DayZ started out as a mod for the military simulator Arma II and the brainchild of Dean “Rocket” Hall. It has since gained a huge following for its permanent death and survival simulating, having you regulate your hunger, thirst, temperature, energy, and blood levels. It utilizes the gigantic map of Chenarus, the small former soviet nation set as the backdrop for Arma II, as the playground for you and other survivors of the zombie apocalypse. The game has you gather supplies and weapons to defend yourself against the environment, the zombies, and other players.
Running into the first building, I claw about in the darkness. Finding nothing on the first floor, I sneak up to the second. I find books and clothes, but nothing to satiate my hunger. Getting more and more desperate by each passing minute, I run from building to building in search of something, anything to eat. The cans of food sitting in my backpack remain useless until I can find a way to open them. I dash into a larger building, scanning the first floor before running to the second. Stumbling into a dark room, I grasp around in the blackness. Finally, my hands clasp around a flat metal cylinder with a pull tab lid. I tear open the can of tuna and devour it with great fervor. I’m going to have to find more soon, and I’m still in danger, but for now, in the dark corner of some abandoned building, at least I’m not starving.
I make my way out of my refuge after sunrise, searching the nearby houses for any gear or supplies. Finding a bag of medical supplies and some more cans of food, I find my first firearm. It’s a mosin, the wooden sniper rifle common in Chenarus. It has no bullets, but it’s enough of a victory for me to continue on my journey, making my way out of the city and trekking into the wilderness. My next target? The inland airfield, where I hear military grade gear can be found. I figure that, since it’s not on the more densely populated coast, running into other players will be less likely.
So far my impressions of the game have been positive. I haven’t run into many bugs during my play, which is impressive seeing as how it’s an early alpha game. The server does lag a bit when it’s close to full (servers can contain up to 40 players currently), and it takes a couple of clicks to get your survivor to eat or drink anything, but I imagine those will be addressed and fixed by launch. There’s also an item condition system, with everything you pick up rated from green (pristine) to red (ruined). There doesn’t seem to be any difference between the various stages of repair for the items as of yet (my backpack was damaged to the point of “Ruined” by a zombie attack, yet still held my gear), but that didn’t stop me from switching out damaged gear for better repaired ones.
I stare down the hill at the small village. I scan for any sign of movement, keeping my eyes peeled for wandering zombies. Feeling satisfied, I stand and run down the hill towards the town, brandishing my shovel. I had killed my first zombie minutes before, and I’m feeling bold. My boldness almost turned into my undoing. Running into the town, I turn a corner around a building and come face-to-face with two of the living dead. I instinctively hit one with my shovel, knocking it to the ground. It gets back up however, and I decide to retreat, dodging a lunge from the other zombie. I run into the closest building and slam the door, thinking myself safe for the time being. Not a moment later one of the undead burst through the door and lunge at me, giving me a painful wound and causing me to bleed. I try to retreat further into the building, but I’m eventually cornered by the infected human, sustaining a blow that knocks me unconscious.
I come to shortly after, my attacker hopping about on all fours in the room we occupied. I’m bleeding, and my vision is de-saturated (a sign of heavy blood-loss), but I’m alive. I quickly stand, getting the jump on my attacker and beating it to death with my trusty shovel. Panting heavily, I kneel down to stop my bleeding with bandages I made from ripping up my old t-shirt. The bleeding now stopped, I drink a can of soda while I plan my next move. I can hear more dead outside, and I know I need to get out of town before they make me lunch, so I go to the door. I remember a tree line to the north, leading to what I believe is called Black Mountain, so I make that my destination. Readying myself, I fling open the door and sprint out of town, looking back to see if any are following. None are, but I keep running just to make sure. Once I’m though the forest, I walk to a construction site where I find some more supplies, the greatest of which being a fireaxe, a weapon capable of killing most things with one swing. I push onward, still low on blood, knowing that the airfield must be close.
Now, one of the most important questions you should ask yourself when playing DayZ is “what kind of person am I going to be?” In the land of Chenarus, you have basically two options: you can be a Bandit or a Hero. In the mod a Bandit was someone who would hold another person up for a can of beans, but now a Bandit is a person who will shoot you on sight and take all of your gear. Many times Bandits will patrol the coast, hunting down and killing fresh spawned players with nothing on them. This kill-on-sight mentality has begun to take over as the principle way of interacting with people, much to the chagrin of many in the DayZ community. Then there are the Heroes, people who challenge the kill-on-sight mentality by being nice to other players, giving them advice and even supplies if the other person is new. Heroes even travel in tight-knit groups with high-quality gear, and will usually not hesitate to kill someone who is seen being a Bandit. This “Bandit vs. Hero” dichotomy has really added to the fullness of the game and its emergent storytelling, allowing players to make their own tales out of each life.
DayZ’s Chenarus is truly a pretty place to be. Birds chirp, butterflies flutter by, and the wind gently sways the trees and the tall grass of the expansive fields. The sun pokes through the thin canopies of trees in the patches of forest, giving everything a wonderfully natural feel. Never before have I played a game where walking across a gently inclining hillside was preferable to running across it. In a world where most games have no walk option, it’s nice to just take a stroll through the countryside. Y’know, before getting back to sprinting past zombies in search of a can opener.
About ten hours into my journey I run into my first survivor. I exit the grocery store in Stary Sobor, one of the largest inland cities, and spot a figure running down the street. A living figure. Spotting each other, my heart pounding in my chest, I shout “friendly!” a few times, to which he responds in kind. Being this far inland I didn’t expect there to be many people in the city, but I had figured there would be a few, seeing as how it’s the largest besides Cherno or Elektrogorsk, the main coastal cities. We exchange a few words of small talk before I hear something moving behind me. I’m too late, though, as a man with a clown mask axes me in the back of the head, killing me. I stare at the blackness of the screen, “You Are Dead” in glowing white text at the center. I sigh and press respawn; here goes another ten hours.
The game is currently in Early Access on Steam, and will set you back about $30 USD. Is it worth it? It really depends on if you like the genre, are a fan of the mod, and are a fan of supporting a game in its (early) development. Just remember: even the game’s creator says to not buy it unless you want to participate in its ongoing evolution into a full-fledged game. Right now it’s at its base, and has nowhere to go but up. I personally think $30 is a bit much to ask for an alpha game, but so far I don’t regret my purchase. So if you like DayZ or want a game in which you (and maybe some friends) can live a different life, I say buy it. If you don’t have the patience for an unfinished game with some bugs and missing features, then I say wait until the full release. Either way, I hope to see you in Elektro someday; maybe we could trade beans sometime.
Have your own story of life in Chenarus? Feel free to share it in the comments below!