It’s safe to say DayZ’s road to release has been a long one. What started as an obscure mod for hardcore shooter ARMA II, DayZ quickly went viral overnight and it wasn’t long before the game’s developer Bohemia Interactive wanted a piece of the action. The mod’s designer joined the team, a standalone DayZ game was announced, and its popularity only intensified. Thousands of curious gamers were snapping up copies of ARMA II just to get a taste.
Back in 2012, I too got caught up in the DayZ craze. I can’t remember how much I paid for ARMA II and one of its expansions but from what I had seen of the mod through videos and anecdotal war stories, I knew it was something I had to see for myself. That hype train derailed the moment I finally dropped into the game. DayZ was nothing more than a barren sandbox with nothing to see or do but survive. I felt like I had been duped.
I never went back to the DayZ mod after those disappointing first few hours, but with Bohemia Interactive supporting the development of a standalone version, I had faith that one day I’d return to a game that had some actual flesh wrapped around those bare yet refreshingly inventive bones.
It seems that, ever after several years of development and the backing of a big name publisher, little has changed. For those eyeing up the recent PlayStation 4 release, you’ve been warned.
If you’ve played games such as Rust, 7 Days to Die, Conan, or The Forest (the best of the lot in my opinion) then there’s a lot of overlap. Not really surprising when you consider that DayZ effectively birthed the entire sub-genre.
Upon entering a game you’ll wash up on the shores of Chernarus, a fictional former Soviet state that has fallen since a mysterious zombie outbreak. Your objective is to survive for as long as possible, fending off the undead and nature itself, scavenging for resources and monitoring stats such as hunger, warmth, and hydration.
It’s a fairly straightforward game at its core, but does a terrible job at explaining the fundamentals. There are no interactive or video tutorials whatsoever, no handy tool-tips or beginner quests. Essential mechanics like gathering and crafting are left for the player to discover and the only way of really learning what DayZ’s many items do is by diving into forums or wikis for an answer.
Even if you have some notion of what’s going on, grappling with the menus is an unpleasant experience for console players. Nothing about the way you can manage your inventory – moving, equipping, or combining items – feels intuitive. DayZ is shockingly cumbersome, as if purposefully erecting a barrier between you and any sense of enjoyment.
My first hour with the game was uneventful to say the least. It was mostly spent wandering through fields and forests, completely lost within the 230 square kilometres that make up Chernasus – DayZ’s one and only map. At least it was daylight: in later sessions I found myself spawning into a game set at night with no way of being able to see anything at all.
I had almost convinced myself that I’d run into some kind of bug and that buildings simply weren’t spawning, before I eventually stumbled upon a small farmhouse. Employing that same hoarder mentality I’ve picked up from battle royale games, I found myself picking up a variety of fairly mundane items such as fruit, clothes, and a can opener.
In DayZ, you’ll spent a huge amount of time sifting through rubbish. Honestly, it’s as if the team stopped development on its survival game to pursue Charity Shop Simulator 2019 instead. Rummage for long enough and you might turn up some decent items, especially if you know where to look. Still, it’s a mighty slog and it was only after several hours that I finally managed to find a gun with some matching ammunition.
The only thing that makes any of this worthwhile is your interaction with other players. That’s what drew me to DayZ in the first place, watching videos in which strangers either band together or engage in tense standoffs. Despite the game’s many shortcomings, there’s potential there for players to create their own functioning civilisations. You can potentially found self-sustaining settlements with farming, commerce, and even laws.
DayZ has the tools to create incredible stories and unforgettable player interactions. However, it demands a colossal sacrifice: the time required to feel like you’ve made a genuine footprint in this virtual world is simply insane. Despite having years to refine DayZ, Bohemia Interactive has done seemingly little to help players achieve their ultimate in-game fantasies. Even basic features, such as vaulting knee-high obstacles, are laughably absent.
Performance and visuals combine to make for another depressing low point. DayZ has the same amount of pomp and flare that it did as a 2009 mod to the already bland and utilitarian ARMA II. It would be somewhat tolerable if not for the huge framerate drops and pop-in that occurs whenever moving towards one of the map’s more densely populated areas. At times it’s barely playable.