DayZ Standalone Review

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By Teo Borconi – 17th December 2013
DayZ Standalone Review

The DayZ Standalone is finally out on Steam, and old DayZ fans are already exploring the newly redone world of Chernarus. It’s time to take a look at what exactly the standalone version of the game brings to the table.

Before we begin, let’s make a couple of things clear. First, this is an alpha version, and everything in this DayZ Standalone review will reflect that. As Rocket (Dean Hall, the lead developer behind the game) stated himself, the game is and will be riddled with bugs for a long time to come. It will probably take at least several months until we have a decently polished game on our hands. It’s also hard to objectively review the game as it is, as a lot of features have yet to be implemented. Lastly, I’ve been playing DayZ (the mod) for a long time, so I’m not getting into the standalone as a complete newbie, and after dealing with the various bugs of the mod, I’m not really surprised by any issues I’ve encountered so far. So, I will be trying to keep both an objective eye on what the game is right now and at the same time will be aiming to look at a project in the long scheme of things.

This looks like a bright new dawn

Let’s look on the bright-side of things first. The first impression I got when logging in was how much the game has evolved visually. Sure, the engine behind the game is still the older Arma 2 engine, which does not necessarily mean it’s bad, but it’s not as good looking as the more modern Arma 3 engine. That being said, a lot of work went into new character models, item textures, and general visual improvements. One thing that really stands out is the vegetation, which finally looks good. The grass and trees look amazing overall, and provide much better cover than in the mod. Trees actually load up from a distance now, so it will be a lot harder to detect a potential sniper hiding under the thick branches of a pine-tree. Bushes aren’t that detailed though, and could still use an upgrade.

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As for performance, players have been reporting mixed FPS numbers. There are a few tweaks to be made to the config file of the game that will result in better overall performance. Optimization is a lot better, in the sense that zombies and items are now handled server-side, which lowers the strain on your own hardware. That being said, there’s still a lot to tweak. Even with a GTX 780, players still reported a maxed 30-35 FPS count in major urban areas. From my own perspective, I run an overclocked i3 540 CPU, with 8 GB of DDR 3 RAM clocked at 1600 MHZ and an AMD Radeon 6850 GPU. With this build and some tweaks, I have a constant 20-30 FPS with most details on high. Still, I do get some performance drops every now and again, lowering my FPS count to 15.

Even so, the game seems extremely fluid and is perfectly playable. Light effects are great, and one particular detail I really appreciated was the sunlight that can actually blind you at certain times. Night-time playing is a lot better as well, as flashlights actually are viable now as a source of light. However, the light from torches or flashlights still seems to go through walls, and it’s fairly easy to see a player looting a house from hundreds of meters away.

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Moving on, there are huge improvements in animations also. The characters move much more fluidly and look well designed, and several animations have been introduced for various actions. I found myself to be pleasantly surprised when my character began peeling a banana or opening up a water bottle. Weapons can be switched while running now, and you can run around casually with an M4A1 in your hands, or you can sacrifice some speed and move with a baseball bat at the ready.

I need a bigger backpack!

Content-wise, I can only praise the work of the dev team. Given how small the team working on the mod was, I’m pleasantly surprised to find a huge number of new buildings that you can now access, some having multiple floors and rooms. While not every building in the game can be accessed yet, most of the old buildings on the map can now be explored, and there are several new buildings introduced as well. The most notable new buildings would be the huge apartment blocks around Chernogorsk.

As for items, there are so many new ones I lost track at some point. There is a vast variety of clothes to pick up, and the game often feels like a dress-up simulator. What you can expect to see:

  • Chest items – From regular t-shirts to striped ones,  from shirts with chest pockets to hoodies, from chest gun holsters to tactical vests, you have it! Not only do these items come in different styles and colors, they also each provide various advantages, from increased carrying capacity to stopping power.
  • Head gear – Beanies, caps, fisher hats, clown masks, motorcycle helmets; there’s certainly plenty to choose from. I have to admit, bumping into a player with a psycho clown-mask and a baseball bat during the night can provide with some epic laughs or scares, as the case may be. Head items also come with certain utility. There’s a head-mounted flashlight for night-time raiding, and some helmets such as the motorcycle helmet can actually redirect bullets. It took me several shots from my M4A1 to take down a player with a motorcycle helmet last night, as I had to hit the visor area to actually inflict damage.
  • Pants and shoes – Cargo pants, jeans, hunter pants, sneakers, trainers, boots; the more pockets your pants have, the more you can carry; whether you’re going for a fashionable look or full-out utility, variety isn’t lacking here either.
  • Backpacks – Backpacks come in different shapes, sizes and colors; as with most things in life, the bigger, the better; the most common backpacks can hold around 25 items, while bigger and rarer ones can carry up to 35 items; just make sure you aim for the head if you’re trying to kill a player for a backpack, as gear gets damaged by bullets, and backpacks seem to get destroyed easily; there’s also a way to craft your own using some wooden sticks and some other materials, but I haven’t gotten a chance to actually craft one myself yet.
  • Weapons – There’s a huge variety of things you can use as weapons now, especially in terms of melee weapons: baseball bats, screwdrivers, kitchen knives, hatchets, chain saws, wrenches and even your fists; ranged weapons are scarce though; variety is limited to the Mosin bolt-action rifle and the M4A1 for now, but each has a huge array of attachments to make up for it; there’s also a side-arm which can be carried in the chest holster, but I have yet to get my hands on that personally.

And then there are the other items which I haven’t mentioned yet, but all of which are highly important: apples, oranges, bananas, kiwis, cans of tuna or spaghetti, water bottles, soda cans, tools (such as tape or matches), can openers, medical supplies, navigation-assisting tools (such as a map and a compass), and many, many more. Only on a medical side of things, I’ve found more than a dozen distinct items, some of which I have no idea what to do with. I sometimes felt like I needed a medical degree to sort through things. I am however extremely glad to see a more realistic approach to the survival setup, and I’m sure there’s huge potential in the complexity of crafting, cooking and medical fields.

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I heard you like backpacks, so I’ve put a backpack in your backpack!

So you can pack while you backpack! Yes, there are some weird bugs and inventory systems that can be quite a turnoff at the moment. I’ve noticed that you can insert a pair of pants into your currently equipped pants, thus somehow exploiting and carrying beyond your current capacity. I feel that these bugs could have and should have been removed a long time ago. And, while placing a backpack filled with stuff in another backpack and gaining some inventory space is not exactly game breaking, zombies are.

And here we’re going into the negative side of things. The zombies are terrible, for multiple reasons. First of all, on a populated server, you won’t see too many of them. They don’t seem to re-spawn once killed by players. You can easily make your way from building to building, looting at ease, without having to look over your shoulder too much.

In addition, zombies are so frustratingly bugged that they can and most likely will break your game. I’ve encountered invisible zombies that I could hear, that could hit me (and they did eventually kill me) without me being able to lose them or fight back. If they’re not invisible, then they can easily walk through walls, hit you through walls, sink into objects becoming immune to hits, and the list could go on. Last, but not least, it’s exceedingly difficult to lose one once it’s on your tail. I had to run around Kamenka for 15 minutes at some point, trying to ditch two zombies that simply would not lose sight. Considering how hard it is to get a weapon of any sort and how dangerous a zombie can be in the standalone, that can be quite a pain. Additionally, the melee system is so unpolished at its current state, that taking on more than one zombie while wielding a baseball bat is like playing Russian Roulette. More often than not, your melee weapon doesn’t connect, and when it does, it sometimes takes multiple (and when I say multiple, I mean 10-20) hits to take a zombie down. True, you have a chance to knock zombies down, but it’s hard to aim with a melee weapon when the contact area is inches away from the location of the crosshair.

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Luckily, they seem to be so bugged that they sometimes tend to attack each-other as well, so I guess that’s a plus for now.And it’s not all bad either! There are finally female zombies out there, and in general, zombie animations are improved. It’s still difficult to enjoy these changes all things considered.

The UI

Or more like the lack of a UI! No, there’s not much in terms of a user interface. The inventory system has been redone, and it works a lot better than Arma 2′s tedious inventory. But, that’s about it. Other than that, you have no indication of your current status, health, blood level, thirst or hunger meters, nothing. All you’re getting are some messages like “Your head throbs” or “You feel like having a drink”, which are easy to miss and are also confusing, mainly because simply drinking doesn’t solve your problems most of the time. The game is designed on an energy system too, not just a thirst and hunger system. So it’s not enough to take a drink from a water bottle, you’ll also need to keep your sugar levels high in order to have energy. In other words, drinking a soda will give you a lot of energy, but won’t really fix your thirst problem, while drinking water will quench your thirst but will still leave you tired and feeling dizzy.

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It’s complicated, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the lack of a UI or any sort of instructions on what you need to do can be confusing for even the more experience DayZ players. I can’t even imagine how hard the game must seem for completely new players.

Final Thoughts 

In its current state, I really can’t recommend the game for anyone new to the DayZ universe. It’s buggy, difficult and often frustrating. The survival aspect is brutally punishing, even more so when you’re not entirely sure what’s going on with your character. The standalone is no longer a rush to get great weapons and kill players with them, it’s more like a duel over a can of tuna between players wielding baseball bats and knives. Even well equipped players seem to be dying from hunger, thirst, a combination of both or factors not yet understandable.  The fact that it’s listed at €23.99 on Steam also doesn’t help, as for now, players will not be getting a lot for their money. At this point, this is more like a down-payment for a future game, not really a straight purchase.

If however, you’ve played and loved the DayZ mod, you’re probably already playing it regardless of any reviews out there. It’s a different game (in the good sense), with a more in-depth survival aspect, that still needs a heap of work. If you’re willing to submit bugs and support the devs in making the game the masterpiece it was always meant to become, then by all means, give it a go. Just expect some raging along the way. All that being said, as a previous fan of the mod, I simply can’t stay away from the DayZ Standalone. It’s excruciatingly buggy and frustrating at times, but the things that do work well more than make up for it.

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Lastly, I’ve been thinking a lot about what grade to give it, given my knowledge of the small dev team, my history with DayZ, and the fact that it’s still an early alpha version. It’s hard to be objective under these circumstances, so I’ll grade it separately for newcomers and fans. Once a more polished version of the game will be available, I will be re-writing my review and re-grading accordingly. For now, the game is a diamond that first needs to be mined, then polished…a lot!

PROs:

  • Huge changes to the map
  • A great amount of new items to find and use
  • Great inventory system
  • Improved visuals over Arma 2 and the mod
  • Endless potential for development

CONs:

  • Zombies are worse than ever
  • The lack of the UI makes surviving nearly impossible
  • The melee system fails on several levels
  • Brutally difficult for newcomers to the game
  • Still (obviously) riddled with bugs

Score for fans of the game: 8/10

Score for newcomers: 6/10