The most interesting thing about DayZ is also its biggest flaw. With no directives for player behaviour beyond satisfying basic bodily functions, survivors of this particular zombie apocalypse are free to be as violent, altruistic, danger-seeking or isolated as they please, and that freedom can lead to thrillingly tense encounters where someone’s motivations might be vastly – even dangerously – different from your own.
However, the lack of objectives can also make it feel a bit…aimless. Progression is limited to what kind of gun you might find, or how many pieces of brown combat gear you have draped over your body. Meanwhile, the zombies themselves are laughably easy to take down, even in groups, so those who avoid armed conflict with almost Swiss determination never get to experience any kind of meaningful challenge.
I think that’s why a lot of players have taken to roleplaying. Chernarus is or has been populated with organised police forces, doctors, assassins for hire, and at least one roving reporter; besides the attractively complex interactions that may occur when one of these groups meets the lawless bandits of DayZ, I suspect the rules and codes these players enforce on themselves adds a special sense of difficulty and accomplishment to what can be a fairly meandering existence.
Now I want in as well. I’m going to reject DayZ’s assumption that every character is a qualified survival expert and play as someone who would be utterly out of their depth after the fall of civilisation: myself.
Besides potentially answering the age-old question of “How long would you last in a zombie apocalypse?”, playing as a journalism graduate from Swindon gives me some tricky new parameters. I’ve never even touched a firearm, so in-game guns are off the table completely. I’m pretty risk-averse, so I’ll need to avoid players and the undead as much as possible. I could probably hold my own against a single zombie, but if they show up in a group, I’m mostly likely going to bottle it. Although, I do have one thing going for me where self-defence is concerned: I’m okay with a bow and arrow. Admittedly I’ve only ever shot static targets, not sprinting ghouls, but my weapon of choice will be ideal for hunting animals – allowing me to stay fed without needing to scavenge in heavily-populated cities. Plus, DayZ’s bow is whisper-quiet, so I can stay hidden from prying bandit ears.
First, I need to make myself with the less-than-robust character creator. Due to the lack of options, the closest I can get to my true form (lanky, slouching, prescription glasses) is a muscular middle-aged man with a permanent squint. No matter, because soon I’m joining a near-full server, with a solid plan to craft an improvised bow and avoid the large cities.
I spawn in Chernogorsk, the largest city.
On the bright side, I’m already on the side of town which contains an abandoned shop (where I can grab provisions) and a fire station (where I can find an axe, which I’ll need to craft my bow and arrows). Incredibly, for an area with so much survivor foot traffic, I manage to bag several cans of spaghetti and a walkie talkie. In a small factory two doors down, I ditch the walkie to make room for more spaghetti, and pick up a hunting knife. This is a great start – I’ll need to cut the meat from any animals I hunt, and the knife also doubles as a handy can opener in the meantime. I immediately consume two whole tins of cold pasta, and move on to the fire station.
Just outside the station’s outer wall, I’m halted by the gurgled cry of a walking corpse. Terrifyingly, it appears to be making a beeline for the single open door of the station, suggesting that there’s someone inside. I’m relieved, then panicked, when it passes the door and starts running at me instead. I’m nowhere near confident enough to battle a zed with a tiny knife, so I scramble through a hole in the wall, dash inside the station, and slam the door shut. I’m safe – for now.
My luck continues in the form of a good-condition fire axe laying on one of the station’s many, if mostly empty, shelves. Incredibly, there are three different handguns mere feet from my new axe, including a rare inscribed Colt. Most survivors would be ecstatic, but I’m British and thus have no idea how to load or maintain ballistic weaponry. I leave all three where they sit and try to sneak out the back exit.
No dice – the zombie had continued to sniff around outside, and immediately gives pursuit. I’m now wielding the most effective melee weapon in Chernarus, even in the feeble hands of someone who got stopped going to the gym in 2014, but am anxious about stopping to fight; after all, this will be first time that I kill something larger than a fly. However, sprinting through Chernogorsk with a growling monster on one’s heels is a good way of attracting unwanted attention. I stop in a walled-off yard, ready the fire axe, and prepare to take the swing.
Thunk. The bastard gets me first, and my vision flashes white as two rotting fists slam into my face. Yet I still manage to bring the axe down, slashing deep into my assailant’s shoulder. It recoils a bit, then resumes its flailing attack. Suitably afraid of something that can survive such a bow, I retreat a few steps – accidentally dodging another lunge. I swing again, land a second hit, and watch as the actually-dead dead man flops to the ground. I’m bruised, but alive.
I decide to move on to some nearby factories, partly to search for rope for a drawstring and partly to get off the streets before anyone spots the aftermath of my pathetic zombie duel. After passing through a hospital – the floor of which was, for whatever reason, covered in fresh fruit – I enter a large, vaguely industrial-looking building which turns out to be a bunch of offices. I upgrade my boring T-shirt for a brown hoodie (which I’d totally wear in real life, so is fair game) but find no rope, so I head up a ladder to the roof.
There’s nothing up top, but there is something down below: another agitated member of the formerly living. Once again frightened that it might be targeting a nearby survivor, I go prone to conceal myself from anyone on the ground.
I needn’t have bothered; I’d apparently made so much noise walking on the rooftop gravel that the zombie had heard me and raced all the way up to the top floor. I narrowly avoid having my ankles clawed off in a failed attempt to descend the ladder before it could reach me, and clamber back up to assess the situation: I’m trapped, on a roof, with a violent cannibal blocking the exit.
Welcome to Chernarus, myself.
Coming soon in Part 2: Feathers, an ambush, and the world’s most perilous stairs.