I’ll admit it: I have a problem. Like many gamers, I have found myself swept up in the roiling, can’t-be-stopped trend of survival games that have taken gaming by force in the last several years. Minecraft can likely be credited as the progenitor of this genre, and droves of craft-alikes have popped up, hoping to secure their own success within the chaotic (and some might say crowded) shadow of Notch’s juggernaut. From Ark: Survival Evolved to Savage Lands, from Stranded Deep to the blockbuster Fallout 4, survival gameplay, replete with resource management and base building, has invaded gaming as a whole and shows no sign of slowing down.
Alright, enough chatter about the genre. Let’s explore an up-and-coming title to scratch that post-apoc survival itch. 7 Days to Die is the product of The Fun Pimps, and casts players as lucky (or unlucky) survivors in a post nuclear war world where the dead have risen to feast on the living. Players are dropped into the world in their underpants, with a jar of water, a can of chili, a bandage, a torch, and their wits. It is up to you to gather what you need from the destroyed and dangerous world around you in order to survive.
Like Minecraft before it, 7DtD‘s first several minutes are nigh-identical: check out your surroundings, lament how badly this instance is going to suck for you, and immediately begin picking up anything that isn’t tied down, in the hopes that it will be useful to you in some way. This inevitably leads to another hallmark of the genre: punching stuff. Your first tool, a stone axe, requires plant fiber, wood, and small stones for construction. While most of these materials will be easy located in your starting area, you are left with only one way to harvest them initially: punch grass, rocks, and trees until they give you their lunchmoney….er, valuable crafting mats.
So, you’ve made the rounds in your starting area, shaking down the local landscape like the schoolyard bully you might be. You’ve built an axe. Now what? It’s time to secure shelter. Solid walls and a roof are nigh-critical in 7DTD, as the local fauna gets quite grumpy after 2200/10pm each night. The world is populated with a (large) number of zombies, many of whom will absolutely destroy you in a straight up fight. While the game gives you a mild grace period when you first spawn, this non-Zed area is tied to a time limit and the area you start in, and will quickly crumble away when either limit is reached. While you may be able to smartly apply focused violence and win some fights in the daylight (hopefully by crafting a bow and arrow set, or a club at a minimum), you are much less likely to survive these encounters once the sun sets. Lack of light emboldens the normally shambling terrors, heightening their senses and allowing them to strap on their running shoes (much to your detriment).
Thus, your adventure begins. While there is a chance that you may spawn near enough to suitable habitation, this is by no means a given. While Alpha 13 added (mostly) deserted “starter cabins”, the vast majority of the world’s pre-existing shelters will already have occupants. Dead ones. You’ll need to beat feet in a direction of your choosing, looking for a place to hole up, salvaging what you can along the way. Scattered along whatever path you take will be trees and rocks (keep punching and chopping!), along with bundles of discarded trash, backpacks, crates, and other detritus from the world before. You will find these things in both the wilderness and towns/cities, and should make every effort to check their contents as you go about your day. You’ll find clothing, gun parts, tools, and a multitude of other items for use later on. Standing structures offer a bit of a risk/reward aspect; they are particularly good places to search, as they often have many more places to look, but are usually hotspots for Zed activity.
So, you’ve got the basic gist of things. Collect stuff, make stuff, re-dead the dead. Sounds pretty simple right? Well… it gets a bit more wrinkled. You’ll need to eat and drink. While you start with some nosh to tide you over initially, these supplies will likely be gone within your first night. Failing to stay fed and hydrated will result in the rapid loss of endurance (used to “whack” all the things) and eventually will result in death. Finding good food and water is its own sort of resource/time management mini-game. Most of the water that is readily available is murky, and comes with a side of dysentery, should you elect to quaff it prior to taking recommended precautions (such as boiling it). Food has some of the same issues. You can certainly consume the flesh of that rabbit or elk you brought down, but doing so without a cooking fire is ill-advised.
You’ve found a can of chili, built a bow and arrows from scrap, commandeered a pair of pants, and are now boiling water you recovered from the toilet in the house you just cleared out. Could life get any better? Well, maybe. A larger issue has yet to rear it’s head: surviving night time and the horde. As stated above, night time significantly heightens the combat ability of your casual Zed. A shambling walker that you can simply kite whilst force-feeding arrows during the day, will turn in to a Usain Bolt-esque super-cannibal once the sun dips below the horizon. A singular walker is now a match for any but the most well-armed and equipped survivor, marking night time as a time better spent in hiding than out salvaging. You’ll likely spend numerous nights huddled in the attics of abandoned houses, or crowding around a fire on the roof of a large building, listening to the ominous snarls and howls below as the dead attempt to sniff you out.
The night mechanics and weekly hordes mark where 7DTD begins to depart strongly from other entries in the survival genre. Not only must you take care of yourself and search for resources, but you must fortify a place to be during nights and 7 day hordes. I bet you were wondering what the name implied about the game, eh? Every 7 days, the night will contain a bloodmoon, which brings the undead out in droves. Not only are the regular shamblers you see all the time present, but also undead dogs, grotesque vomit-spewing tanks, wall climbing spider-zed, feral ghouls, and screamers that look like the girl from The Ring and summon even more of the formerly living. This cast of characters can be counted upon to seek you out for dinner at your house weekly, and there is very little you can do to avoid their company. This will have you finding interesting ways to defend your homestead, making use of altitude, traps (pits, spikes, even mines), and fortified positions to survive another day. This mechanism gives 7DTD a tower-defense feel, and often forces players to cooperate on days 7, 14, 21 and so on, for mutual survival. Many nights will be spent crafting and discussing defenses in preparation for these sieges. Necessity is the mother of invention, and many clever ideas have found their origins in these late-night brainstorming sessions.
Thankfully, you have a full kit of tools and build-ables at your disposal to aid in your defense. Construction of buildings is block-based, with harder materials available for use as your tools improve. You can build shelter from scratch, or reinforce an existing structure that suits your needs. Build walls. Dig a hole and create a bunker. Or perhaps an eye-in-the-sky tower is more your speed. All are possible.
7DTD is currently in alpha. The dev team is small, but have pulled together a pretty stellar experience, assuming that you remember this is an alpha. Version 13, a much anticipated upgrade chock full of features (including upgraded character and enemy models, a new resource harvesting system, and temperature system) went live earlier this month. While the update has placed a burr in the butts of a large number of players, I’ll say this: with 160 hours of playtime in, I can safely say that this game has gotten better with each update. Are some things broken? Sure, it’s an alpha. The game is very playable, and The Fun Pimps have been extremely active in the weeks following the A13 release, dropping patches on the daily to stabilize the environment and address player concerns. Don’t let the saltiness of the game’s message boards on Steam and Reddit fool you. The Fun Pimps are doing a bang-up job with updates and support.
In closing, if you are looking for a great post-apoc game, or a game a few degrees off of Minecraft, I strongly urge you to consider 7DTD. As always, while it can be played solo, this is a game that absolutely shines when you play with a pack or your mates. Many hands make for light work and a great time. So, c’mon, craft some plant fiber pants, grab your crossbow, and get to surviving!