The War Z review
If part of Hammerpoint’s goal is to create a game that’s more accessible than DayZ, there are a few ways they’ve been relatively successful. Character movement is as effortless as any other average third-person shooter (The War Z allows first- and third-person perspective swapping), and I like that sprinting stamina is a player resource that depletes and fills. The map has some interesting landmarks, including a ski resort lodge, a snapped freeway overpass beside a dense city, and some modest military installations. The War Z also addresses one of DayZ’s defects by making more of its structures enterable, although I’ve built sand castles that are more geometrically diverse.
I don’t like how homogenous the landscape is, though. The level designers treat the Colorado forest simply as dull, wooded filler between points of interest, demonstrated by the ancient texture quality trees and shrubbery are drawn with. Overall, War Z hands you an incongruous but more functional world, while DayZ’s current main map Chernarus has heaps more personality and authenticity. Being satellite-modeled after a slice of the Czech Republic probably doesn’t hurt.
In terms of features, one I like is War Z’s global inventory system. Any items you’re carrying can be deposited to a secure inventory for later use, or to be given to other characters on your account. You can only transfer gear while you’re inside one of the map’s three designated safe zones—protected areas of the map where players can’t shoot, use melee weapons, or take damage. I like the way the shared inventory provides something to do beyond hunting other players. Reaching a safe zone and banking a rifle, some ammo, or some body armor for a new character feels like reaching a finish line. It also makes low-end loot slightly more valuable, as junk like juice boxes, binoculars, or bandages can be used to boost revived characters when you inevitably die.
This feature, of course, is in place in part to give The War Z’s item marketplace a reason to exist. Other than guns, almost all loot can be purchased in the game with real money or a large amount of in-game currency (zombies will sometimes drop enormous piles of paper cash when killed).
I don’t have a huge objection to selling some basic items: it’s a mostly-harmless shortcut for players who hate grinding for staples. But it’s unsettling that Hammerpoint is happy to put on sale stuff like the largest backpack in the game, nightvision goggles and weapon scopes. These are significant tiers of progression that you can simply pay to reach, and pricetagging this gear undermines the significance of finding it in the wild.
But wait: it gets worse. The War Z’s marketplace sells the same bullets you can find in-game, and they’re only buyable with real money. How much does virtual ammo cost? Well, a 30-round STANAG magazine is about $0.32. A 10-round .22 mag is $1.24—more than $0.12 per shot. Five rounds for the .50 caliber anti-materiel sniper rifle will set you back a ludicrous $3.60.
That’s as expensive as it gets, probably because any further irresponsible mark-up would rival the cost of actual ammo. I usually shrug off claims that a game is “pay to win” as wild overstatements, but selling bullets—a legitimate form of power—is such a positively stupid, egregious thing. It sells out the very theme of the game. In firefights, it detracts from the mindset of needing to be hyperconscious of your ammo consumption, or the feeling that you’re fighting an enemy who’s similarly underequipped. I like scarcity in apocalyptic shooters; saving your precious flamethrower ammo in Fallout 3 until a boss fight made that encounter so much more meaningful. I can’t believe the extent that Hammerpoint is willing to put a price on that feeling.
I wish I could better evaluate the level of hacking in The War Z. On January 16, Hammerpoint claims that it has banned 3.5 per cent of its playerbase for hacking, and the forum dedicated to cheating complaints totals more than 9,100 posts. In a dedicated post with more than 14,000 views, loads of players report being killed inside safe zones. That’s unacceptably bad, although it didn’t happen to me.
Anecdotally, I’ve been killed by hackers two or three times in 60-plus deaths. Compared with Bohemia’s game, I’m relatively happy: I haven’t had to watch helplessly as all the players on a server were teleported into the ocean or into a pile of bear traps, as I did in DayZ. Hackers remain an issue but one I’ve experienced less in The War Z. Hopefully things will get better, not worse, if the game sees an influx of players when it re-releases on Steam.
The behavior of legitimate players has actually been a bigger problem. Despite the size of the world, spawn camping is a constant fear in The War Z. Spawn locations for new characters are predetermined, and it’s normal for these areas to be watched—even on low-population servers, I’ve found. I’ve been killed before the game completes loading (off my SSD, no less), with no chance to move or respond, 14 times. On several of these defenseless lives, I’d brought gear into the game that I’d purchased from the marketplace and lost it instantly.
The War Z’s recent attempt to address server hopping actually exacerbates this. Initially (as I complained about earlier this month) players could leave and join servers with no penalty, logging and out of high-volume loot areas to farm items. On January 23, Hammerpoint attempted to solve this by teleporting any players that leave a server and log into a new one to a nearby location. On paper, this seemed like a reasonable stop-gap. In practice, unfortunately, the locations the game teleports you to seem to be shared with the spawn spots available to new players, which simply adds to the traffic of fresh bodies for bandits to execute.
Hammerpoint’s hurry to sell something so openly unfinished is irresponsible. The studio has a pile of technical, design, and exploit-related flaws to address before it should even consider implementing the long list of originally promised (and then omitted) features.
And there are lots of these. Colorado’s open roadways are empty of vehicles. Strongholds—small, rentable, server instances—aren’t implemented. Bodies of water aren’t swimmable, and are blocked off with invisible walls. You earn XP by killing zombies, but the skill system for spending it hasn’t been added yet. Players can’t yet offer missions to other players for rewards, a feature that would formalize bounty-setting within The War Z.
With a dozen more months of effort, I think The War Z could’ve contributed something good to the survival genre. Its accomplishments include a comfortable inventory system, smoother player movement than a famously rigid military sim, and more building interiors. Other than that, it’s simply a reminder of how unflattering imitation can be, and that multiplayer survival games are inherently difficult to make.
A shameless knock-off that repeats many of DayZ’s problems. Worst audio ever. Bullets for sale? Really?