Rust and DayZ: Two online worlds where almost anything goes and nobody can be trusted
For a Christmas season that saw the release of two new consoles, last October to November’s release line-up seemed remarkably lacklustre. With the possible exceptions of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Battlefield 4, most of the major AAA releases arrived without much fanfare and quite a few reviewed far worse than anybody really would have expected.
It’s probably no surprise then that many PC gamers chose to look elsewhere over the Festivus holiday and Steam’s sales chart suggests that indie was clearly the flavour of the season. Still holding on to the number one and number two slots, DayZ and Rust seem to be dominating everything else. They’re all over forums, they’ve swarmed YouTube and Reddit and have so far amassed nearly 1.5 million sales between them.
Rust and DayZ are two games that share a lot of in common but the most notable factor that that neither one is actually finished. Both have been released under Steam’s Early Access program that allows independent studios to market their game in alpha state or above. The only condition being that it’s made clear at the point of purchase.
But what are they?
What follows is a brief introduction to both since I’ve spent quite a lot of time with them over the last few weeks. Both have their unique points but on a basic level they each attempt to recreate a world where the only real aim is survival.
That might not sound like much but in a time when we’ve all become used to taking on the form of a near-invincible super soldier or brotastic squadron leader from a far off arse-end of the galaxy, it’s actually quite a shock to the system to feel genuinely vulnerable. If there is one emotion that both of these games know how to invoke then it is just that, pure and absolute vulnerability.
The title of this one is likely to be familiar to anybody who even casually follows PC gaming. What started as an Arma 2 mod roughly two years ago has since become probably the biggest franchises in history for Czech studio Bohemia Interactive.
Recently re-released on Steam in standalone form using a specially dedicated engine, DayZ is the closest thing that you are likely going to find to a real Walking Dead game. It’s set in the near-future fictional Eastern European outpost of Chernarus after a viral outbreak has wiped out the majority of the population and reduced them to ravaging zombies.
Players take control one of the few human survivors left uninfected and the only goal is to carry on living for longer than everyone else.
If that sounds like an easy task then trust me, it isn’t. Game servers vary in what supplies and equipment new spawns receive but anything beyond that will need to be found, made or pillaged in a world where supplies are scarce and friends are even harder to come by.
Players who fail to find clean liquids or food will soon succumb to severe thirst or starvation. Weapons and bullets are extremely difficult to find and injuries can only be fully cured with supplies from a city hospital that coincidentally just happens to be filled with bandits who are out to kill you and take what little you have. Death is permanent and a bullet to the head means starting from scratch so don’t expect many strangers to trust you, in fact most will usually just shoot strangers on sight.
Needless to say that other human players quickly become far more terrifying than zombies ever could be and the standalone version has built on this by allowing players to brutalise one another in ways far greater than the ageing and rustic Arma 2 engine allowed.
Robbing and handcuffing captives before leaving them for a zombie hoard isn’t uncommon as is force feeding other players with disinfectant and rotting food that results a slow and agonising death.
DayZ is currently in Alpha and comes with several warnings regarding potential crashes, bugs and random loss of progress. A public beta build isn’t expected until at least the end of 2014 but that still hasn’t stopped over 1 million players from hitting the Steam purchase button so far.
The argument that DayZ could be a valid psychological tool that allows us to see into the human condition is definitely debatable but if Bohemia keep development on track then this could just be the most interesting MMO title in years.
We all come into this world naked and a defenseless but imagine a universe where instead of being born as a small and supple baby, you’re instead born as a fully grown stark bollock-naked adult male. And instead of arriving in the comfort of a hospital or home-birthing pool, you arrive outdoors in a random and hostile terrain armed only with a rock and a wooden torch.
Rust can be described as Minecraft meets DayZ. It’s like the TV show Lost, only most characters are naked and almost everyone is a homicidal psychopath.
From the creator’s of the hugely popular Garry’s Mod, Rust has been created with a far more structured experience in mind. The exact location of the small island on which the game takes place as well as the reason behind the game’s events remain as yet unexplained however the lead developer has promised fans that this will all be made clearer in the future.
The presence of zombies and harmful radiation in some areas does indicate some sort of post-apocalyptic story but the rest of the map seems eerily undisturbed.
As with DayZ, the goal of Rust is to survive but the the conditions and penalties make for a far more difficult and occasionally downright infuriating experience. New spawns are always naked from the waist up and by default will be wearing only a pair of tattered pants although these are a texture added for cosmetic censorship reasons only. Purists or those who like a bit of virtual semi-floppage need only to enter a console command to see all new other characters in the flesh.
Survival is made even harder by the fact that characters are extremely sensitive to the weather as well as hunger and food, clothing and shelter generally need to be crafted from the natural resources in the environment. Kill a pig to provide food and and material for clothing. Mine a tree with a rock to form wood and then build yourself a shack or a camp fire.
Or you can of course kill another player and take everything from them but that relies on them not seeing you first.
It is the bandit element among the current online community that provides Rust’s biggest weakness at the moment. Unlike in DayZ, Rust characters are synchronised across servers so any weapons or armor added to a character on one server will automatically be carried with them wherever they go. Coupled with the small map size, this makes usually surviving for any reasonable length of time difficult, especially for new and solo players, whilst griefing is comparatively easy once a player has acquired a decent gun.
The more hardcore Rust servers maintain players in a sleeping state when they are offline so even if you log off in the relative comfort of your own shed then there’s every chance that another player will have smashed down the door and robbed and killed you by the next time you restart the game.
Developers Facepunch Studios are quick to point out that the game is still definitely a work in progress at the moment though and many changes will have been made by the time the project reaches public beta. Factions are already starting to emerge within the community and a lot of servers have contain fortified camps that are looking to recruit and help out new members.
Enjoyment can definitely be had from Rust, even in it’s current early state however if you’re the sort of player who will get angry over being killed on sight for no reason or can’t enjoy repetitively mining wood for half an hour before having your face ripped off by a bear then it might not be for you.
Both have their good and bad points at the moment. The standalone version of DayZ is extremely buggy to the point that many who have bought it (including me) have since gone back to playing the older Arma 2 mod version. The recent Bohemia Interactive indie bundle breathed a lot of new life into DayZ Mod and you’re not going to struggle to find a decent game of it online at any point in the near future.
Neither game is particularly friendly towards new players. There are no in-game tutorials and any new random person that you meet in-game is more likely to take you down immediately than offer to show you the ropes.
The culture of these worlds are based on a lack of trust and if people don’t know you then they usually won’t trust you. To some degree, killing new players in Rust is frowned upon since they are unlikely to have anything of value but in DayZ it’s usually far more beneficial, so don’t take anything personally. DayZ’s inclusion of a in-game waypoint supported map definitely helps as well but both games are better played with a few mates or alongside experienced players who don’t mind tutoring a newbie. If you do really want to play the lone soldier then general advice is to practice on low population servers and then work your way up from there.
In many ways, Rust and DayZ join the likes of Minecraft in proving that the market for user-generated experiences and communities may never have been stronger. Whilst AAA narrative-driven blockbusters are still safe for now, there are clearly many players out there who want nothing more than to be given just a massive blank canvas that they can either mould or destroy as they see fit.
In many ways these two games are the perfect MMO’s for people who don’t like MMO’s, bridging the gap between fans of Battlefield and Call of Duty and more traditional online time-sinks like World of Warcraft and EVE. It’s still really early days for both DayZ and Rust but I can’t wait to see where they go from here and no doubt we will be seeing a lot more of them in the future.