After nine months in Game Preview, PUBG emerges fully featured and ready for action on Xbox.
You and millions of others around the world already know how it goes: in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (AKA PUBG) up to 100 players skydive down to one of three distinct islands, scavenge for gear, and race against an ever-closing circle to kill each other (with no respawns) until there’s just one left standing. PUBG is the game that kicked off the battle royale craze with its great, semi-realistic style of gameplay, and now that the Xbox One version is final and performs well, its excellent balance really shines through.
With the 1.0 update that arrived last week, PUBG on Xbox One shakes off its janky reputation from the Xbox Game Preview version and is finally a solid version of the now second-most popular battle royale shooter. Frame rate stutters a bit in the lobby area and during jumps, but other than that it rarely has trouble holding 30 frames per second on a standard Xbox One, and connection problems or disconnects are rare. I’ve been playing on a standard Xbox One the visuals are a noticeable downgrade compared to the PC version, but I haven’t had many issues other than some buildings taking extra time to fully render.
PUBG on Xbox One also now has every feature of the PC version. When diving into a match you can choose to do so either in first-person only or third-person by default (with first-person as an option) so that you can opt out of people using the unrealistic advantage of peeking around corners in third-person. You can also choose to deploy a solo combatant, with a partner in Duos, or with a full squad of four players. While grouping with random people is technically possible, in my experience most people rarely use a mic, which is extremely frustrating in a game that requires clear communication and teamwork. You’ll really want to find a group of friends to play with in this one.
PUBG is a methodical and tactical experience.
Compared to other battle royale shooters – and specifically Fortnite – PUBG is a methodical and tactical experience, one that’s as much about avoiding combat until you’re sure you have the upper hand as it is about actually scoring kills. That makes the highs that much more exhilarating but also the lows can be painfully boring. Hunkering down behind cover while under fire by an enemy squad, calling out directions on the compass to teammates to try to organize a flank, or hysterically laughing when things go terribly wrong underscores what makes the battle royale genre so fun. But given the size of the three maps and slow pacing, you may have games that stretch for over 20 minutes without ever seeing a single person and then get shot in the head by a mountaintop sniper – those runs are super frustrating.
Since PUBG has a much more realistic tone, there’s no magically building walls out of thin air, grappling hooks, rocket launchers, or Thanos crossovers to be found here. Instead, each piece of gear you find is placed semi-logically in buildings around the post-apocalyptic landscapes. You start out with no items at all, but everyone has the same two primary weapon slots, sidearm slot, throwable slot, and storage/armor slots. Backpacks, body armor, and helmets are all tiered from Level 1 to Level 3, but each gun is created identically to the other guns of its type. So there aren’t different color-coded rarity levels between different AKMs or M416 rifles; instead, you find attachments to improve your weapons over the course of the match. The great thing about this system is that it incentivizes you to constantly loot and find better gear, up until you’re near the end – which is when you’re tempted to risk it all by exposing yourself to go for one of the air-dropped loot crates containing high-end gear and weapons. PUBG’s more serious tone isn’t as accessible, but its cohesive attitude and strong core premise tie everything together exceptionally well without feeling obnoxious.
This means that there is a tougher learning curve if this is your first battle royale shooter, especially considering that all three maps are drastically different from each other. The original map, Erangel, is a modern island full of small towns, a military base, multi-level prison, hospital, school, and more as its key landmarks. Even now, with two other maps in rotation, Erangel is still my favorite. The speed at which the circles closes, the balance of vehicle spawns, distance between buildings, trees, and other cover points, all feel just about perfect. Clearly, this map has been out the longest and received the most love and attention.
Even now, with two other maps in rotation, Erangel is still my favorite
Then there’s the desert map, Miramar. While it’s actually the same overall size as Erangel, the desolate landscape, lack of vegetation, and general run-down aesthetic make it feel much larger, which is at first impressive, but it also seems much more empty, which sucks. Vehicles feel harder to come by and, generally speaking, you can spot enemies running across the literal desert a mile away. That certainly increases the tension and anxiety since you always feel exposed, but it often winds up becoming a case of who finds the best randomly placed scope rather than actual skill in a firefight. For that reason, Miramar is easily my least favorite.
The completely opposite end of the spectrum is the third and most recent map, Sanhok. It’s a jungle environment full of lush greenery and tropical cabins that’s precisely half the size of the other two maps. Since the same number of players are dropped in despite the size difference, that means a lot more bullets start flying a lot more quickly here. Within seconds of landing you’ll probably see someone, no matter how far removed you think you are from the plane’s flight path. The downside to Sanhok is that the mad dash to find a gun at the start and take out your neighbors can often leave you feeling defenseless if you don’t get lucky with a loot drop, but if you can make it past the initial purge it’s an excellently designed map that feels like a condensed version of Erangel. As an added bonus, the new QBZ submachine gun, which is exclusive to Sanhok, sprays bullets like it’s nobody’s business, and I love it. Each map has some of those exclusive items, guns, vehicles, and other minor adjustments, but the pacing and progression across each is generally the same.
Once the circle gets extra small everyone starts playing more cautiously, since you can assume those left alive have just as much if not more firepower than you do. The tension of a PUBG match that only has 10 or 15 people left is palpable, making it addictive to watch and even more so to experience.
PUBG also sports a Fortnite Battle Pass-inspired optional Event Pass DLC. As you play, you accrue XP and complete challenges that contribute to your level alongside the corresponding event or seasonal period. If you buy the Event Pass at any time, then all previously “unlocked” skins and items will be given to you, as well as all future items you gain through playing. Since you’re already paying for PUBG itself, in which you earn in-game currency to purchase crates full of customization options already, the Event Pass doesn’t feel like that great of a value. It’s essentially a mechanism to get you to play more, for longer periods of time, with more specific goals and objectives that help keep things fresh. But I’m struggling to find a good reason to buy in since I already get so many random cosmetic items with the standard version of PUBG.
The major difference between PUBG’s Event Pass and Fortnite’s Battle Pass is that Fortnite’s entire rattle royale mode is otherwise completely free to play. As a result, paying a small fee for extra unlocks and bonuses doesn’t feel like a big deal, and what you get is actually a good value. PUBG, on the other hand, is a paid game that also offers a paid DLC pass to earn extra in-game rewards. While it’s totally optional and basically just for cosmetics, the whole thing feels a bit icky by comparison.