It begins on the beach.
Fresh faced, eager to do some exploring and ready to kill some zombie bastards. Besides a massive forest, a train track and a dirt road there’s pretty much bugger all about. I can see a lighthouse somewhere up the way, so I head towards it. Running full pelt, it takes a few minutes to reach it. Inside is a ladder and climbing to the top, I survey my surroundings.
“Christ, that’s a whole lot of nothing”, I think to myself as I look out on the expanse of fields, dirt roads and forests interspersed with the occasional couple of desolate looking farm buildings. Looking closer at the buildings and trying to get my bearings, I can see a couple of distant blobs moving about. Are those people or… Yes. Zombies.
“Let’s do this”.
After a full three and a half minute sprint (heavy panting sound effects are a nice touch) I’m spitting distance from what appears to be a zombie dressed like some Russian peasant stereotype. A blood curdling growl bellows forth as it runs at me. I draw my gun and… Wait, where’s my gun? For that matter, how do you kill things at all? Two more zombies have apparently joined in, and now three are coming straight at me – FAST. As they get close I feverishly click at them. The screen greys with every punch they throw, shudders throwing off my attempt to click the bastards to death. It’s not long before I know something’s gone terribly wrong with my strategy here. I lie down for an impromptu nap while the zombies kneel and start digging vast chunks out of my torso. Before long, there it is. YOU HAVE DIED. Some more preparation may be in order.
To say DayZ has a steep learning curve is like saying that space is big, or Piers Morgan is a twat. It states the obvious, but misses out on the enormity of the issue. It is in fact one of the most crushingly, painfully difficult FPS mods I’ve ever tried – but it’s also one of the most original and brilliant you’ll ever play. Originally developed as a mod for ARMA II and it’s expansion Operation Arrowhead by Dean ‘Rocket’ Hall (who’s currently working at ARMA developer Bohemia Interactive on the multiplayer component of ARMA III), DayZ was meant as something of a ‘proof of concept’ test for an idea that Hall had been pitching for a few years. DayZ has one simple concept in mind – survival. You start with nothing in your pockets but a bandage, a flashlight and some painkillers. Now go out and kill some zombies. All your equipment – guns, food, medical supplies, even a map, compass and watch so you can orient yourself – can be found by scavenging in buildings and vehicles wrecks across the 225 square kilometre map. Problem number one is that buildings spawn zombies. Problem number two is that the zombies – if they see you – are relentless. They will chase you down wherever you go, until you are dead. Problem number three… Well, we’ll get onto that. Let’s focus on problem number two first.
When I say that DayZ is built with realism in mind, this reaches further than the usual ‘Your ammo may run out and things will kill you a lot’ psyche that most FPS games boast about. To survive, you’ll have to eat, drink and heal yourself effectively. You’ll also have to keep a close eye on your blood level – for all intents and purposes, let’s think of this as your health bar. Levels of hunger and thirst are subtly placed to the side of the UI as meal tray and canteen icons. Run too much or get into too many over-exerting scrapes and you’ll get thirsty faster. You’ll get hungry naturally over time but if you get wounded and lose blood, the only way to replenish it is to eat something.
This can come from canned food salvaged from village buildings or – if you get enough equipment together – from hunting, killing and cooking meat from various animals around the map. So the best course of action is not to get seen and not to get wounded. Thankfully, DayZ has a crude stealth system implemented which means you’re less visible to zombies when you’re crouched or even less visible when prone. Once you take this into account, sneaking into a barn or a house to nick whatever supplies may be handy is almost a cinch. The last thing you want is to die, because in DayZ death is literally the end. Your character, your gear – everything is forfeit. You start from square one, on the beach.
It begins on the beach. I know what I’m doing now. I’ve read the wiki, I know most of the ins and outs of the UI and controls. I know that to open your inventory you have to hit ‘G’, you can cycle through stances with the ‘Z’, ‘X’ and ‘C’ keys. I’m ready. This time, I spawn so close to a city I can taste the loot within. Using my cunning knowledge of crouching and crawling, I manage to get myself inside a building and find my first weapon: an Enfield rifle without any ammo. Damn it. I also find a few cans of food, a couple cans of Coke and a ton of ammo for weapons I haven’t even seen yet. There’s also a bucket-load of road flares and chem-lights which I can’t see a use for, but I take everything anyway. You never know what might come in handy. I make my way outside and start crawling around the city at a snails pace to keep my visibility low. Before long, I realise that I haven’t seen a single zombie recently. Hesitantly, I stand up. Nothing. “It’s quiet”, I say to myself. “Too quiet…”. I punch myself physically in the face for saying it. It’s true, though. There should be hordes here but the city’s practically empty. Then I hear it. Gunshots. In DayZ, the only thing than can fire a gun is a player. If you hear a gun go off then one of two things is happening: A zombie is getting killed, or a man is getting murdered. Enter problem number three: Other people.
Each DayZ server houses up to 50 players simultaneously. When you think of 50 people spread across a map of that size, you may think that you’ll never see another person – but cities are where some of the most basic supplies spawn. Other places like farmhouses, deer hides and the like also spawn some basic items but cities – that’s where some of the good stuff is and you’ll most likely find some competition for it.
I’ve read enough horror stories about players killing other players to be wary of facing whoever is out there, so I sneak into a nearby building and make my way to the second floor where I find my first usable weapon – a Makarov pistol. I back myself into a corner with my gun out, ready to shoot whoever comes through the door. Minutes pass and I’m still lying there, waiting for a shoot-out. More time passes in silence, and I figure all is well. Whoever was shooting either died or moved on. I head downstairs and run like hell to another building. On the bottom floor are three tents and a barbed wire fence running around them. Someone was here, once. I figure they probably won’t mind if I at least look at their stuff…
Tents are essentially stationary backpacks in DayZ. Initially, you have a backpack which can hold 1 large weapon (such as a rifle or shotgun), one secondary weapon (revolver, pistol, hatchet), 12 support items (such as food, drink, flares, morphine, large weapon ammo, or tents – which take up three slots), 8 secondary items (like bandages or pistol ammo) as well as 10 ‘toolbelt’ items, like a flashlight, map, compass or watch. DayZ also keeps your inventory persistent across servers. Join one server, pick up a load of gear and leave or have your internet connection cut out and you’ll find yourself back in the same position you were in with everything in your pack even if you join on a different server. However – your tent will only exist on the server you pitch it at. If you log off and your stuff is still there… Fair game. It is the apocalypse, after all.
So I’m crawling around the tents, only to find them empty. Bit of a disappointment. I stand up and turn around, and there’s two guys pointing assault rifles at me.
“Hey, we’re friendly!”, they say.
Then one of them shoots me.
Before I can get a round off I’m already on the ground. Injuries in DayZ run in two categories – bleeding and fractures. Gunshots usually cause both.
“Oh, man. Sorry. We didn’t mean to do that. See you!” they chirp happily as they run away.
This was my first encounter with another player, and it has not gone well. I don’t have the required items in my inventory to heal myself, so I’m essentially dead unless I can track them down in a hurry. Sadly, a hurry is not possible as with a fracture you’re relegated to crawling painfully slowly. Injuries in DayZ are rarely easy to heal. If you get wounded, you bleed and it’ll need to be bandaged until you stop bleeding. If you jump off a high place or get shot you’ll get a fracture, which’ll need a bandage and some morphine. You get slightly traumatised by your injuries, so you’ll need painkillers to stop your view from shaking. If you have a wound for too long, then you’ll need antibiotics to stop the infection before attempting any of the above. So, I crawl ahead like a slug with a gun. I know that there’s a church nearby, as I saw it on my way here and churches seem to have a good chance of spawning medical supplies.
I’m outside, barely a minute from the church when I hear ”Look, mate. We’re really sorry about shooting you. It was an honest mistake and we didn’t know you were friendly. Do you want some morphine?”
Morphine – weirdly – heals fractures in DayZ. I’m not going to argue. I turn to face him from my place on the floor in the middle of a road. I *still* haven’t learned how to speak to people without a headset and I don’t know how to communicate without it being broadcast to everyone on the server so I shift backwards and forwards, hoping that they’ll understand this odd physical language as a nod.
“Mate, you have to come closer. I’m not going to drop it in the middle of a road”.
I acquiesce and crawl slowly towards my saviour. He has his gun drawn. I assumed that if you have a gun, you always have it drawn. Partly true.
“Little closer, mate”
It begins on the beach.
DayZ – once you get over the initial thrill of the zombie killing, is a game about trust. You’re playing with up to 49 random people from around the world at any one time. Your goal is survival and at any point, any one of those 49 people can cut your life short. You also rarely spawn in the same place, so recovering your gear is nigh on impossible. Zombies – though the only things in the game with any kind of AI – are dumb, easily killed and very shortsighted. Your major problem is other people. Many friends choose to play on the same server, increasing their odds of survival. Others start out alone and find friends along the way. I started out alone, found enough gear to keep me going for a lifetime and squandered it for curiosity. This is the essence of DayZ, though. It’s a survival game where you can make your own choices, trust who you want to trust, kill who you want to kill. The element of risk that exists in your every action is the absolute crux of the game.
What’s even cooler is that it’s GROWING. A few days back there were multiple reports that DayZ had passed 500k individual users. Currently it’s closer to 700k, and it’s in the Steam Sale at time of writing. For a free to play mod, that’s not bad. There have been rumours that DayZ may become part of ARMA III or make a transition to full standalone game. With a near-Minecraft level of users behind this beta version of the mod, the future looks very bright indeed.
It begins on the beach. I DEFINITELY know what I’m doing. I found a map before, so I know all the major cities are along the coast. I run until I find one. When I do, I climb to the top of the town hall and log off. One of the inherent ‘cheats’ you can play with in DayZ is the idea of serer hopping. Since your location and gear are persistent across servers, you can run to a location where you know gear will spawn and keep switching servers until you find the gear you’re looking for. It can be a bit of a cop out in the middle of a battle, since your opponent can log out and avoid getting killed at any time without penalty. I’ve even heard ingenious stories about getting stuck into a serious gun battle, logging onto a different server and moving just behind the location of your aggressors, then logging back into the first server and executing them at close range. Dastardly.
Logging onto another server (where zombies aren’t chasing me) there are weapons, food, drink and lighting elements lying all over the place. I arm up – making to take a few road flares with me – and log off. I take the flares because DayZ runs on a serious day/night cycle. When it’s day, you’re fine. When it’s night – it’s literally pitch dark and no amount of gamma correction will help you.
I log onto another server with all my gear. Looking down from the town hall, there are dozens of zombies and one poor guy crawling slowly between them. I fire a warning shot at him.
“FRIENTLY”, he types.
I shoot all the nearby zombies, make sure the area is clear and then shoot him in the head. I know he’s dead because my stats in the top right of the screen change to read “Murdered: 1″. I make my way down and steal the few paltry bits of bandages and ammo he has on him. Then I climb back to my vantage point and wait.
I’m not going to trust a motherfucker who can’t spell. This is DayZ. There is no pity here. No shame, no humanity – just survival at its best.
If you want to get into DayZ but want to get a leg up on the learning curve, here are five pieces of advice I wish I’d been given before I started:
1: RTFM – Read the Fucking Manual
DayZ is a complicated game. Researching how the game controls, how to heal different wounds or where different weapons spawn is absolutely necessary.
2: Get a headset.
People in DayZ talk – for the most part – and while you’ll usually be able to hear them (unless they’re using a separate VOIP client), communication is your most direct and effective tool against getting shot in the face. If you come up against some villain looting a city, try a knock knock joke to distract them. Then shoot them in the face.
3: Play with friends.
The above account is of a person playing by themselves. If you can play on the same server as a friend and actually have the good fortune to find each other on the colossal map, you’re pretty much set. One can keep lookout while the other loots a building, you can share items as needed and of course – company in a very lonely world is always needed. Once you geared up and start working to repair the various drivable vehicles in DayZ (from an ATV to a bus and even the odd helicopter) you’ll find the game much easier going with another person to help out.
4: Learn patience.
If you walk into DayZ and expect to run everywhere, think again. The majority of your time will be spent crawling along in the prone stance to avoid attention.
5: Be afraid, all the time.
Nothing in DayZ is your friend. If you meet a group of players who say they are friendly, don’t drop your guard unless you’re 100% certain they’re telling the truth. It’s an easy way to lose everything you’ve got.