DayZ is (as Rocket, the mod’s developer has pointed out) a game that most people have imagined at some point or another. You’re one of many survivors in an online persistent zombie apocalypse. There’s 225 square kilometers to explore and you need to scavenge for weapons, food, water, and medicine. There are no safe havens, no guarantees, a single shot from another player or an unlucky bite from a zombie will send you to your grave and that’s it, the end. What would you do?
Turns out the answer is fairly different for different people. Rocket has created an unusual environment where players’ actions and values are presented in unusual ways. All players start out the same; you wake up at a reasonably random point along the coast of Chernarus, a fictional former Soviet-bloc country dominated by forests and small hills. In your inventory you’ll find a bandage and a torch. The torch is next to useless, if you wake up at nighttime it illuminates a small patch of ground around 3 feet away from you, and attracts the attention of zombies and players alike. Much better off to hunker down and come back when it’s daylight. Assuming you can see where you’re going you’ll usually be able to spot some buildings in the distance, and maybe a zed(zombie) or two shambling around. This is your first key decision.
Do you futilely run in the opposite direction, hoping for some kind of sanctuary away from the undead walkers? That’s unlikely to work, wherever there are buildings, there are zombies. Pretty soon you’ll run out of food and water, or come across another survivor. Without weapons or survival tools you won’t last long in the wilderness.
Do you try to sneak by the zeds? Crouching and crawling past them can work well. But it just takes one missed zed, one step too close, or a loud footfall onto tarmac and before you know it the zeds will be on you, sprinting unnaturally, jerking around in a zig zag pattern until they can bite into your sun-bleached skin.
Often when starting out, the best option is to run like hell, straight past the zeds. They can’t catch you if you don’t stop moving and it’s fairly easy to lose them by running through buildings. Of course this attracts a lot of attention and if you find yourself in a city, remember someone may very well have spotted your desperate run and will be lining a shot up on you as soon as you step outside.
Players who kill other players are often called bandits, but it’s quickly becoming a useless title. As soon as you manage to find some kind of weapon (an axe, pistol, shotgun or rifle) you are a threat, an unknown. There are no rules on PvP and while you can use direct chat to assert your good intentions, why should anyone believe you? The first few times you come across another survivor you may be relieved and excited to find someone to group up with. But often, and quickly, they will turn around and execute you. They’ll steal your supplies, and carry on happily with a few more cans of beans or some ammo. After these first few deaths, you’ll start taking the first shot; it’s justified if they were going to kill you anyway? Isn’t it?
This is where DayZ shines at the moment. There are no real end goals, but many players set them for themselves. You could try and find the best weapons and gear, search out vehicles (including elusive helicopters that take a long while to repair but are able to cross the map in mere minutes), or you could set up a camp with your friends. Anything you find on the server that is not on your person will be left there when you log off. You can only carry so much so some gear will need to be kept in tents, which will persist, or vehicles which will also hang around for anyone else to come up and steal. This leads to hiding, and hoarding. Occasionally on a walk through the forest or on a flight in a huey you might come across a camp full of tents and vehicles. If no-one is guarding it, it’s all yours for the taking. Some of the gear may have taken weeks to scrounge together, the vehicles hours to repair and refuel, but you can do what you want with it. Some will steal, some will respectfully leave them well alone. Many will toss a grenade into the center to see what happens.
Once you get well-armed and organised you’ve not got a great deal left to do other than help people or go out hunting for players. Helping only really works if you know the people from some sort of community where trust is important. If you fly down to rescue a survivor from a shootout in a small town, what’s to stop them from shooting you and taking that rare helicopter you just landed in? Absolutely nothing. So many people turn to hunting. With a collection of sniper rifles, ghillie suits and vehicles, you can effectively lock down small sections of the map, shooting survivors for sport, not even bothering to check their packs for gear. There’s still the thrill of danger, one shot could take you out, or break your bones. If you don’t have the right kind of first aid available you can easily bleed out from a small injury. Then you’ll be sent back to wake up on the coast with nothing, ready to start all over again.
So far, DayZ is more of a proof of concept than an actual game. It can be a lot of fun with an organised group, but it’s incredibly rough around the edges. Car tyres explode if you happen to drive on a bridge or a dam; Ladders and doorways can break your bones seemingly at random; at the time of writing anywhere with military bodies in is almost unplayable for some people as artifacting fills the sky with a mixture of flesh and black like some kind of Lovecraftian nightmare. Patches are fairly regular though, and the whole project is moving towards a re-release with Arma3 on the horizon, and then possible a standalone product with polish and many more features. At present there are no grouping systems, no way to choose where you spawn (making meeting people at first very difficult as you can spawn over an hour’s walk away). It’s also not easy to set up in the first place, although programs like DayZ Commander are making that much simpler.
DayZ is a triumph in that it’s brought to reality a game so many of us had pined for. It may be rough, but it exists, and you can have a lot of fun playing it. It also goes to show that every MMO doesn’t have to follow the same old templates and tropes and more is possible even with a tiny team and no marketing budget.
Over the next few days and weeks we’ll be uploaded some videos of our DayZ exploits, but for now head on to the main site www.dayZmod.com to find out more, or search for DayZ on Youtube to see what all the fuss is about.