PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds birthed a genre four years ago when it emerged as a janky but beloved new breed of a shooter. But the trail it blazed is now led by several competitors. Today it seems every round of PUBG is filled with max-level diehards and few others. For the purists like me, there's still nothing quite like it, warts and all. But for many fans of the genre, the more polished, familiar, and admittedly functional Warzone is the new standard-bearer for battle royale.
That put the PUBG team in a precarious position. Do they assimilate to Warzone's innovations like revives and arcadey perks? Or should PUBG stay what it is, a realistic, more methodical, but niche shooter catered toward its shrinking legion of devotees? From a business standpoint, the decision seems obvious when one puts it that way.
Still, after an alpha weekend with PUBG New State, the mobile spinoff/sequel to the original game, it feels like the team is mindfully walking the line between innovation and tradition. There are concessions being made to satisfy the would-be Warzone defectors, but this still feels like PUBG in the ways that count the most.
Perhaps the best part about New State is that it's built on the same locomotion and animation system as the PC/console game. PUBG is slow and clunky, and it's why a lot of players flock elsewhere for their battle royale fix. But it's also the reason I've stuck around, as have plenty of others, even if those numbers don't stack up next to Warzone and Fortnite anymore. On the whole, New State feels just like the PUBG legacy fans would hope for, and it's why I came away from my alpha weekend optimistic.
Initial trailers showcased the game's near-future setting and things like calling in drones and I admit I was worried that my square peg of a favourite game was being forced into a Warzone-shaped hole. Players can purchase some perks that stretch the realism of the original, like a flare that allows teammates to re-enter a match after they've been eliminated or high-end equipment on-demand. But in most cases, these are hardly different from a supply crate in the original. These drones can be accessed by anyone, so they're as much a target on one's back as they are a boon to their inventory.
Guns still feel grounded in realism, even as buildings around TROI, the massive 8x8 km map, better capture that near-future aesthetic. But I say this with love: PUBG New State feels more like a sci-fi reskin rather than a massive leap forward. Maybe that's not what the team is going for. Maybe PUBG Corp and Krafton hope to adopt more of Call of Duty before launch. But my gut says the New State team has enough purists on staff who also want to keep PUBG, not Warzone, as its North Star.
I like Warzone just fine, but I don't like its gravitational pull on the genre, and I'm glad (and honestly surprised) to find that PUBG New State seems to be resisting that pull. I hope the PUBG team can continue to find ways to innovate on its own impressive legacy without chasing trends created by its rivals. It is far from perfect, but it's authentic and unique, even after inspiring a long line of followers. Right now, New State feels more like a massive update to PUBG than a new, unfamiliar game using the brand name, and while that isn't likely to lure back lapsed players, it seems on track to give diehards a faithful and exciting rebirth.