You wake up on the shore of a mysterious land with nothing but the clothes on your back and a flashlight. You have no idea what to do, no objectives, and there isn't another soul in sight. No, this isn't a bad dream; you finally decided to buy DayZ.
Playing DayZ is a unique experience, but it can also be confusing and can be frustrating if you're not sure what to do. It would be impossible to go over every strategy, item, weapon, and location in the game without forcing you to read a novel-length walkthrough, but here are some basics that will get you started.
Welcome to Chernarus. When you first spawn into the game, you'll be placed on a nondescript shoreline somewhere along the southern or eastern edge of the map. The play field is massive and you'll learn its general layout over time, but in all likelihood you'll never memorize the entire thing. That's because from edge-to-edge the map is nearly 150 square miles.
You'll have nothing but a flashlight and the shirt on your back to start with, and before long, a small prompt will pop up in the bottom left corner of the screen to tell you that you are feeling thirsty. These small bits of internal monologue are your key to knowing the status of your character. If you get injured, you'll not only see blood come off of your character but you'll also see one of these prompts pop up explaining that you can feel blood dripping.
If you don't attend to your needs, they'll progressively get more dire until they begin affecting your ability to play the game. Thirst and hunger will slowly eat away at your unseen health bar until you start to pass out from exhaustion and eventually die. Likewise, eating too much or drinking too fast will make you sick. Push it too far and you'll vomit, which drains your body of precious energy and water. It's a delicate balance, but you should get a feel for it after a few hours.
Your first order of business is to find a building -- any building -- and begin to search for items. Nearly every building in the game is enterable. The specific items you find within each building are determined randomly, but each type of building will spawn a certain class of loot.
In homes and residential areas you'll find food, clothing, and basic backpacks. Military structures such as air traffic control towers and soldier barracks produce firearms like assault rifles and pistols along with military gear like helmets, camo clothing, and larger backpacks. Hospitals carry medical supplies like bandages to stop bleeding and blood transfusion kits to bring your health up. In short, every building you see likely has something you'll need either immediately or in the future.
Once you find your first can of soda or water bottle, it's a good time to begin familiarizing yourself with your inventory, which is based on a grid system with each item takes up a specific amount of space. Item usage is very realistic, meaning that when you find a handful of pistol rounds you'll need to go into your inventory and physically drag them from your jacket or backpack into the gun itself.
You'll quickly learn that if something doesn't seem to be happening automatically -- like eating a can of beans when you click on it -- it's because you're skipping a step. In the case of a food can, you need to open it first, either with a can opener or other sharp implement like a saw or even an axe.
Your character will have a hard time staying alive even when no danger is present, but you also have the undead to worry about. Zombies populate cites and towns and will attack you based on sight and sound. Sometimes you can sneak right behind a zombie without being seen while other times it can seem like they spot you from a mile away. Regardless of how you attract them, they need to be neutralized.
If you're near buildings -- and are confident enough in navigating them without getting stuck down a dead-end hallway -- you can attempt to lose zombies by weaving in an out of structures. If this doesn't work, or if you're in an open area with nowhere to hide, it's time to put those walkers down.
As you've learned from a hundred games and movies in the past, headshots with a pistol or rifle are the way to go, and the same strategy is true for melee weapons like axes or baseball bats. If you're truly desperate, you can attempt to take them on with just your fists, but if you're fighting more than one at a time you're probably going to end up taking a good bit of damage. This should only be done if you have absolutely no other options.
You're not alone in Chernarus, and you're likely going to run into plenty of players who are a lot more experienced -- and geared -- than you are. You can talk to them, explaining that you're friendly and not a threat to them, but not everyone is going to believe you. Many of your encounters are going to end in bloodshed, but some will end with you gaining an ally.
There are pure bandits who want nothing more than to kill everyone they see, there are defensive players who will only attack in retaliation, and then there are the pure souls who will avoid killing another player at all costs, unless they are endangering the life of an innocent survivor. It's up to you to decide which type of player you're going to be.
If you decide another player needs to be put down, remember that every item in the game has a quality value attached to it. From "pristine" to "ruined," an item's quality will oftentimes affect its usefulness. Riddling an enemy with an assault rifle will destroy almost everything they carry, but a single well-placed headshot will preserve the lootable items.
Where To Go
Once you have a bit of food and basic gear it's up to you whether you want to sustain yourself in cities along the coast or head further inland. The further inland you go the fewer other players you'll find, but the chance of running into highly-skilled bandits also goes up sharply. The DayZDB online map is a great navigation tool for finding military areas and other points of interest.
If you're looking for low-level PVP or friendly players to team up with, the coastal cities of Chernogorsk and Elektrozavodsk are your best bets. Cities and towns in the center of the map offer good loot with a minimal chance of conflict, and the airfields in the northwest and northeast are where fully-geared players often go to face off in long-range sniper battles and group battles. It's not unusual to find crews of four or more decked-out bandits ruling over these areas and killing everyone they see. Proceed with caution.
One of the best things about DayZ is that while there's never a game-given objective, there's always going to be something you either need or want. Whether it's food, a deadly weapon, a bigger backpack, medical supplies, or a specific item of clothing, you'll never check every item off of your to-do list. By the time you get even halfway to whatever personal goals you've set, you'll likely meet your untimely end.
Coping With Death
Whether you died at the hands of a ruthless bandit, got cornered by a half dozen zombies, or fell off the roof of a building by accident, your first death is just one of many you'll experience in DayZ. Your death is a complete reset of your character: No weapons, gear, or other progress is carried over from one life to the next, putting you squarely back at square one.
There is no in-game experience meter, but you'll find that your own adventures make you wiser and more efficient from one life to the next. Your first life will probably last an hour at the most, while subsequent lives will typically last longer. Eventually your lives will last days or even weeks, making the eventual end of your character's story a heartbreaking experience.
A Few Last Tips
DayZ's tagline is "This is your story," and true to that formula, making the game fun is indeed entirely in your hands. You should now have a decent handle on how the game works, so here is a handful of last-second life saving tips to take with you on your journey:
Bleeding out and can't find a proper bandage? Your shirt can be removed and torn into rags that can also stop bleeding. Taking shirts off of dead players is the best way to stock up.
Along with the internal monologue prompts, your screen color is also an indication of how healthy you are. A colorful, vibrant display means full health, and it will steadily lose color the longer you remain unhealthy.
You can draw blood from another player and have a teammate apply it to you to regain health. Blood types work just like in real life, so get a blood type test kit to make sure you're compatible.
If you find yourself handcuffed by another player, shake your character from side to side while pressing the "lean" buttons to eventually break free.
Motorcycle helmets can (as of the current version of the game) prevent you from being knocked out by a one-hit punch.
The ability to force-feed other players means that someone with a bottle of chemicals or a rotten food item can run up and feed it to you with no warning, effectively poisoning you. Never let a shady player get close to you, especially if they have something in their hand.
Oh, and the most important DayZ survival tip of them all: Trust no one.
You can find all of our 'Stiq Tips guides here.