Happy free weekend! DayZ is be free to play from 2020-05-21 to 2020-05-25. What better way to spend your weekend while a pandemic sweeps the world than playing a post-apocalyptic zombie survival simulator… bwahahahahaha!
(Note: This is not a paid article and I have no connection to Bohemia Interactive — I just really like this game and wish more people understood what it’s about instead of suffering from the “expected Coke but got beer” shock and wind up missing out.)
Be warned: DayZ is hard mode all the way and you’ll die all the time at the beginning until you figure out how things work. This is actually hilarious, but not if you develop some pointless emotional investment in a freshly spawned character. Laugh at it. There aren’t any levels and you can gear back up pretty easily once you learn the basics of survival. Learning the basics of survival, though, can be hard. There is no manual (except for this post and the previous one) and the game is surprisingly realistic, making for an incredibly hostile environment (hence the “survival” part) and a near vertical learning curve.
This is a (relatively) quick guide on how to get your character from their initial hungry and thirsty starting condition to being well fed with a quenched thirst and hopefully enough gear and knowledge to start heading inland. A few critical details that directly affect survival have changed since previous versions of DayZ, so trying to follow guides for previous versions might leave you in even more shock than you’d already experience on your first visit to Chernarus (or especially Livonia).
First: Understand what DayZ is by understanding what it isn’t
It isn’t an action shooter. It isn’t Rebel Fortress or Unreal Tournament or Battlefield. It isn’t WoW, either. It is none of those things. It is a hardcore zombie survival simulation. The all important noun there being “simulation” and the critical adjective being “hardcore”. I say “simulation” instead of “game” because there are no quests, no global map HUD, no global chat lobby, no ranking or guild system, no equipment “bank”, no auction house, none of that stuff. Comparing DayZ to an action shooter is like comparing a real flight simulator to Gradius III.
Your DayZ character must eat, stay hydrated, keep warm, avoid illness if possible, etc. There are 900+ items in v1.07 that actually have a function — so be mentally prepared for some things you didn’t think were possible or sometimes need to do things you’re surprised are necessary. Suffice to say there is a ton to learn and a single short guide like this written on the occasion of a free play weekend on Steam isn’t going to cover it all.
Picking a server
The first thing that trips up the freshest of fresh freshies is picking the wrong server. The basic mechanic is simple, you press “play” and the launcher links in whatever mods you’ve selected (if any) and launches the game. From there you will want to select “change server” and sort by ping to find one that has the lowest possible ping to your location. Anything under 200ms is workable (though not ideal) for PvE, and anything under 100ms is workable for PvP, though 50ms or less is best no matter what you’re doing.
In the server selection screen you’ll see at the top “Official | Community | Private”. It isn’t obvious to everyone at first glance that this is a clickable control (UI fail) but it is. If you can’t find a nearby official server, click on “Community” and sort by ping.
Example: I live in Japan. The official servers with the best ping times are in LA with around 130~250ms ping times from my location. That’s a bit annoying (but workable) for PvE, but hopeless for PvP. There are community servers local to me, though, with 30ms ping times (and fewer regional spoken language/accent issues). Note that with community servers you might pick one that has a great ping time but has mods installed. You’ll need to install and activate the same mods as the server to join it (mods are allowed to change the game in arbitrary ways, so the server and the client need to be on the same page). Starting out with vanilla DayZ is my recommendation your first time around, though.
With that out of the way, let’s get on to survival.
Hello, Freshie! A bit peckish?
You just spawned. Your character starts out with a sated appetite and hydrated, but that will change very soon. You’re a little more than halfway to getting hungry when you start out and you’ll get thirsty almost as soon as you start jogging somewhere (and jogging is totally OK — you don’t have to walk everywhere, but sprinting will wear you out and waste lots of precious water). You will have an apple or pear in your inventory to start with. Various types of food and drink provide both hydration as well as energy, water being the only one that provides only hydration and no extra nutrition.
There is no manual (but I have made a cheat sheet for the controls), so it is useful to note that pressing <TAB> toggles your inventory screen. You can drag/drop things here. The square below your character’s image represents whatever he’s carrying. Drag a fruit to it, then press <TAB> again to get out of the inventory screen. You’ll notice a tool tip that has the left mouse button highlighted that says “to eat [HOLD]” or something similar, and this means if you hold the left mouse button down your character will start eating the fruit in his hand. Try it as soon as you spawn. It isn’t a big deal to lose your starting fruit, and that water and energy do more good in your body than in your pocket (infantry rules apply!).
Inventory and item manipulation is pretty intuitive. Mess around with it and you’ll figure out what’s going on quickly enough.
The only counter-intuitive point is that the “tacky” point of a dragged object is the upper left corner of the item and that will be dictated by where the mouse pointer is, not necessarily where the item’s outline appears to be. Mess around with it and this will become obvious quickly. Also, note that items in inventory may be oriented the wrong way to fit, even if you have enough slots available — press the spacebar to rotate them while selected so they fit.
When you’re near a container (or a body) you will see those appear as inset containers in the “Vicinity” area on the left side of the screen. This is how you get stuff off the ground, out of containers, and off of bodies (of zombies, dead players, or unconscious saps that have been knocked out).
Now that you’ve had something to eat and if you haven’t been killed yet you should take your bearings (and if you did already die for whatever reason, just respawn and try again — it’s not a big deal). There is no map in the game interface but the environment is accurate enough that you can get your bearings from observing your surroundings. (There are maps in the game that your character can find, but nothing that is magically visible to the player).
The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, just like you would expect. If you can tell whether it is morning or evening you can know by the shadows which direction you’re moving. If it is morning and the sun is to your right (shadows point to the left) then you’re facing north, and this reverses in the afternoon. If shadows are super short (directly under trees) then it’s about mid-day and the short shadow tip is pointing north (or sometimes not quite visible).
The stars in the sky are actually placed accurately, and this makes the night sky a gigantic, free compass, just like in real life (Polaris, the North Star, is prominently visible and easy to navigate by on nights that aren’t overcast). On cloudless nights the light outside is actually quite good enough to see your immediate surroundings, so don’t be afraid to turn off any lights or extinguish any torches and navigate. Sometimes it’s much easier to see distance this way and is far less likely to give your position away to any zombies. Use the stars! If it is raining out and you don’t have a full rain suit, though, stay indoors for the night periods.
Time moves pretty quickly in the game (of course), with days seeming to be significantly longer than nights (perhaps this is on a planet with two suns? no idea). We’ll just handwave that away, but keep in mind that night isn’t to be dreaded and it doesn’t last too long.
There are billboards with maps with a big red “You are Here!” dot on them, usually somewhat close to a bus stop area out on the coast, or sometimes near a water pump in a larger town. There are also military and hiking maps you can find as loot drops that are extremely detailed. Get familiar with the map. If you do a web search for “DayZ map” you’ll find many nice ones, even interactive maps that have spawn locations listed. It is important to get the basic map in your head and figure out where you are as soon as you can.
The general layout of Charnarus is that the east and south are relatively straight coastlines, and this is the lower-risk/lower-reward area people spawn. As one heads northwest loot drops improve (military gear, more car chassies and parts, etc) and risk increases (to include hostile wildlife like wolf packs and bears, in addition to PvP-minded players looking for those sweet, sweet M4s and bodyarmor…).
Spend your time near the coast gearing for survival and then move inland to gear up for combat, base building, camping out, linking up with people, going cannibal, or whatever else it is you might want to do in the game world.
You need to stay hydrated, eat well, keep warm, don’t get sick, and keep the red stuff in your body (don’t bleed out!).
To stay hydrated drink and eat.
To stay well fed eat and drink.
To keep warm wear well-maintained clothes and stay dry.
To stop bleeding when you’re hurt use rags or bandages to bind your wounds (put them in your hands and hold the left mouse button). You can have multiple wounds, so you may need to do this several times in succession (the “I’m cut” icon has a number on it representing how many open wounds you have).
To keep from getting sick don’t eat rotten food, don’t drink untreated water from rivers (or the ocean), and stay warm. To increase your immune system and reduce the recovery period for illnesses take vitamins if you can find some.
Survival tools: Water containers
If you can find a few water bottles, canteen, or a cooking pot, you’re set! You will eventually run across these. Almost every town has a water pump in it, at which you can fill your water container. These can be reused, so hold on to them after they are empty.
Survival tools: Bandages and rags
To make more rags (useful for more than just bandages) you can cut up clothing items you find as long as you have an edged tool in your hands. Do this frequently.
Survival tools: A trusty sharp thing
Tools are more important than weapons, and most heavy tools are very effective weapons anyway.
The biggest priority is having a blade of some sort. You need an edged tool to open canned food (or else you can’t eat it), strip bark from trees to use as kindling for starting fires, to craft fishhooks from bones, etc. The better suited the edged tool is to the job you’re doing the better it will work. For example, an improvised stone knife can be used to open a can of food, but you’ll spill 20~40% of it in the process because it’s sloppy. An axe is much better, and an actual can opener is perfect every time.
If you see a shovel, axe, hatchet, or pickaxe: GET IT
If you see a knife: GET IT
If you can’t find a knife, make one with two small stones. You will find these on the ground if you run down any forest trail or along the train tracks. Place one in your hand, then put another on in your hand (in the inventory screen you’ll get the option “combine” or “replace”, pick “combine), and then use the action button to craft an improvised knife. Stone knives wear out really fast, but they are free. They can get you by until you find something better.
Survival tools: Give a man a can of tuna, feed him for 12 hours; teach a man to fish, feed him until the bears show up
Besides a bladed tool and maybe something heavy to kill zombies with (can be the same: splitting axe, pickaxe, etc.), the next thing you need is a reliable source of food. At the very outset you can scrounge for canned food and soda in houses by the coast or killing zombies and looting their bodies, but eventually you’ll want to get into fishing and hunting.
Fishing is much lower risk than hunting, but you’ll need a fishing pole. Find a bush and get near it. You’ll see the option to cut down the bush by using the action button. This will happen in two stages, first you’ll strip a “long stick” off it, and if you keep going you’ll knock the whole thing over leaving some more sticks (there are a few varieties of this depending on the type of bush or small tree you target and whether you have a tool or are using your hands — experiment). You want the long stick. Now find a rope or make one if you have enough rags. Combine the stick with the rope and viola! we have a fishing pole. (Note: This is also the way bows are made, but they are disabled in v1.07, but will be returning soon.)
Now you need a fishing hook and some bait. To get fishing hooks you can either find them in random loot (I seem to never find them) or, more reliably, make some yourself out of bones. On the coast there are many places you’ll find chickens wandering around. Listen for them. Follow the sound the same way zombies follow you and SMACK! Kill yourself a chicken. Put a knife in your hand (or make a stone one if you haven’t found one yet) and butcher the chicken. You’ll get a few pieces of glorious chicken and a pile of bones. With your trusty knife in hand you can work those bones into fishhooks!
Hurray! Now the last thing to get is some bait. If you find some soft dirt, put a knife, shovel or pickaxe in your hand and you’ll see the option to “dig for worms”. Give that a try a few times. Once you have some worms, head over to the ocean or a river or lake (if you’re already inland) and give fishing a try. Fish provide a lot of nutrition, are unlimited in supply, and are safe to handle (unlike hunting wolves and bears).
How to combine worms with the fishing pole is not as obvious as it should be. Here’s a step-by-step (assuming you already have a pole, a hook and a worm):
- Remove the hook from the pole.
- Put the hook in your hand.
- Drag the worm to the hook to “combine”.
- Exit the inventory menu.
- Hold the left mouse button to “make fishing bait”.
- Once the fishing bait is complete, pick it up.
- Equip the pole.
- Add the baited hook to the pole.
- Go near the water (sometimes you need to look down toward it) and click and hold the left mouse button until you’ve caught something (hopefully not a pair of Wellies).
It goes a bit faster if you get a few hooks and worms ready all at once, and then commence fishing. This procedure should, in my opinion, be shortened to where you can combine a worm directly with a hook-equipped pole, but that’s not how it works at the moment. In any case, enjoy fishing! Fish are a super food, and after you prepare it with your knife it doesn’t even need to be cooked to be eaten.
Survival technique: Jacking zombies
Once you have a heavy thingy (sledgehammer, pickaxe, splitting axe, etc.) or pointy thingy (combat knife, spear, etc.) or just a bit of experience punching zombie heads in, you’re ready to jack zombies for loot, to clear routes, and for pleasure.
If you don’t sprint or make loud noises zombies generally won’t notice you until you get quite close. If you’re listening for them (use headphones) you’ll notice them long before they notice you. If you see a single zombie you can approach it from the rear or side at a sprint before it can react. As you near it, ready a blow with your weapon or fists and smack that sucker in the noggin until he goes down, then take whatever he has on him. You can find quite a lot of early loot this way (can openers, flashlights, soda, water, canned food, etc.).
Just don’t get cocky when a bunch of them are around. A single zombie isn’t hard to take down at all, even unarmed, but two gets interesting unless you have a weapon, and three or more can be the end of you if you get unlucky.
Whatever you do, don’t shoot in town unless you have a clear and immediate route out of there. A common beginner experience is “Oh, two zombies, I have a gun, simple [BANG!] … [5 seconds later] ZOMG WTF 15 ZOMBIES!” You’ll do it eventually. It might even be a good learning experience to try it on purpose just to see how fast things can get messed up when you’re wandering around alone!
Paramount to survival: Mindset
This is a toy. Remember that. You will die. Mess around the coast a bit and use your first few incarnations to figure out how things work. Familiarize yourself with crafting knives, fishing poles, finding and butchering chickens, fishing, getting solid shots with an axe on inattentive zombies, building fires (need wood, 2 or more rocks, and kindling (paper, tree bark, rags), and a firestarter (matches or a lighter)), basic cooking (need some meat and a long stick or a cooking pot), etc.
Don’t get invested in your character, get invested in the experience. When you die it doesn’t take long to gear up to survival level again, because “survival level” is really a skill not a piece of gear.
Once you are over the survival hump you’ll start meeting players and having wild experiences. Some people will kill you on sight (aka “KOS”, generally a jerk move, but lots of people think this is an action shooter because that’s been the way to make AAA titles without innovating or having any new ideas for the last 30 years).
Have fun out there, use voice chat with other players when you meet them, and always look on the bright side of life.