s wilder reaches. Where Erangel has gently sloping hillsides, Miramar has more dramatic relief: steep inclines, rocky outcroppings, and even cliffs. These spots can become powerful sniper nests; great if you’re the one hiding up amongst the high desert, but less fun when you get popped in the back of the head by someone hiding behind a rock. Trying to winkle out an attacker is tricky from these elevated positions, too, but PUBG’s renovated jumping system makes it a little easier to plan your assault.

The space bar now allows players to vault over fences, clamber onto raised rocks, and — most useful — hop through ground floor windows. These windows open up new tactical avenues, meaning you can bypass guarded doorways when assaulting fortified positions, and get the drop on opponents. This is a nice change: previously it was too easy to hold down a room by simply training your gun on the only entrance – especially in a world where grenades were temperamental at best.

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The changes to movement enable a more fluid and aggressive play style that fits well in PUBG’s new events mode. The developers introduced these events just last month, but the rolling suite of one-off game types have shown themselves to be sillier and shootier than the standard battle royale. The first of these pitched 8-player squads against one another, then there was Tequila Sunrise, which ran in early April and gave players shotguns and melee weapons for close-range battles in a much smaller safe zone. I dipped into its sequel: a 10-on-10-on-10 deathmatch appropriately called “War,” which provided players with high-powered assault rifles and made them fight over a speck of land.

War brings PUBG dangerously close to a standard team deathmatch shooter, the miniscule map size and constant reinforcement respawn ensuring that not only will you see players on the ground, you’ll spot them as they parachute in to land. It’s a stark contrast to the emptiness of PUBG’s standard mode — crouched in a dark room, my rifle pointed out the window at the killing floor below, I got more kills in four minutes than I did in my tens of hours in battle royale mode.

PUBG’s shooting is military-minded, bullets both brutally efficient at downing enemies, and a little tricky to aim. It’s a slightly irregular fit, jamming this realism into the manic War mode, where the soft pings of shell casings and other incidental details are drowned out by the constant thump of other players’ guns. That makes PUBG’s events feel more like weekend diversions than the future of the game, but their inclusion hints that in an increasingly crowded market, the PUBG Corporation is willing to try some new things.

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The developers have already laid out their road ahead for this year, a plan that involves the introduction of new weapons, emotes, and two smaller four-by-four kilometre maps. They’ve also promised to tackle the cheating epidemic that has plagued the game in recent months — a serious bone of contention amongst the PUBG community. The game has been carpet bombed with negative Steam reviews in recent months, and a sizable majority of these have pointed to the supposed cheaters (specifically Chinese cheaters, many reviews claim) as their reasoning. The proposed solution, echoed across hundreds of reviews, is a server region lock.

I certainly got killed by people I didn’t see during my return to PUBG, but I can’t say for certain whether I was the victim of cheaters. I’d almost like to think I was: that would explain away the times I stupidly blundered into obvious ambushes or leapt to my death from a roof, but I think it’s more likely that I was to blame. Cheating clearly is a problem at the moment — the PUBG Corporation itself has said so and is taking steps to curb the issue — but the game’s core conceit seems built to exacerbate frustrations on death. In Overwatch, death means a 30-second respawn timer. Even in Counter-Strike: GO, it only means five minutes maximum before you get to play again. In PUBG, death means back to the beginning, that time spent collecting guns, ammo, and armour definitively wasted. It’s no wonder people want a scapegoat.

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It’s not a uniquely PUBG problem. Fortnite — PUBG’s great and growing competitor — relies on the same battle royale system. But Fortnite’s gunfights are its payoff, the building system allowing for moments of violent creativity, and the more exaggerated weapons offering clearly signposted death. PUBG, on the other hand, is strongest in the stretches before player contact.

The PUBG Corporation has made strides to make its shooting more stable and satisfying with its updates, and the events have shown that the po-faced PUBG can also play silly when it wants to. But I play the game for the anticipation: the quiet time to yourself with which you can scavenge supplies and set up defenses, plotting with a friend or on your own. My favourite moments are these peaceful parts: the quiet thrill of stumbling across a defensible house, or finding a cache of weapons.

Conversely, the the worst bits are the noisiest: when I get shot in the back from a sniper I never see, or when I unload an entire clip into a doorframe because I was checking my inventory at the least opportune time. Or, most infuriatingly, when I get shot from 500 metres away after 25 minutes of scrounging and surviving — especially when there’s an acknowledged chance that the perpetrator was cheating.

Clamping down on the cheaters that it knows are there should remain the PUBG Corporation’s immediate focus — if only to assuage the fears of the people who’ve sunk 300-plus hours into the game but wouldn’t recommend it in its current state — but the game itself has retained its delicious tension. Like a good walk, PUBG is rewarding either solo or with friends, and like a walk, it’s more about the journey than the ending.

32 Comments

  1. vahnn says:

    For me, the combat is the main attraction. The things you mentioned are all lovely and contribute to why I prefer PUBG over Fortnite, but the action is why I keep coming back. Dropping solo onto the roof of the arena in Pecado and leaving with 10 kills and all the best loot the town has to offer has to be one of the highlights.

    Conversely, I also enjoy the long, slow, strategic games on Miramar where not a lot happens. Spending 15 to 20 minutes trying to navigate the terrain as sneakily and tactically as possible and surviving as a group to the final circle as a whole unit, then working together to take down the last few enemies is an altogether different experience, yet no less enjoyable.

    • MazokuRanma says:

      I don’t play shooters in general, so would you be able to rate the combat of PUBG vs. games such as CoD or Battlefield? From what I’ve seen of the PUBG vs. Fortnite debate so far, generally the people who stick with PUBG prefer the realism of the setting. The problem that I see for them going forward, though, is that nothing about realism is particularly unique, meaning games such as CoD and Battlefield could simply add Battle Royale modes to their already very popular franchises. If they did that, does PUBG really stand a long-term chance of survival?

      • vahnn says:

        For your first question, the combat leans a little more toward Battlefield. The “realism” everyone talks about is relative, of course. Characters can take several his, especially after finding armor, having low health doesn’t affect your vision or ability to move, damage can be repaired with health items in seconds, etc. But I think the main thing is the weapons’ ballistics models. Bullets have travel time and are affected by gravity. In games like CoD, your bullets impact instantaneously wherever your cursor points when you click.

        As for your second question, that’s hard to say. I think it a lot of cases, the games could be different enough to allow people to play multiple Battle Royale titles. I mean, I never used to pick between CoD or BF back in the day. I played both. They satisfied different cravings. And there were other shooters I played besides those two.

        In fact I have several friends who play both pubg and fortnite.

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      • hungrycookpot says:

        PUBG is a very different experience from Battlefield or CoD. Mostly IMO because of the freedom of movement, the islands are many times larger than any arena in CoD or even BF, and they are not generally engineered as killing spaces. There’s a town with houses, and the enemies are not respawning at a base nearby, they could come from any direction and with any loadout of weaponry, forcing you to be alert and adaptable.

        My main annoyance with CoD and BF were that once you got to know the layout of the maps, you had a massive advantage, as you knew which entry points and crow’s nests you need to keep your eyes on, and which ones are generally not accessible to the enemy. In addition, players who had far more playtime than you had earned weapons you don’t have access to and had hundreds of hours of practice with that specific loadout. In PUBG, it’s more or less random where you’ll fight, in which direction, and with/against which hardware, and that’s the type of shooter I’m looking for.

        • MazokuRanma says:

          Thanks, these are both very informative replies. My only further inquiry would be, if CoD and Battlefield did exactly what you noted, created a specific Battle Royale game on top of the normal franchise that has the random spawn points, random weaponry, etc., does PUBG remain unique enough to truly compete against the billions of dollars companies like Activision and EA have to throw at this? I feel fairly comfortable saying it isn’t so much ‘if’ as ‘when’ for both of them considering the amount of players and therefore money is on the table.

          On the other hand, it may not take a particularly huge number of players for them to at least remain viable. After all, World of Warcraft has dominated the MMO scene for ages at this point, even when you factor in that they aren’t anywhere near the Wrath of the Lich King peak, and yet Everquest, both the original and sequel, as well as Ultima Online and such still exist and are profitable. Perhaps PUBG will simply no longer be explosively popular and simply successful.

          • DrollRemark says:

            Speaking purely for myself, my main pessimism about a potential CoD/BF battle royale game is that I can’t see the makers of them fully fighting off their urge to put some kind of levelling/progress system into it, in a misguided attempt to keep players interested. For me, one of the many reasons that I enjoy PUBG (and before it, why I loved CS for years) is the fact that all games essentially start the same, no-one has any initial advantage beyond some innate skill, and even that means nothing if the other person has the element of surprise.

            Basically, a lot of PUBG’s success has been through ignoring all the trappings of modern FPS games, and so it’s be surprised if those very games could so easily take their shackles off.

          • TimePointFive says:

            if rumors are to be believed, both the next CoD and BF will both have this.

  2. benzoate says:

    Hey is this one of those Plunkbat imitators you guys wrote an article about not long ago?

    Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds? Sounds like someone trying a bit too hard to be edgy.

    /obligatory keeping plunkbat alive post

  3. BooleanBob says:

    How about that update where they removed two weather types that had interesting tactical and strategic ramifications?

    I mostly play the game because it has enough downtime at the start of each round to catch up with my friends, interspersed with brief periods of excitement where we try (and usually fail) to take a fight with another squad.

    I didn’t realise that was what I wanted out of a game – an opportunity to hang out with friends without always having to be caught up in the rush of action – but now that we’ve found it it’s a struggle to find games that offer a similar blend of slow-slow-fast.

    • vahnn says:

      Still pissed that they removed those. Especially the fog. Radically changed things. When you got it 5, 6, 10 times in a row, sure, it was annoying, but if they had just kept it down to a 5-10% chance for fog or rain, I’d be happy.

      #BringWeatherBack

      • Rituro says:

        IIRC, weather was removed partially due to performance/rendering concerns. It happened not long before various similar tweaks were made, including splitting the pre-match spawn locations up to into small groups as opposed to one massive spawn spot, and removing the view from inside the plane pre-jump.

        I wouldn’t be surprised to see the rain and fog weather options come back in the future. The replay system notes the kind of weather among other details in the match summary, so surely rain and fog can be brought back in if and when ping can be kept down.

    • Moraven says:

      Fog and improved Rain have shown up on the experimental Test Server Savage map. The other great part is that weather is dynamic, where it could be Sunny one moment, then fog 5 minutes later, which might go away 5-10 minutes later.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      They removed them because of a massive outcry of players who actually wanted to be playing CoD where nothing was left to chance and the same match played out every time, or those who expect to be able to play plunkbat on a potato.

  4. Evan_ says:

    Am I on the right website? When did you start calling Plunkbat by that silly acronym?

  5. Don Reba says:

    Article not nearly edgy enough.

  6. Dewal says:

    I must have played at least 80-100 hours since the deathcam was added and even though I don’t watch it everytime, until now I only reported one cheater.
    And when you are good at a FPS, sometimes you’ll look like a cheater in the deathcam even when you’re not (a very good example is to see Shroud play). So I’m still not convinced that cheating is the biggest issue with Plunkbat.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I think there’s two issues; as you mentioned people blame cheaters when really they just got got by someone better; AND the longstanding glitch where sometimes when joining squads and changing queues, your region selector will switch to the Asian servers without warning. So people end up playing on high-latency connections (lag making it look like someone moved erratically) and against a cheatier asian playerbase.

    • doodler says:

      As someone lower in the comments mentioned you may not be killed by a cheater or an aimbot but if you watch the replay and go back a few minutes you’ll probably see one somewhere. I personally have been teleported by a cheater and have seen multiple instances of instant heals.(that is probably the most common) Watching someone snap onto targets across the map is very noticeable but you also can’t just attribute it to that when you see how people move sometimes on the map.

  7. Massenstein says:

    Most of the larger changes have made the game less enjoyable to me and my plunkpals.

    Miramar could some day be nice if there was a map selector, but right now it’s either quit-to-lobby or jump down to closest hotspot to have a two minute fight and then suicide if we’re still standing after enemies are gone. It’s not ideal for anyone who actually wants to play Miramar, and not for us who want Erangel.

    The removing of weather, the circle changes… it just feels like this game is being pushed towards hectic twitch shooters and that is the least interesting way to play plunkbat. I’m done recommending this game to friends, or at least recommend they get it from a cheap resell site, and we are all waiting for a better competitor to arrive.

    • Massenstein says:

      Heh, they finally announced map selection today so I can cross one annoyance off my list at least. :)

    • doodler says:

      Yeah this map is a guaranteed hotspot drop for my squad, no one likes having to run across the wide open spaces especially given the disparity on the cover you may believe you are in versus what is actually around you. Cheaters seem to be way more obvious on Miramar but that is just anecdotal.

    • Chrithu says:

      At first I didn’t like Miramar either. But the tweaking they did, really improved the map. Now me and most friends I play with prefer Miramar for one simple reason: Good loot is far more widespread on that map making it much easier to come into the endfights with similar gear to the rest.

      Miramar needed tweaks to terrain real bad. And now Miramar really needs a retweak of the loot tables.

  8. Grizzly says:

    Planking battle on unknown grounds.

  9. MoreCowBells says:

    The implication that people just “want a scapegoat” in regards to the online cheating is insulting. You can view your deathcam and watch other players crosshairs jump to your head or watch them follow your movements through a wall.

    Luckily the ping lock has reduced it from literally every match to 20-60% depending on time of day, but it is still a substantial issue and not one where people are just looking for others to blame.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      That’s your opinion. I play a LOT of matches, and in the past 2 weeks over say, 40-50 matches, we had one instance where it was debatable that the player who killed us was cheating, and that could have just be desync. And that’s not a streak to write home about, since the ping-locking feature a month or two back, that’s been the norm for me.

      • doodler says:

        That isn’t the only form of cheating. Go back in time on some replays, especially when you get to the lower digits. You’ll see instant heals frequently. I would say 1 in 5 matches for us has a cheater somewhere in the mix and some are just doing it for long term survival for the real money earnings.(esp in squads if they go solo) They aren’t trying to make themselves obvious by killing someone with an aimbot

  10. Moraven says:

    Cheating, in FPP, I have not seen in months. Think I only reported someone once in the past 4 months. They had instant boosts (no cooldown to use) and auto aim. Every other patch seems to add more cheating protection and ban waves.

    • jaendor says:

      It’s just because you don’t know what you looking for. it’s easy 2 find cheaters in pubg. but you need 2 look at the replay. play 5games. go on and look at the people that killed you, start 3-5min before they killed you. then you will find cheaters. not everybody that kill you are cheaters, but every single day i find cheaters on the replay. cheaters have a way 2 move around, that makes it easy 2 spot. almost after each update the cheat is down until the coders have updatet the cheats. i pay for one cheat 20dollars each month, BUT I DON’T USE IT. i pay for it so i know when it’s down or updatet. i follow a VIP forum. i love playing pubg when the cheat is down. so i still pay for it so i can play many hours when the cheaters can’t cheat. the way the cheat works is that the enemy have a tag on them, that show you the distance from you too the enemy. I often say 2 my friend when i get killed, this looked like a fair fight, but i then go and take a look at the replay and start 3-5min before i got killed. i often prove my self wrong believing that it was a fair fight. lol. cheaters always fuck up in the game, forgetting they need 2 be carefull, thinking people only look at the deathcam. just start watching the replays, deathcam don’t show shit. Sorry for my bad english :)

      • jaendor says:

        by the way. i play pubg to much. 140hours each month. only FPP. but i start getting tired of the cheaters. my hope is that PUBG get updatet every second day, so that the cheaters have more downtime. last big update the cheat was down for 2days.

  11. Pizzzahut says:

    You can’t really improve on perfection so probably not.

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