After years in Early Access, 7 Days to Die continues to waste its potential

Some games thrive in Early Access, others merely survive.

SURVIVOR SERIES

In survivor series we drop in on some of PC gaming's most promising survival games. Today, Holly Nielsen drops into 7 Days To Die in search of improvement.

The concept of 7 Days to Die is decent: a sandbox zombie survival game that turns into a tower defence strategy when the sun sets and increasing zombie hordes attack, each day leading to harder nights. The reality is a game that has been in alpha for years, with poor graphics, boring environments and uninspired combat. 

Even with all the settings on ultra, trees and buildings popped in and out of view, textures looked flat, enemies and animals clipped and flailed into the environment. The biggest problem is the over reliance on repeating assets. I’m not sure what kind of world existed before the apocalypse took it, but it was apparently one with identical cinderblocks every third step. The changes in environment are welcome as they give a variation of colour to the scenery but the transitions between, for example, a green forest to a charred wasteland isn’t so much a transition as a line down the map.

You’ll spend the first few minutes of the game punching trees, grass and rocks in order to make rudimentary tools and clothing. You literally have to punch them in order to get the materials—a move seen in games like Minecraft, but looks decidedly odd when the game is at least trying to go for a more realistic tone. Once you’re set up with the basics and you no longer have to punch your way through life, gathering gets a lot easier. There is something satisfying about being able to destroy almost everything in the environment. You can either slowly tear down existing ruins or utilise them in your building, although the most effective way to survive is to dig a big hole and create a series of burrows like a huge grubby badger.

The zombies are your standard shambling affair. During the day they are easily avoided, and you can practically walk past them, or run away. They will, however, dig or tear through your defences when night falls, approaching in a great wave to destroy your hard work. Despite having to keep an eye on stamina, health, illnesses, radiation and temperature, your character apparently never needs to sleep.

There’s little you can do at night other than defend. It’s pitch black and using a torch attracts a dangerous number of enemies. Early on in a playthrough I ended up just crouching in some grass for twenty minutes as I couldn’t do anything, and didn’t have a settlement to defend yet. When I did have to face my first zombie it was an underwhelming experience. The combat feels like an early Elder Scrolls game. There's lots of clicking and flailing without ever feeling like you’re making any contact with the thing you are flailing at. 

In singleplayer this routine of gather, build, defend gets repetitive fast.  Creative mode allows you to do this without having to worry about your character’s health or enemies. I was having an okay time going through the fairly hefty menu of potential building items until sunset. At which point it was too dark to gather or build, so I left the game running and went to have a cup of tea while I waited for the sun—a limitation that defeats the point of a boundless creative mode.

Multiplayer seems to be where most of the appeal lies. Anyone can create a server and invite their pals or let strangers join them. There's PvP and PvE, but the latter seems to better fit the survivors vs. zombie apocalypse setting. I can understand the appeal in working with people to build up a fortress, then hunker down and work to defend it when night rolls around. However, if you’re playing online with friends, then most things can be enjoyable. It doesn’t feel enough to just say “you know those people whose company you enjoy? It’s also enjoyable spending time with them while doing this.”

There is nothing wrong with a game being in alpha, it’s a work in progress, and if you feel the developers are actively still crafting it then things like bugs and poor graphics can be forgiven. There is also nothing intrinsically wrong with a game being at this stage for around three years. Building a game like this is time consuming and complicated, especially with a small team. However, what feels off is the fact the developers released a port of a far-from-finished PC game to console before completing the game. Online communities seem to be exasperated with the slow patching. In its current state it is incomplete, and after almost three years of slow progress I wonder when it will graduate to beta, or even a finished game.

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