A few hundred thousand people are already playing the DayZ alpha, and I’m one of them. I’ve recorded my journey so far, one, remarkably, that hasn’t yet ended in death.
I’m an Asian woman and I have a flashlight. I’d forgotten to customize my character using DayZ’s new tool in the main menu, but whatever: I’m in on DayZ launch night without a hitch. The night is oily, and I load a nine-volt into my flashlight, switch it on, point it forward, and wade forward into the dark.
Same old town
I’m definitely in Elektro, aka Elektrozavodsk, aka ЭЛЕКТРОЗАВОДСК, aka the second-largest city in Chernarus. It’s a famously treacherous place, and I’m seeing four or five bodies in the streets in my first five minutes. This pantless corpse lies inches away, poignantly, from a pair of jeans.
Shoes are my first loot. Their “pristine” condition beats the “ruined” state of my default sneakers, so I swap ‘em.
My first player encounter is terrifying. I’m deciding whether or not a rotten orange is worth putting in my pocket when I hear the unmistakable sound of a melee weapon being swung. I backpedal out of the tight quarters I’m in, and find this guy chasing after me.
I instinctively mutter “Friendly, friendly, I don’t have anything” over voice chat. He slashes the air a few times. We stand in the grass. He says nothing and jogs away. I follow.
Out for blood
Axe guy breaches a fence into a fire station. Immediately, he’s swinging his Paul Bunyan blade at another survivor. Why is he attacking this survivor when he left me alone? “Whoa, dude, he doesn’t have anything,” I call out in chat. His victim is in a yellow windbreaker, jogging around. “sstopw,” brokeasshachi types in over chat. The axe swings until his body crumples.
“I liked his raincoat,” the unnamed axe murderer says in voice chat before trotting off. Yep, this is DayZ all right.
On the upside, I was wrong--brokeasshachi had plenty of gear. I nab some spare batteries, a hammer, a pair of handcuffs, some 7.62 rounds, and, maybe most usefully, a compass.
I find this mute survivor crouched in an alley, crouched impishly. I ask where she’s going, and where she got the mask, but I don’t get a word back. We walk a bit, drink from a water pump in a yard, and never see each other again. DayZ is so often a game where you’re just looking for any form of comfort you can get--food, clean water, ammo, a hat. Sometimes that takes the form of a creepy-masked stranger who’s just willing to walk with you.
Still not dead, somehow
The unexpected kindness of strangers continues. I finally meet a friendly, talkative survivor who introduces himself as TJ. He’s better-geared than I am, doubly so when he finds a pistol on the top of a fire station. I ask him to pose with it. He fires off a round, giggling at both his and my first discovery of a firearm in DayZ.
We scour a church for stuff, and make another mutual first discovery: paper. TJ had already found a pen in a house earlier, so he type-writes some text onto the page and leaves it in the church. “Hey world! Welcome to the DayZ Standalone! At long last! :)” He asks if I can read it, which I can. “That’s so cool.”
We loot some more, share handfuls of “Crunchin’ Crisps” cereal directly out of the box, and wander until a zombie corners us. TJ deals with it.
TJ and I don’t get a chance to say our goodbyes--the server crashes. I log off for the night, but sign on in the morning, and return to the firehouse roof to find a pistol of my own. I feel immediately more secure, capable. I’ve only got one magazine of ammo; every bullet sits invisibly in the handle like gold.
Got red on you
Unfortunately, I get a little too stingy about rationing those rounds when a zombie attacks. Melee is still tricky in DayZ, at least with the short-handled hammer I have equipped, and I ultimately have to spend a bullet to headshot a zed. Not before I’m bloodied. The color drains out of my screen, and I rush to bandage myself with cloth from a ripped shirt. Stupid.
Still, I’m on the road. And the sun feels wonderful--no more careful, deliberate creeping in the dark with my flashlight occupying my hands. I decide to head west, hoping to reach Balota airfield to loot at least one piece of proper military gear.
I jog for a good ten minutes, and I’m surprised when I see a dozen twelve-story apartment buildings walling up the east side of Chernogorsk, Chernarus’ capital city. Phew. These are new. I’ve seen them demoed on livestreams by the DayZ dev team, and I know that they’re spiraling towers filled with enterable rooms and nooks.
Putting the world back together
My biggest find inside is a map. Well, a map fragment--DayZ standalone seems to split them into pieces that I assume I’ll be able to put back together. I love the scenarios that this could put a group of survivors in: there’s an advantage to combining map scraps into a singular, complete atlas, but that also designates that person as a navigator until the group completes more maps.
Knee-deep in the dead
I’m only at the edge of Chernogorsk, and it’s already full of surprises. I’m caught off guard when three zombies catch up to me outside another apartment building that’s connected to a shop. DayZ’s modified undead are less sensitive in terms of detection, but they simultaneously seem to be lurking in unexpected places, and they’re quieter on approach. I have a sense of what’s awaiting me in Cherno’s biggest city, but it’ll have to wait until the weekend. For now, I’m glad to have put hours into DayZ without being killed or threatened by another player--it’s a comforting sign that the game’s shoot-on-sight mentality may have eroded a little, at least at the outset of release.