The Beginner’s Guide to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (aka PUBG)

So you want  to try out the new Battle Royale sensation that’s sweeping the nation, but you don’t know how to get started. That’s understandable: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a full game based on an old ARMA mod, and it’s still in early access. The game is missing a lot of features, chief among them any kind of tutorial or player guide for people just getting started. but if you’re ready to jump into the deep end of this winner-take-all online multiplayer arena, here are a few tips to get you on your feet…so someone else can blow you off them.

The Basics: What Is PUBG?

If you haven’t read up on “PUBG,” as it’s frequently abbreviated, here’s the gist: you and up to 99 other real-time players are all dropped onto a remote island by parachute. The island was formerly inhabited, but now it’s abandoned, with all the towns and buildings left to nature. Randomly distributed across the island are weapons, ammunition, clothing and armor, healing items, and power-ups that you can find inside buildings, as well as a few still-running vehicles.

Your objective: be the last man or woman standing. Every player is trying to kill every other player. You can do this in any manner you choose: run and gun your way across the island, wait and hide for an ambush or seek out a sniper nest, lay low while the other players finish each other off, or even find a car and run players over GTA-style. But eventually you’ll have to get up, move, and head to a more densely-populated portion of the playing field.

PUBG keeps the game moving by contracting the playing field into restricted zones: the white circle is the safe area, while the blue circle contracts and harms players who are caught by it.

The game starts out with a gigantic eight kilometer square grid, but slowly condenses the area of play into smaller and smaller circles. Each time the play area is restricted, you’ll have a few minutes to get there by foot or by vehicle, engaging or retreating from any players you see on the way, and checking buildings for more weapons and loot. If you’re outside of the restricted circle when the countdown reaches zero, another blue circle will condense into the play area, slowly killing any players it catches. If your health reaches zero and you’re not in the safe zone, you’re out.

Other environmental variables can affect play, like the randomized path the plane takes to para-drop players in, weather and time of day that shift each game, the randomized “Red Zone” where bombs can finish off any player outside of shelter, and the supply drops that the plane periodically puts into the field of play. As the number of players remaining dwindles, the survivors are condensed into smaller and smaller zones, until hiding or sniping is no longer an option and you’ll have to duke it out with whoever’s left.

Even if you’re not the last player standing (“winner winner chicken dinner,” as the game infamously rewards you), that doesn’t mean that your time spent playing is a wash. The in-game currency rewards stack with your survival time, how many players are left when you die, and how many other players you finished off personally. Currency can be traded for loot crates, which give some admittedly paltry cosmetic rewards on the form of clothes and accessories you can wear at the beginning of the match, instead of swapping out in the middle.

And that’s about it: parachute in, find a weapon, find a hiding spot or a vehicle or just wander around, move to the shrinking play area as you’re directed, kill any other players you come across, and survive for as long as you can. For something so simple, and with only one winner out of every hundred, it’s amazing that you can find a mostly-full game on any server at any time of the day.

Check Your Setup Before You Start Playing

Before you start your first game, be sure to go into the settings for visuals and controls to customize things to your liking. Here are few things to be aware of.

PUBG is based on an ARMA mod, so the action tends to be more about technical shooting and less about cartoon-style action. So be aware of more technical settings, like the firing mode switch: many weapons can switch from single fire to burst fire or full auto. They’ll always start in single fire (semi-automatic) mode if multiples are available.

PUBG uses a double-click action to look through iron sights or scopes. A single tap will zoom in only slightly.

Players can swap between first-person and third-person views at any time with the “Toggle Camera” button. Double-tapping will activate iron sights, even in third-person. Third-person is obviously best for moving fast with situational awareness, while first-person is best for fast and accurate shooting and sniping.

Make sure the map and inventory buttons are easy to access for at-a-glance guidance and upgrades. Also take note of the freelook button: it’s extremely useful for checking your surroundings, even while you’re on the move.

You might want to set the foliage setting very low—the game is prettier with a lot of plants, but the fewer that are rendered, the better you’ll be able to see other players.

Game Start: Get Out and Get Armed

When you jump out of the airplane at the start of the match, your number one priority is to get armed. Even the lowest-level guns or a grenade will put you at an advantage if you meet someone who hasn’t been able to find one yet. If all you’ve got are your fists or a melee weapon, get in close as quickly as possible, and jump and attack at the same time. This will make you harder to hit and do a little bonus damage as well.

From the airplane, it’s possible to move one and a half to two kilometers (squares) away before you hit the ground, depending on when you deploy your parachute. So, at the start of the match, the player distribution will look something like this:

Keep that in mind as the map condenses and players are forced into smaller and smaller areas—it will let you make a rough guess of where players are coming from.

Avoid hotspot areas like the school, the hospital, the firing range, and the military base at the start of the game. These big buildings are tempting because they house a lot of weapons and gear, but they also attract lots of other players looking for the same thing. The more players in one spot, the less likely you are to come out alive in the first couple of minutes.

Be aware of the signs of other players around you: an open door means that either someone is already inside the building looting the place, or has been and gone, meaning all of the good loot is taken anyway. Of course, crafty players will close doors behind them to set traps. The long and short of it is, be prepared for a fight whenever you enter a structure.

Mid-Game: Move, Clear, Move, Repeat

Remember the path of the plane and the likely distribution of players: no more than two squares away from the plane on the main map at the start of the game. Players who find vehicles might travel farther, but generally speaking, most will move in an almost straight line from their original landing spot to the outer edge of the play area. You can predict the direction of movement of other players and avoid them by taking a less direct route, or hide in likely locations to pick them off as they travel.

Be aware of your time limits. You don’t die instantly as soon as the play area is restricted, you have extra time as the blue circle contracts into the white one to get to safety. Players can’t outrun the blue circle on foot, but if you’re close to the white circle and the blue is still kilometers away, you probably have time to do a little looting or scouting. Even if it’s close, being behind the blue circle won’t kill you immediately.

If you’ve just barely made it to the safe zone in time, it’s not necessarily time to relax: the safe zone will contract again in another few minutes. It might be more prudent to use the downtime to move closer to the center of the safe zone, especially if you’re on foot. The next safe zone is always entirely inside the last one, generally towards the center.

Choke points on the map, especially the north-south bridges over water, are where you’re most likely to encounter other players. Pass them with caution. If you have plenty of time, it might make sense to swim across: it’s much, much slower, but you’re less likely to attract attention, and diving for short sessions can help you avoid gunfire.

Picking up a vehicle is always something of a mixed blessing. It makes getting to the restricted play area a piece of cake, but the high value of your ride and the loud noise from the engine makes you an instant target. Avoid the main roads (where other players are already looking for randomly-spawned vehicles) and go offroad if you can. Be careful: it’s possible to damage yourself if you crash. If you get out of your vehicle, get away on foot quickly: other players will see it and be on the lookout. It’s a good idea to leave it near a building, then immediately move to another one to throw them off your trail. Also note that all random vehicles spawn facing east, so if you see one facing another direction, another player has moved it and might be setting up a trap.

Supply drops from the plane are the best place to find high-level weapons, but they’re also lightning rods for other players. Be prepared for a fight whenever you’re approaching one. Other players may be hiding in the surrounding area, waiting to pick off anyone who gets close.

Finding Gear as the Game Progresses

If you’ve played first-person shooters before, you probably have a particular play style you’re used to: long-range snipers, medium-range automatic rifles, short-range shotguns. Unfortunately the randomized nature of Battlegrounds means you won’t always have your choice of guns, or even gun types. It’s a good idea to get familiar with all the weapons, especially the more common pistols, SMGs, and low-level rifles, to make yourself more competitive.

Remember, every gun starts unloaded. When you get a new one, switch to it immediately and press the reload button to get it ready for combat.

Battlegrounds is a highly technical shooter, and you can expect to miss quite a lot in the run-and-gun action. It might be more prudent to keep a lower-level gun with fewer mods than a higher-level one with less ammunition available.

Wait to apply modifications or stat-boosting power-ups until you’re safe, especially in the early part of the game. That holographic sight won’t help you at all if someone bursts into the building and blows you away while you’re in the inventory screen.

Advanced Tips for Staying Alive

If you want to get better fast, you’re probably lamenting the lack of a practice range or a tutorial mode. If that’s the case, consider spending a few games in what I like to think of as “blow-off mode.” For a few rounds, intentionally go to the highly-packed areas of the map, looking for specific weapons or types of weapons, so you can immediately get a handle on how they perform in game. You’ll die a lot, but you’ll get some crucial experience quickly, since at all other times it’s a tactical error to fire and reveal your position when there’s no one in your sights. The picnic tables in the pre-game starting area are also a good place to try out new weapons quickly.

Play with headphones if at all possible. It’s much easier to determine the direction of noises, even if you have a stereo set instead of surround sound.

In a vehicle, Ctrl+1 will move you to the driver’s seat, while Ctrl+2-through-5 will move you to the corresponding passenger seats. It’s much faster than getting out and back in when you’ve approached from the wrong side. High-level players will drive towards other players who are on foot, switch to a passenger seat (where they can use guns), get the kill, and switch back to the driver’s seat without ever stopping.

A vehicle is great for getting to remote spots for gear and back to the play zone, but they get less and less useful as the game progresses, as most of the map becomes off limits and more players are forced into a smaller area. When the remaining player count dips below 20 and/or the play area gets below a square kilometer, it’s time to ditch it—the noise will make you a target for everyone.

Remember to check your surroundings with freelook constantly, especially while moving to a new area. It’s easy for someone to creep behind you for a quick kill, using your footstep sounds to mask their own.

If you’re tracking someone, especially towards the end of the game, always wait for them to move first if possible. It might even be worth it to take damage from the blue circle for a few seconds to force them to come out of cover instead of making yourself an easy target.

And finally: don’t get discouraged. Based on averages alone, you’ll only win one out of every hundred matches (and that’s assuming you’re as good as everyone else). But as your tactics and technique get more refined, you’ll get closer and closer to that chicken.

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.