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Even though PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is still in Early Access, it’s already a groundbreaking online shooter. Each game starts the same way, but its remarkable ability to feel like a fresh new adventure every round has kept me coming back for hours on end. It manages to approach the Battle Royale-style death match made popular by games like DayZ with relative simplicity, without sacrificing the essence of the hardcore survival sim, creating a tight, focused, and no-frills experience that places it leagues above the competition.

Battlegrounds wastes no time putting you right in the middle of the action, as up to 100 players join a server and pick their moment to jump out of a plane and parachute onto a large 8×8 km island. Even this first act is a critical decision and must be part of your strategy: jumping early lets you hit the ground first, giving you a jump on the competition, but may also place you farther from the center of the arena where the fighting must inevitably funnel towards. Jumping late might give you some distance from other players, giving you some early breathing room before entering the fray. Jumping right into the center, especially in large cities where most players drop, will place you right in the middle of the action.

The tension mounts during the descent as you get a good look at the swarm of players in your vicinity, but things really pick up the moment you hit the ground, as everybody scrambles for weapons and gear and the killing begins right from the get-go. Backpacks for holding more items, a handful of protective gear like helmets and police vests, healing items, melee weapons, and a good mix of firearms are in good supply.

Item distribution is randomized, but you can’t count on finding a good gun early keeping you safe. It isn’t out of the ordinary for someone with only a pistol to take down someone with a fully loaded SCAR-L assault rifle, since good gear is only half the battle – the other half is wit. As players outsmart each other in deadly games of cat and mouse, those still standing are forced into ever-closer proximity within the confines of a deadly, ever-shrinking force-field until just one is left alive. Victory is an exhilarating reward, matched only by the suspense that emerges from the battle to achieve it. But even if you die early, jumping into a new game is always quick and easy. (Kill cams are wisely omitted to avoid cheating, but you do have the option of entering spectate mode for surviving teammates.)

Early Access Verdict

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has taken the genre popularized by games like DayZ and boiled it down to only its best parts, making for quick and accessible rounds of pure, hassle-free survival-based action. Even though it’s as rough around the edges as the early access label implies, it’s absolutely worth playing right now. We’ll continue to play as it gets closer to a full launch, and revisit this review with updated thoughts once it’s out of early access.

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