It’s been almost four years since DayZ was bought to Early Access on Steam. Riding the momentum from the hugely successful Arma 2 Mod, the community had such high hopes for this standalone experience. Yet as DayZ Standalone finally staggers into the Beta phase, it appears that the community has already abandoned Brian Hicks and Co. for pastures new. Let’s dive back in and see if there’s anything worth seeing in this husk of a title.
When DayZ was first released into the ARMA community – the game had so much potential. Team GEO and Vector Bunny all enjoyed massive success with DayZ as a mod; using their imagination to create situations to see how people would react. The game became a phenomenom overnight, spawning a Youtube community and an eager bank of players who couldn’t get enough. Yet these days, the community round this game has died a painful death, abandoning it en masse and leaving the title with an eerie sense of what could have been.
So I decided to jump back into the game to check out what had changed. After all, it’s been almost four years in development and with the promises of a Beta release now looming, surely means the developers have fixed all the old problems? Sadly it only took one afternoon of painful reminders to realise that DayZ has changed for the worst, and really isn’t worth the revisit.
Let’s be clear – what worked well back then still works today. Minor tweaks to some of the games underlying systems have made the game generally more even. Loot spawns for example have been evened out and given more balance. Weapons and bullets actually spawn with some regularity now; a marked improvement when the game used to serve up a daunting number of hats.
The are also graphics still impressive at a glance. While they don’t rival the best of PC gaming – they do at least serve to create a palpable sense of atmosphere. The towns and surrounding countryside are populated with decaying buildings. abandoned farms and long stretches of road for you to explore. The sense of discovery is still present – as you try to stay one step ahead of zombies and other human players; all of whom are out to bring you down. This tension remains and it’s integral to any enjoyment you’ll get out of this experience.
Sadly this attempt at atmosphere in Chernarus is undermined by the fact that even on a server with the lowest ping – the lag is unreal. When earlier patches landed, optimisation was the focus for the dev team – and this lag seemed to be a short-term issue. Yet here we are; four years later and it’s a more haunting presence than the actual zombies themselves. I’d say it’s embarrassing but that’s not the worst of it.
The Zombies are still not where they need to be as while standing in the middle of the road in clear view of a walker less than a hundred yards ahead of me it didn’t grief, just stumbled around in circles, and while a lot of people wouldn’t see this as a concern, that threat needs to be there.
What really hurts DayZ is the fact that some of the best features from the mod haven’t made the jump yet. The main antagonist is and always will be the players – something that can both be both a benefit and an annoyance. In the mod we had heroes, bandits and people would get kidnapped. It forced people to fight for their lives or even compete in-game shows for their freedom. In the standalone though we have the problem of having less to do, with no ways to transport prisoners en-masse to bases.
Add in the complete absence of safe zones, effectively cutting out traders, and standalone game has made the social aspects of the experience non-existence. The best way to play the game is to have a bunch of friends, start a private server and just have adventures – however this takes away the outside threat element and just leaves players walking around a map looking for gear.
The whole point of DayZ going standalone was to expand on the Mod. The problem is that things haven’t gone forward, they’ve remained stagnant and even taken several steps back in the process. We are further away from the finished article than ever – and that’s just plain sad. If everything from the mod had been moved across here from launch – I think players would have been happier with the state of play and been more forgiving of the slow production. However with no end game objective and no means to make this a genuine sandbox style choose your adventure, it seems that DayZ hasn’t got anywhere to go.
DayZ is a noble effort, and I do applaud that they wanted to do their own thing and branch away from the mod, but the reality is that the current iteration of DayZ pales wildly in comparison. It’s a woeful misstep that arguably hasn’t delivered on its key promises. It’s a title that struggles with its own existence and has faded from view thanks to the developers over-ambition.