DayZ, the free-to-play zombie apocalypse survival mod for Arma 2: Combined Operations (Bohemia Interactive Studio, 2009), can be disorienting at first. Gameplay takes place on an open-world map covering 225 square kilometres, built from satellite data of a part of Czechoslovakia. Each time you begin anew, you start without a map, and with little idea about just where you are, and often less idea about where you can find equipment (and more importantly find water).
You’d think there would be some handy online resources to help you out. And you’d be right.
If you want the thrill of discovery, you might want to give the maps part a miss. Otherwise, let’s look at what resources are available to you.
Where in Chernarus are you?
Firstly, when you log in and your character finally appears in-game, three lines of text appear at the lower right of the screen. They’re in a large font, but they aren’t there for very long – just a few seconds. Pay special attention. The second line tells you what part of the map you are in. If you’re resuming a character in progress, you’ll be where you were last, so it’s no big deal (unless you were lost), but with a new character, this is the most important bit of information for figuring out where you are starting out.
Now, online maps. You want maps? We got them. You don’t have to use them. You might want to skip down to the next section, if you don’t.
This first map is a beauty. It’s not 100% accurate, but it is nevertheless extremely reliable. It shows loot and water locations (water pumps, ponds and lakes are easy to spot), high-value versus low-value loot spots, and has locations clearly marked in English characters as well as Cyrillic. If you’re uncertain about the symbols, there’s a handy legend for the map in multiple languages.
Want something to download instead? Try this mammoth image file – a huge, high-resolution loot-map of Chernarus in a single image. Be prepared to wait ages for it to download.
Tip: Add –nopause to the Arma 2 startup parameters so that your game keeps communicating when you’re tabbed out to look at maps.
When you start out, remember the location the game gave you, find some landmarks, and figure your rough location on one of these maps. You can then start to plan your next steps.
Being self-sufficient in DayZ – must-haves
Your basic must-have items are: A hatchet, matches, a hunting knife, and an extra water bottle or two.
With these items you can take down the occasional sheep, chicken or cow, cook it and eat it. You can cut wood and set up fires to keep warm at night, and you’ve got enough water storage to keep you going on treks from location to location – with some in reserve, just in case your first choice is inaccessible due to zombies or other hostiles.
Having a compass, a flashlight, a map and a watch is a bit of a luxury. It’s nice if you have them, but you shouldn’t feel impoverished if you don’t.
Snacking on the go
Inventory full, but you found drinks or food? Dump something if you need to, and eat or drink what you’ve just found. Then pick your gear back up and continue. With a full belly, it will be just that much longer before you need to dig into what you’re carrying.
Having something now means you’ve got the extra margin. You can eat or drink something out of your inventory and just pick up a replacement from the stuff you’ve found.
It might be a little dull, but pay attention to what the zombies are doing. Zombies are actually pretty predictable. At first it seems like they’re shambling everywhere all around that place that you want to go, but look a little closer. Zombies don’t turn around often, or change direction all that often. If they’re shambling in one direction, they tend to keep going that way until something gets them to change.
Of course, they can only see in front of them too, so the safe place to be is behind zombies. They can’t see you there and they’ll do the hard work of increasing the distance between them and you.
Don’t think, though, that a zombie cannot see you because you cannot see it.
Until the upcoming 1.7.1 update for DayZ, zombies can see through walls and floors! Only distance makes you safe right now. 1.7.1.x is now out, and zombies see better than they did before, however, you can now hide from them. They’ll search the area where you were last seen.
Stay low, and stay silent
Don’t stand tall, it makes you an excellent target. Crouch. If you need to be even less visible, drop prone. Dropping prone is handy if you need to be AFK for a few minutes too. Walk, don’t run or trot, unless you are pursued.
Roads and streets are noisy surfaces to walk on, crouching or not.
Either belly-crawl across them, or walk sideways. Moving sideways across a street or road allows you to do it silently. The latest version has changed noise calculations. It’s harder to move quietly on hard surfaces. Get on your belly. Moving sideways is no longer as quiet as it was.
You might find a good areas with plenty of loot-spots to look through, and few (if any zombies). That won’t last. You wander into an empty farm, check out an old barn, and before you’re done, you can hear the groans and barks of a half-dozen of the pissed-off dead shuffling around outside.
Where did they come from?
It seems that DayZ doesn’t bother much with spawning zombies (and loot) in areas where there aren’t any players (or in many parts of the wilderness at all). Arrive in an area where zombies are an option, and soon there will be plenty of them shambling about. Do what you mean to do and move on. You don’t want to get pinned down.
Running like hell
If you attract the attention of a zombie, you basically have exactly two options. Fight or flight. You can try to kill it, or you can run. Firing a gun will bring every zombie in earshot, so that’s always a consideration. In the upcoming 1.7.1 release, zombies should be easier to evade, but right now, your running options are a bit limited.
Zombies don’t travel well up or down slopes – they traverse these a little slower than you can. They have trouble with narrow doorways and stairs, and they cannot go over even low fences. However they can swim and they can open doors and gates.
So, if you have to run, try to run through narrow openings, up hills (or down them) – zig and zag to avoid the steepest parts, as the zombies themselves aren’t smart enough to do this and will try to toil up behind you in the shortest path. These will gain you a good lead on your pursuers. Piers are often a good choice, as zombies don’t seem to be able to follow you onto many piers properly.
Without a handy pier, you need to gain quite a lead on zombies before they’ll give up the chase. You’ll usually want to get at least a few hundred metres on them before you can start to feel safe. A kilometre is better. Even when you think you’ve shaken them, one lone, overly-enthusiastic zombie might still be following along.
[updated] Zombies seem to slow down in building interiors, not to mention the doorways themselves. Find a building with two entrances and go through it. Now, if you break line-of-sight and go quiet, the zombies will search the area where you were last seen, but you can hide from them now.
Be friendly, but be cautious
“Everyone’s your brother until the rent comes due.“ – Ronin (1998)
Most other players won’t shoot at you first, unless they’re dicks, or they think you have something they desperately need, or they think you are going to shoot first. The trouble is, you don’t know what the other guy is thinking.
Backslash is the default “salute” key (but only if you’re standing up straight). Survivors use it to signal each-other that they are friendlies.
Friendship doesn’t always last, though.
It’s great to team up with someone else, explore together, look out for each-other and so on, but two people are twice as likely to draw a zombie as one. It only takes one of you to make a mistake, and you can both be suddenly surrounded by angry undead.
Plus, there might just not be enough food about. By all means, feel free to help one another, but consider going your separate ways before things become strained.
Last night, I crept into a storage shed in Prigorodky, just to see what I might find. There was nothing particular that I wanted. Outside, I heard sudden pistol-fire, and another survivor ran in through the door, pursued by zombies. Cornered, we both aimed and fired. The other fellow bandaged himself up after the immediate danger was over, and we were about to size each-other up, when we hear more frantic pistol fire, and the sound of zombies.
Moments later, a third survivor arrives in our little shed, and between us, we eliminate the zombies following him.
More pistol-fire. A fourth survivor in our tiny shed.
While everyone was assessing their stocks of ammunition, food, water and medical supplies, I crept out of the shed, dropped prone and slithered off on my belly into the night. I had this sense that things were about to get awkward in the absence of any immediate external threat.
Best not to outstay the welcome, right?
Welcome to beautiful Chernarus. Come for the weather, stay for the horrifying apocalypse.