Each map in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has to set itself apart in one way or another. Whether it’s the open deserts of Miramar, the expansive forests of Erangel or the densely packed jungle of Sanhok, each of the game’s map offers an experience that is at least slightly different. With the game’s newest map, Vikendi, developer PUBG Corp. has taken advantage of the snowy setting to bring stealth to PUBG in a way that no other map has.
As you might expect from its snow-covered terrain, Vikendi’s differences from other PUBG maps start with its look. While most maps are covered in either green or the brown of deserts and plateaus, Vikendi’s harsh white landscape does more than you might think to change the way you play. Wide open spaces are significantly more dangerous than they would be on other maps. While areas without cover on any map are dangerous, and often deadly in PUBG, Vikendi’s open fields offer a special kind of threat because characters naturally stand out so clearly against the almost pure-white landscape. That doesn’t mean the map is coverless however.
In fact, Vikendi also introduces more tree cover and denser forests than any previous map. Often these trees can provide the perfect cover for skirmishes as players peek from one side or the other to take quick shots. But, these trees also accomplish another purpose: stealth. Unlike any past PUBG map, Vikendi feels tailor-made for stealthy moves and slower, more carefully considered action. Thanks to the dense tree cover, you could take shots at a player and quickly re-position before they ever notice, something that carried a much larger risk in previous maps where the trees and rocks that often acted as cover were fewer and further between.
What’s more, on Vikendi, there’s a threat that you could wind up being stalked by clever opponents. The feeling of being watched is a near constant sensation on Vikendi as you wander through the fields of snow, wondering if you caught a glimpse of someone behind a tree, or if it was merely a snow flurry. Even the most vigilant players can be sneak attacked as an opponent ducks behind a tree in the map’s many forests.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has always traded in this kind of paranoia. The idea that another player could be lining up a shot on you at any second is a key feature of the game, but it’s rarely felt as intentional as it does on Vikendi. On other maps, a player sneaking up on you or scoping in has always felt like something you could simply see if you looked in the right direction, on Vikendi, other players’ stealth feels like a legitimate act of espionage.
Part of the joy of playing on Vikendi, however, is that this sense that someone’s watching you cuts both ways and once you start to discover the map’s ins and outs, it’s easy to become the hunter instead of the hunted.
This idea of a constant game of cat-and-mouse being played by dozens of players at the same time, often without the prey even knowing that it’s happening, is at the heart of what makes Vikendi fun, but it’s also baked into the map’s design. Vikendi is a 6 km-by-6 km map, putting it between the 8x8 size of Erangel and Miramar and the significantly smaller 4x4 Sanhok. This allows players to cover ground on foot quickly, limits the importance of vehicles — whose engines are nearly deafening on Vikendi thanks to the map’s extremely low ambient noise — and helps players fight more often at medium range, allowing for fights to sometimes end with both parties simply sneaking away into forests or ravines, leaving both sides wondering what may have happened to their opponents.
The map even has a feature that creates tracks in the snow when players move or drive over it. While this feature is cool in theory, it’s rarely as useful as you might first think. Because of the importance of sound in PUBG, any sneaking player is likely to be given away by the noise of their footsteps long before the source of those footsteps can be seen. Similarly, with most fights happening at medium range — somewhere between 20 and 60 meters — other players are often just far enough away that you wouldn’t be able to make out their footprints anyway.
As in previous PUBG maps, Vikendi has a variety of named locations, though this time each one seems more specifically and carefully designed than in the previous environments. These areas are the one place these footsteps do come into play. While the sound of footsteps or doors opening can carry from several houses away, leaving their exact location a bit of a mystery, a pair of footprints leading up to a window can be a dead giveaway of which building a player last entered.
Not only do the cities look and feel different, they force you to play differently as well, which often forces players to think on their feet and adjust their battle plans for each city. However, when things break down in either the forests or the cities, Vikendi is still at its heart a PUBG map.
It’s this lingering familiarity that provides both the best and worst parts of Vikendi. By highlighting the stealthy elements and the way that fights can lead squads of players rushing from tree to tree in hopes of surprising the enemy, Vikendi leads to more frequent instances of the exciting moments that make PUBG great. On the other hand, the game’s shooting — which remains very good — is still at the core of Vikendi and every fight that happens on the map. This means that some fights in every match will come down to carefully aimed shots fired while peeking out from behind one piece of cover or another. Swap the colors around just a little and these fights might as well be happening on any of the game’s maps.
As the final map for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds released in 2018, Vikendi fills its role well. It feels at the same time like a stealthier, more deliberate departure from the other maps, while also feeling like a culmination of them. Whether it’s the terrifying open spaces of Miramar, the forests of Erangel or the panic of Sanhok’s smaller size, elements of each of the game’s other maps can be seen here.
But, as PUBG moves into its second year, it’s hard not to hope that the next map departs from the formula a bit. Vikendi provides a better version of the experiences PUBG was already great at delivering, but hopefully the game’s next map won’t be quite so familiar.