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H1Z1 will be a massive sandbox, where you can farm, build a town or drive around hunting zombies

More H1Z1 details

H1Z1, SOE’s post-apocalyptic MMO, was unofficially revealed yesterday when details emerged from the Game Talk Live podcast before it aired. What we knew was vague, though – there’d be forts, PvP, zombies and burning stuff down. 

Now that the cat’s out of the bag, SOE head honcho John Smedley has taken to Reddit, providing a plethora of details about the upcoming MMO. It’s now sounding like less of a zombie MMO, and more of a humongous multiplayer survival game that just happens to also have zombies. Like DayZ, admittedly, but perhaps more ambitious.

Smedley introduced some of the game’s backstory – which is all pretty bog standard. There was a virus, what it didn’t kill it infected and 15 years on the world has pretty much gone to hell. What remains of humanity struggles to survive, daily, and the world is crawling with dangerous animals and just as dangerous survivors.

The premise is a lot less interesting than what the game promises.

“Our vision for this game is very simple but ambitious,” says Smedley. “We are starting with what I would call “Middle America” – an “anywhere and everywhere” town. The world is massive as you’ve come to expect from our games. Over time we will grow the world until we have our own version of the U.S. after the death and destruction brought on during the H1Z1 epidemic. It will be our own version of America. We’ll have urban cities and desolate wide open places. All connected seamlessly.”

This ever-expanding world will also be a sandbox, where players can build shelters from resources sourced from the world around them, even elaborate fortresses with stalwart defences and dangerous weapons. Smedley says the crafting system will have a lot of depth, allowing players to create simple things like molotovs, to more complex weapons. Smedley mentions that he crafted a 1911 recently, referring to the semi-automatic pistol.

SOE is leveraging what it has learned from PlanetSide 2 to make development more transparent. It will be using the roadmap system to keep players informed of what’s coming next, and the player studio will be returning, allowing players to design their own items. It’s possible that this will mean such things can be sold, as well, netting the creator real money just like PlanetSide 2.

Creating a sandbox means letting players pick their own route through the game, letting them decide how they want to interact with the environment. It looks like SOE are keeping that in mind, providing room for players to experience the game in radically different ways. Roving gangs can be formed, buildings can be turned into bases, towns can be defended and players can even become simply farmers.

“To use a simple reference I’m sure everyone interested in this game will get… we want our players to make Woodbury from The Walking Dead if they want to,” says Smedley. “Or take over a prison. Or fix an old car so you and your friends (yeah we have multiplayer vehicles) can run zombies and players over mercilessly, and revel in the sheer delight of hearing a zombie scream as you light it on fire, or craft a gun to take down your friends and enemies alike. Our goal here is to provide emergent gameplay that will allow our players to make the world their own the way they want to.”

While zombies might be a bit overplayed, everything else about H1Z1 sounds like it has a whole lot of potential. At a time when we’ve got a lot of MMOs doing the same thing, sticking to tried and tested formulas, SOE’s actually been trying to do things a bit differently. We’ve seen it in PlanetSide 2, Everquest Next and Landmark are both eschewing tradition, and now H1Z1 is offering up yet another world to play in, where the promise of freedom that MMOs once had looks like it could be realised.

Smedley showed off a bunch of footage from H1Z1, which you can plaster your eyes over here. A livestream will occur next week, as SOE has a playtest, so keep an eye out for that. And the game will be playable sooner than you might think, given that it’s just been announced. It will appear on Steam in six weeks.