As DayZ slowly winds its way through alpha, we're finally beginning to see more updates to the early access zombie survival game, with new items and features being regularly added. Mechanics for hunting, fishing, crafting, and cooking mean there are now new ways to thrive and survive in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Chernarus besides simply scrounging around in buildings for canned food or shooting and looting other players.
I thought I'd try surviving by relying exclusively on these new tools. Instead of guns, I'd try to use a crossbow to take down some deer. Instead of peeling open canned tuna I'd try to pluck fish from ponds. No more cold beans: I'd cook my food over a roaring fire or gas-powered stove. A quiet little camping trip: that's all I wanted. Robbery, murder, betrayal, and bad luck: that's what DayZ gave me instead.
Part one: the gear
I could run straight out into the woods and survive simply by picking apples and berries (now available from certain trees and bushes) and by drinking water from ponds, but if I want to hunt, fish, and cook, I'm going to need gear, and quite a bit of it. That means my woodland adventure needs to begin by raiding a few small towns and buildings, and with that comes facing the mild threat of zombies and as well as DayZ's true danger: other players.
I pick a high population server (I don't want this to be too easy) and fresh-spawn near the revised Northeast Airfield, which has been recently transformed from a military installation into a civilian airstrip with a few industrial buildings and a control tower. Luck is with me: it's both empty of players and appears to be un-looted. I make off with some great outdoor gear: a crossbow (though no arrows), a couple of water bottles (which I can refill from ponds and even from falling rain), a portable gas lamp (which needs a gas canister), and an bulky orange mountain backpack to hold it all.
I don't dawdle: despite the changes to the NEAF, it's still a highly-trafficked area and if there aren't players here currently, they're definitely on their way. I head into the trees to the northwest, aiming for the northern road that will lead me all the way across the map. Along the way, I come across something I've never seen before: what appears to be a half-finished gas station in a clearing in the woods. It's weird, but I'm glad I found it, because in the trunk of an abandoned car I find one of the game's more elusive items: a fishing lure.
I reach the north road and run west for a good twenty minutes, looting the series of scattered barns, sheds, and garages as I go. I find a farming hoe and use it to dig up earthworms for bait. In another garage I find a rope, and further on I find an axe. I use the axe to cut down an Ashwood tree, which gives me a pole. I tie the rope to the pole, and I've got an improvised fishing rod (you can also craft a longbow from the same materials), then combine a worm with my lure and attach it to the pole. Bingo! I'm ready to fish.
One small wrinkle: I'm now in the northwest corner of the map, which has a distinct lack of ponds (and a distinct lack of everything else: even the tiny town that used to exist out here has been removed, leaving only a solitary water pump). The only pond I can think of is west of Vybor, south of here. Vybor has grown busier recently: with military weapons becoming more rare and player spawn-points spreading further inland, there's much more foot traffic in Vybor lately than there has been in ages. I'll have to proceed carefully.
I skirt past the bus depot, then crouch nearby, peering down at it, wondering if I should loot it. If I catch a fish I'll need to cook it, and I still have neither matches for a fire nor a portable stove or cooking pot. While I'm watching the depot for activity, I hear a sharp crack from my left and my screen goes black. Someone's shot me, most likely from a cluster of trees north of Lopatino or perhaps even from the same stand of bushes I'm squatting in. Just like that, I'm dead. Everything I've spent the morning collecting is gone.
Part two: the catch
Okay, then! It appears I crouched in the wrong bush while looking in the wrong direction. After a long, deep sigh, I put my deceased character out of my head and respawn in Dubrovka, a small town that would be perfect to loot for starter gear except that it's already been picked clean by other players. I head north toward Krasnostav, thinking I'll raid a few buildings there before heading west to the town of Gvozdno, but due to the sun being hidden by the clouds, I accidentally wind up running east. I realize my mistake only when I come across a sign that informs me, dreadfully, that I'm on the outskirts of a place where fresh-spawns go to die: Berezino.
I carefully raid some of the buildings on Berezino's outskirts, making my way north toward Khelm. Berezino being Berezino, though, I run into other players almost immediately. They're semi-geared, but thankfully friendly, and after a brief conversation they wish me a safe trip and head into town to look for trouble. Less friendly is the zombie who assaults me while I'm picking berries, and my apple-picking is abruptly ended as well when I hear a long gout of gunfire a few blocks away.
Okay. I'm being stupid. I bolt from Berezino, and make it through Khelm safely, filling my pack with odds and ends. Then I get stupid again, pressing my luck by hitting the NEAF for the second time today. This time, I'm not the only one there.
I don't really mind being held up in DayZ. A lot of times, the muggers just want to make sure you're not a threat, or just want to mess with you a bit. I'm not a fan of being handcuffed, however, and I'm also not a fan of the N-word, which one of the bandits uses repeatedly while preparing to cuff me. So, camping be damned: I take out my machete and start running around wildly while hacking at them. I'm eventually shot dead, but I know I got a couple cuts in: as I lie there in the darkness, I hear one player frantically ask the other for a bandage. Bleed, jerk. Bleed all of your stupid blood.
Part three: the bait
This is quite a fishing trip so far, huh? I spawn quite close to Krasno this time, and the impulse to find a gun—any gun—and return to the nearby airfield to put some holes in those two masked dickweeds is almost overpowering. I remind myself: you're here to fish . With great effort, I turn and head west through town, though I do stop at the police station just in case there's a firearm there. There isn't.
I'm stopped a few minutes later by someone else with a gun, though he tells me not to worry, he's not going to hurt me, and we chat for a bit, just long enough for his friend, who I didn't see, to run up behind me and hit me in the back of the head with an axe. Clever girl. Not so clever me.
Part four: the snag
I'm starting to feel like a fish myself, a fish in a very small barrel. I've found myself a Mosin and a long range scope this time out. Though I have no ammo, and I'm not here to shoot anyone, I can at least use the scope as binoculars to scout for trouble ahead. I've been raiding Cernaya Polana, dodging the extremely high population of zombies the town always seems to feature, while listening to the distant booms of Svetlo's constantly exploding gas station. I've also found some nice Gorka camo clothing in the fire station, but no backpack.
I reach the train tracks and begin following them west, keeping an eye on the recently added and heavily trafficked town of Novodmitrovsk as I run. I hear some distant shots, so I peer through my scope, eventually spotting one player running through Novo's streets. It suddenly occurs to me that aiming a rifle at someone is a good way to get shot (though, clearly, not aiming a rifle at someone is also a good way to get shot) so I put it away. Well, I try to put it away.
There's occasionally an issue in DayZ, caused by lag, where player actions are delayed for a few seconds. My character won't put away his gun no matter how insistently I tap the key, so I decide to just run away. Once I've started moving, however, I finally see my guy shoulder his Mosin, though he immediately takes it back out again. Since I'm already running, this causes my character to skate forward as if on ice, and I'm unable to stop him. He slides forward about ten feet, off the edge of a rock, falls about six feet to the ground, and promptly dies. Ah yes, the third threat of DayZ: falling a few short feet. It's often fatal.
Part five: the lure
As if mocking my efforts to fish, the game spawns me north of Svetlojarsk near a small, recently-added fishing village called Dobroe. I loot it, looking longingly at its little pond that would be perfect for fishing, then skirt around Novo to the north, practically off the edge of the map. I'm doing okay: I again have a mountain backpack, a gas canister, and another Mosin (no ammo, though) which I drop when I find another crossbow (still no arrows). I chow down on some apples I find under a tree, I find another hoe to dig up some worms, I find an axe to hack up a new fishing pole with, and I even find a box of 83 matches. I accidentally come down from the hills into the western end of Novo—I keep forgetting just how long this city is—and cautiously raid few outlying buildings.
Outside a store, someone shouts at me to put my hands up. I can just see him inside for a moment before he crouches behind a counter. Then he abruptly pops up, firing three shots at me with a pistol. He misses, somehow, all three times, though my real chest almost explodes from the shock. He then yells at me to leave or he'll kill me (translation: he's out of ammo). When my heart restarts, I head west, spotting another pond near the road that would be perfect for fishing, if only I had the rest of what I needed: at this point, just a rope, and a lure.
Along the north road I find a pickaxe and chisel some stones from a boulder. You can use eight of these stones to improve a campfire, though I only have enough room to carry two. I eventually come upon the long row of garages again, finding all of them closed. I open the first, find some rope, attach it to my pole, and pause to eat some collected apples and drink some water. When I come back out, I notice something alarming: the rest of the garage doors are now open. Someone else is here, looting the same row from the opposite direction. He's now standing in the garage next to the one I've been having lunch in.
I peek my head in, wave, and say hello. He has no microphone, and as horrifying as players with mics can be, the silent ones are infinitely worse. Who the hell knows what's going on in their heads? This fellow is typing, though. "Hello."
I tell him I'm no threat, I don't have a gun, I'm just looking to do a little fishing, and all I'm missing is a lure. He stares at me a moment, then looks down to the ground at his feet. A moment later, a fishing lure appears on the floor in front of him. "here take it," he types.
I edge slowly into the garage where he stands, silent and staring, his Mosin still in his gloved hands. I pick up the lure, thank him profusely (he types "np"), ask if he needs anything ("uhh nah") wish him a safe adventure, and then I back carefully out of the garage. I hold up one hand and lean side-to-side to make it wave. Then I run like hell. There's no shot, there's no trick, there's no catch. He was just a good guy helping out a fellow lone wolf. Thanks, stranger.
Part six: the bite
I'm back where I was earlier, in the northwest, thinking again about that pond down near Vybor. This time, though, I give the bus depot and Lopatino a wide berth to the west, further than most players bother to tread. I spot a deer, though in all this time I haven't found a single arrow for my crossbow, and arrows can't yet be crafted. Chasing deer with an axe doesn't really feel like hunting but I do it for a bit anyway, mostly because I'm stalling.
I need to push east toward that pond outside Vybor, but I'm desperately worried about being shot again. Eventually, I creep in, moving from treeline to treeline, scanning for players. I've still not found binoculars so I can't scout properly, and red chains are appearing on my screen every few minutes (an indication of desync, often caused by proximity to other players).
So, I'm thrilled to stumble across a tiny little pond I didn't know was there, north of Pustoshka, surrounded by trees. I'm still close to Vybor, but not as close as I was planning to get. I edge up to the pond, cast my line, and check the bait. I check the bait again. And again. I check the bait about forty times. Nothing.
I reposition, cast my line again, and check my bait a couple dozen more times. Finally, a notification: "There is some movement near the bait." Then, "Something is cautiously examining the bait." Something besides me, that is. A notification in red: something has bitten the bait! I pull out the line and find I've caught my first fish, a carp. At this point, the little fish is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in DayZ.
As I do on the rare occasions when something good happens to me in DayZ, I run like hell, my heart in my throat. Away from Vybor and Pusto, west into the trees, where I finally stop, take a long look around, and use my axe to chop a tree down. I combine the resulting sticks with a bandage (you can also use paper or rags) to produce a campfire kit, attach a piece of firewood (from the downed tree), and ignite it with my matches. Lighting a fire can be difficult in high winds or rain, but the weather is perfect and it lights on the first try.
Time to cook my catch! I add my stones to the fireplace, and use my machete (a hunting knife or kitchen knife also work) to filet my fish, then drop the filets into the fire.
I wait, a long while, but a nice while, a peaceful while, for my fish to go from raw to cooked. All that's missing is one of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s guitars, though that would make music, which would attract players, who would shoot me in the face or axe me in the head. My fish finally cooks, and I pull them from the fire before they go from cooked to burnt (it doesn't take long for that to happen, same as in real life). Chow time! My fish tastes like victory and fish.
I'd planned to cover hunting today as well, but you see how even a simple fishing trip can go awry in DayZ. Luckily, there's another form of hunting, where you head to the airfield and look for people wearing clown masks. They don't cook up so well, but on the other hand, you don't need a lot of gear to bag one.