I played a large amount of 7 Days To Die this weekend. I finally discovered some things to make the game more enjoyable beyond the 7th day.
I bought 7DTD way back in February 2015 for $25. That must have been before my $10 rule or a random exception, because I don’t think I’d heard about the game beforehand. I didn’t play it very much in 2015 because it was still early, but it was fun, and I liked what they were doing with it. It’s been on my desktop pretty much all the time since then.
It’s now February 2017 and for some reason the game is still Early Access, though it now seems very complete. The models and animation still aren’t that great, and some of the sound effects make me cringe (the fire axe hitting a tree, for example, sounds roughly like a metal pipe hitting my ATA-approved plastic Stratocaster hardshell case), but it’s got rock solid survival gameplay.
The basic idea is very similar to other survival games: You’re stranded in the wilderness and you need to eat and drink and build shelter to survive the elements. You can play on a fixed map or a randomly-generated map. It’s kind of a voxel-based system like Landmark, but not quite as advanced. In 7DTD your main threat is a zombie horde, dysentery, and the occasional angry bear.
Sounds boring right? Well there’s some mechanics that make it really interesting (to me, at least). With the default settings, the zombies are fairly docile during the day, but at night, they get really aggressive and run after you. And when I say run, I mean you won’t be escaping from them at night, so prepare to fight or die. (You’ll probably die, because it’s really dark at night and you can barely see them.) What that means in game terms is that you typically spend your days scavenging and your nights hiding.
The number of zombies wandering around goes up the longer you survive, so where at first you might run into one zombie here or there, later on you’ll encounter herds of zombies wandering the fields. During the day you can avoid them (unless they wander in the direction of your base), but if you hit a herd at night, well, you’re probably going to die. (The moral of the story here is don’t go out at night.)
Finally there is the “every 7th Day” mechanic. When night falls on every 7th day (22:00 on the default settings), the sky turns red and a wave of crazed zombies spawn nearby and attack. It doesn’t matter where you are or how well you’re hiding, they will lock on and sprint straight to you, breaking down any doors or walls in the way. If your base isn’t strong enough to slow them down, you’re probably going to die, to say nothing of the havoc they will wreak on your base. And each 7th day wave gets progressively stronger. (I assume. I’ve only witnessed two waves so far.)
The 7th Day Zombies* are what usually kills me whenever I play the game. I get to the 7th day, get murdered, and start again, trying to find a better place to build a base.
Over the past two years, I normally play 7 Days to Die for a few hours over a few days and then give it up for something else. I never disliked it, mind you, I just couldn’t find that extra little bit that made it hard to stop playing. And, you know, I kept getting murdered every 7th day.
But a couple of things happened this weekend that really ramped up the addictiveness of the game for me: 1) I learned that you can stick torches on walls, and 2) I learned how to craft and use a Forge.
When it gets dark in 7DTD, it gets really dark. You can’t see much of anything unless you’re holding a torch. Unfortunately you can only hold one thing at a time, which means if you’re holding a torch, you can’t do anything (except craft items from your inventory). You can’t hold a torch and fight at the same time, for example, so any night-time combat for me was literally shooting in the dark, with mixed results. Due to the lack of visibility, most of the time during darkness I just sat in my inner base sanctum crouched down waiting for dawn, alt-tabbing to some other program. (By default the days are 50 minutes long so the night time lasts about 15 minutes of real time.) That part of the game was pretty boring for me.
Then at some point I discovered by accident that if you right click on a wall while you’re holding a torch, it sticks the torch to the wall. This was a revelation. Suddenly I could fight in the dark! I could move around and build things inside my base! I was no longer a prisoner of the darkness that falls every night.
(There’s a gamma setting, too, but I feel like that would be “cheating.”)
Of course you only get one torch to start. If you’re unlucky enough to die and lose your initial torch, you won’t even have that one. It’s easy enough to get the ingredients to make more torches, except for one thing: You have to melt animal fat down into tallow, which as far as I know, can only be done with a cooking pot over a campfire.
You could get lucky and find a cooking pot somewhere, which I did once. Talk about a fantastic loot drop. No magic sword drop has ever equaled the thrill of searching a garbage pile to find a cooking pot in 7 Days To Die.
But say you can’t find one. No problem! Just craft a cooking pot, right? Welllllll. See, you have to make this thing called a Forge (or a Furnace, depending on the menu), which lets you smelt iron ore into shapes like cooking pots.
This weekend was the first time I’ve ever been able to make a Forge, and it opens up a whole new world in the game. Once you have a Forge you can make all kinds of useful stuff. Cooking pots? Yep. Barbed-wire fences? Yep. Iron tools? Yep. Bottles to hold water? Yep. After you make a Cooking Pot you can finally boil all that murky water and make it safe to drink! You can make Golden Rod tea to cure dysentery!
Sadly Forges aren’t that easy to make. You need stone, clay, a bellows, and an iron pipe. Getting the stone is easy: Just break up rocks. Getting the clay is also easy, once you figure out where to dig it up with a shovel. (Areas of clay are shown by grayish color blobs on the map.) The bellows and iron pipe are somewhat more problematic.
The bellows is made of animal hide and another iron pipe. To get the animal hide you have to kill a bunch of deer or pigs. Bears too, I assume, but I’ve never tried to kill one. Hunting animals is not very easy since they tend to run away from you, so it can take a while to collect all the hides. There is also the minor issue that every time you chop up an animal and carry around its raw meat, every zombie in the area is attracted to the smell. (That’s another neat mechanic in the game. Do you risk carrying the meat or leave it behind and risk starvation?)
Assuming you’ve collected the animal hides, the only thing left is a couple of iron pipes. How do you make those? Well, you can’t! Oh, you can make them in a Forge, but you don’t have one of those yet, do you? So you have to run all over the map scavenging every garbage pile, car, and shopping cart to find two iron pipes. One for the bellows, and one for the Forge.
It doesn’t take as long as it sounds, and it’s kind of fun to explore around the map. Iron pipes are fairly common items to find in debris (well, not uncommon at least), however I haven’t yet been able to make a Forge before Day 7.
Once you’ve built a Forge and outfitted your campfire with a Cooking Pot and a Grill and whatnot, you can’t help but get attached to your base. You find that it would be kind of a bummer if a zombie horde stomped through and destroyed everything. So a large percentage of my playing time this weekend was spent building walls around my base in an effort to keep zombies out.
Day 14 And Beyond
In my latest game, which, as I write this, is on Day 18, I was lucky enough to spawn in an area with a lot of cacti. (The humble cactus is a life-saver in 7DTD because you can harvest them for yuccas, which you can both eat and make into juice, thus giving you eternal dysentery-free life.) I found a nice steel warehouse close to a lake and setup shop there. I built walls around the warehouse using scores of upgraded “wooden frames.” I built a sort of “gatehouse” at the entrance with an outer door and an inner door, using classic castle-building strategies. It’s not very pretty, but I’m more of a function-over-form kind of builder in games.
When Day 7 arrived, the zombies came and punched a big hole through my gatehouse with ease. I don’t remember exactly, but I think I fell off a wall and broke my leg. I died a bunch of times and I’m pretty sure I lost my backpack, but at least my base supplies (in chests) survived the night intact, so that was a win. I had to rethink my gatehouse though.
After that I was able to make a Forge, light my base with torches, and reinforce some areas with iron. In preparation for Day 14, I setup a new gatehouse with a bunch of obstacles to slow down the zombies, but not necessarily stop them. The theory was that I would be able to shoot at the zombies while they were breaking down each obstacle. I also surrounded my “castle” with spike traps.
When Day 14 arrived, my system of obstacles didn’t work very well and the zombies got in again pretty easily, albeit slightly slower. They managed to climb up on the walls where I was standing and I died again. My backpack dropped on the ground outside the walls, and I spawned nearby. I sprinted as fast as I could away from my base, and all the zombies followed, eventually catching and killing me again. I spawned back inside my base, where the only remaining threat was a single zombie dog. I spent the rest of the night standing on a catwalk while the dog barked at me from directly below. For some reason I still don’t quite understand, the other zombies never came back. Next morning, I managed to lead the zombie dog to some spikes where it killed itself, then I was able to retrieve my pack and start repairs on my wrecked gatehouse. This time a lot of them dug under the blocks.
One thing I’ve learned from 7DTD is that it’s not that big of a deal to get yourself killed. As long as you have a sleeping bag that you can spawn on or near (that was something I didn’t know until they added quests into the game last year :), you’ll be able to get back to where you belong, even if you have to shiver outside your base, hiding in the cold until dawn. (The map in 7DTD is enormous, so God help you if you have to run back from a random spawn location. Before I knew about the sleeping bag, I just started fresh in the new location.)
The thing you have to worry about is the zombies destroying your chests full of supplies. If a zombie destroys a chest, all the stuff in it seems to vanish. That happened to me in a previous game when I was in a small base. It was pretty disheartening because I lost a working chainsaw, which is an uber-powerful weapon against zombies in 7DTD.
Ever since then I’ve put all my major supply chests up on platforms where hopefully the zombies will never go, even if I get killed. I set up the platform so I have to jump across a gap to get to them, which seems to be difficult for the zombie AI to navigate. (I don’t know what happens if the zombies destroy all the supports underneath a platform, but 7DTD doesn’t have very realistic physics when it comes to structures, so I suspect it would just float up there in mid-air. I should try that to make sure.)
Eventually I think I’m going to have to move my base, because I’m running out of nearby trees to cut down. I think I might try to take over one of those brick or metal buildings in a nearby city. That might be a disaster though, since cities are usually where you find the most zombies.
To wrap up this enormous post, here are some things I would love to see in 7DTD:
- Better inventory and sorting options. I can’t stand plain old drag-and-drop inventory grid systems anymore. I hate moving my mouse all the way across my mousepad just to move something from my inventory into a chest. It takes a fraction of a millisecond to make the move in my head, but my physical hand is always lagging so far behind. I hate moving inventory icons around to categorize things by hand, because computers were made for this very purpose! 7DTD has a sort button but I have no idea how it’s sorting things and it doesn’t make much sense to me. And why can’t I double-click things to move them from one box to another like every other game? Why must I shift-click them? Missing UI quality-of-life improvements drive me crazy because they add such a huge value to the user experience. Why must we take time away from our immersion to wrestle with the UI?? The goal is to be so seamless that it feels transparent.
I wish there was an option to display your status levels permanently, instead of only showing them when they get low. You have no idea where you stand when the hunger and thirst values are between 51% and 100%.
I’m not sure it’s doing this, but if it is, I wish it wouldn’t: It seems like your aim is affected by your Archery skill, as if it adds a little bit of randomization to the trajectory of your arrows based on your skill level. So many times I’m sure I should have nailed a pig dead center but the arrow hits above or beside it. (Weirdly, not scaring the pig.)
I wish there was a third-person view. First-person melee combat never feels right to me. (Then again, it would expose how mediocre the player models are, so maybe that’s not a good idea.)
I wish there were better tool animations and sound effects. It seems like a lot of things were pulled from generic Unity asset libraries.
I wish you could boil water inside those glass containers! It makes no sense that you can’t boil water in a glass jar without a cooking pot. Also for some reason you can’t stack cans of boiled water. I assume that’s a bug.
I wish you could scrap Sham Sandwiches to get Moldy Bread to make antibiotics. I find heaps of Sham Sandwiches but I hardly ever find Moldy Bread.
I’m not sure there’s enough of a death penalty. It doesn’t seem to hurt that much if the 7th Day Zombies* overrun your base and tear you to bits. Your pack will remain there until the next day when you can waltz back in and retrieve it at your leisure. (I now put most of my inventory into chests prior to the 7th day invasion, so I won’t drop much.) There’s little incentive to build a zombie-proof base. I feel like maybe the zombies should go after high-value targets inside your base after you’re dead, like the forge and the chests, so you have a much greater incentive to build a secure base. (Maybe it gets worse after the 14th day, I don’t know.)
Now that I think about, I’m going to try this on Day 21: Store everything in my inventory, take off all my clothes, and go stand way out in the middle of the wilderness somewhere far away from my base when 22:00 of the 7th day rolls around. The zombies should attack me repeatedly and ignore my base, right? I’ll let you know if it works.
- A way to toggle off the UI feature would be nice for screenshots.
I wish it was easier to setup a private LAN server. I haven’t been able to get one working yet. I just play local “single-player” games. It’s probably just as well, since I assume time would keep passing while I’m not logged into the server, and that would be pretty bad in 7DTD.
* I don’t know what to call the red-sky zombies that spawn at the end of every 7th day, so I call them “7th Day Zombies” which is not in any way meant as a slight against Seventh Day Adventists, which I had never heard of until I drove past one of their churches every day to go to work for a few years, always wondering what they were, until the year 2017 when I unconsciously used the same word pattern to describe zombies in a game.