At some point around three and a half years ago, I decided that having an Xbox One on its own wouldn’t be enough. I needed a PS4. To justify such a lavish (and back then, probably unnecessary) purchase, I catalogued a list of known exclusive content, which would otherwise remain unavailable to me. Close to the top of the list was DayZ, which at the time looked like an edgy, exciting mix of online role playing, survival horror and social experiment.
Fast forward to the present day and I find myself doggedly playing the ‘Game Preview’ version of DayZ on Microsoft’s console whilst thankfully, my PS4 remains gainfully employed by much more impressive efforts. There’s a clue here: perhaps the main reason why DayZ now appears among the less-polished ranks of Microsoft’s early access games, rather than as a flagship PS4 title, is because it’s still a broken mess.
To put a finer point on it, DayZ is currently a rather expensive waste of money, which I can only suggest that you avoid for at least the foreseeable future. This is a game that has already been in early access for five years on PC and in all honesty, I think the opportunity for this kind of game might have passed. Yes, I was still excited when I booted it up, but that excitement quickly faded into abject disappointment due to a laundry list of issues which I will now attempt to summarise in a few (all-too-brief) paragraphs before I then attempt to drag something positive from the smouldering ash that I once called Hope and Expectation.
You’ll boot up DayZ and be met with the option to watch an introductory video, which feels as if it introduces a narrative that ends abruptly about halfway through and is then never discussed again. There’s also a series of screens featuring vague instructions that the game claims to be its tutorial. It isn’t. It will leave you woefully unprepared for one of the first and most persistent challenges you’ll face in DayZ: an inventory system that wouldn’t have been acceptable on a PC game from 1988, let alone on a console in the present day.
You’ll then choose a server and attempt to join it. I say ‘attempt’ because you might be lucky, or you might not. Even when you are, you’ll most likely need to sit through a queue of about a hundred people (which can take ten minutes) even though the server you are joining only had six people on it (out of sixty) when you connected. Sometimes you’ll need to reboot the game completely in order to connect. One small mercy, I should note, is that once you actually do get into a game, it seems fairly reliable — dropouts do happen, but no more frequently than in any other early-access game.
The real problem with DayZ is what happens once you’re in a game. You probably need some context from me here to align your expectations about what I’m going to say. Personally, I’m not the kind of reviewer to soldier on for hundreds of hours to see a late game that most people won’t ever reach because the experience of getting there is so dismal. With that in mind, and considering what I’m about to say, you can reasonably assume that there are things I haven’t seen in DayZ, but I’ll explain why as I go.
As such, I don’t know the map in DayZ off by heart and I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the crafting possibilities, but I do have a moderate-to-high level of gaming competence, so please rest assured that I’m not ‘missing things’ as I describe my experience with the game so far. Firstly, in my first three spawns, I didn’t see a single living thing — not a zombie, not a person, not a single creature.
In my first spawn, I woke up beside the sea (as the introduction video shows) and saw the outline of a ship in the distance, which I decided to explore. As I approached the ship, I saw that it had been grounded and its hull cracked in two, which had resulted in containers being strewn all over the shoreline. An atmospheric setting for… absolutely nothing. On that ship I found several pairs of tracksuit bottoms and a flare, but nothing else. By the time I had finished exploring, I was so dehydrated I died whilst jogging back towards where I assumed there might be some form of habitation.
On my second spawn, I found a concrete works which also looked interesting. Inside, the rooms were completely barren and devoid not only of life, but also of furniture. During the zombie apocalypse I can only assume that every building was literally stripped from the ground up. Weirdly, I found several more track suits. This time I did reach a town and even found some water in a bit of swampland. Surprisingly, that didn’t kill me — but starvation did.
The vast majority of my DayZ playthrough went a similar way up until about the tenth. There was one occasion where I found a scout-camp-type setup that was oddly strewn with hunting knives and ammunition (which felt like progress) but I still couldn’t find food or water — I can’t remember which killed me this time. The first time I did find a town and a few zombies, I found them easy to dispatch with the shovel I was holding on that occasion. The ‘tutorial’ warns of zombies being dangerous in packs (and that might be true) but since you’ll likely only ever see two, there’s no need to worry about that.
Towns also sometimes contain one or two cans of food — and I do mean just one or two — for the whole town. I even once found a gun (but no ammo). Whilst tracksuits remain overwhelmingly common, you’ll find almost nothing else in DayZ. In some ways, the disappointment loop is actually what kept me playing DayZ for as long as I did. As I sat on the sofa with my significant other, we both joked about what we’d find in each house. ’Oh look, another fridge that can’t be opened,’ we’d laugh. Then I’d simply wonder why I was still playing DayZ at all when the world is so filled with better, more rewarding experiences.
The whole thing was put to bed when I finally met someone else. I had freshly respawned straight after my most successful run to date (where I ate, drank and made merry for about an hour or so) and I had nothing but the shirt on my back. It was then that I met someone else for the first time. He or she was armed with a hatchet, had a carryall (I’d found a school bag earlier, but nothing as fancy as that) and was wearing a motorcycle helmet. Without discourse, warning or even an emoji, they attacked me. I punched them. I tried to run. I died. My enthusiasm for DayZ died as well.
I know DayZ was always meant to be about survival of the fittest five years ago — and maybe they were starving and needed to carve me up and eat me — but when a game is so dismal that the only semblance of fun to be found is by griefing new spawns, I just don’t see the point in its existence anymore. When the crafting is so basic, the community building element nonexistent and the gameplay — you know, the zombie killing and exploring bit — is just not there, I have to ask myself what the point is. Why would you ever buy DayZ over Conan or ARK? Is it zombies you want? You won’t find them here!
The release of DayZ into the Game Preview programme is four years too late. It’s too late because the game seems beyond repair to me. Even if it was in better shape, I think it is fundamentally dated now, compared to much more elaborate, exciting and engaging peers. I’m also frustrated by the price point of forty dollars. Really? Really? DayZ feels like the archetypal example of a rip-off to me — it’s unfinished, overpriced and broken. Given that it has been five years in the making already, I don’t know if it will ever reach the point where it pays off those who back it now. You have been warned.
DayZ is available now via the Xbox Preview Program, it is also available on PC.