Monday, July 11, 2016

7 Days to Die (Xbox One) Review

7 Days to Die has made its way to the Xbox One and PS4, and is a first person perspective game that combines survival horror with crafting.  I imagine it as a cross between State of Decay and Minecraft.  While it is a strange combination that could work, it is equally as likely to be a train which way does it go for 7 Days to Die?

In many ways it goes both.

The game starts out by dumping you in a randomly generated wasteland with next to nothing (you don't even have the clothes on your back).  From there, it is up to you to survive.  The game does give you a few simple quests in the beginning to help you get started, lightly covering gathering and crafting.  However, they don't offer much information on them...unless you check it in the quest tab of the menu.  Most are self explanatory, but I was stuck on "upgrading" the frames for a while (use the LT on them with the appropriate tool).  So some of the information I needed was there, I just had to know where to look for it and that I had to.

That's very indicative of many parts of the game.  It gives you some information, but much of the game is up to the player to figure out.  It's a feature that I sometimes like, since figuring it out yourself or accidentally finding something new is wonderful.  However, there are times you have to consult outside sources (the internet) to find out some basic information.  That's a sure fire way to take a player out of the game.

You find a lot of stuff while exploring the world, and pretty much everything has some use.  You gather basic supplies and craft a multitude of things to use in the game, from building materials to food and weapons.  Many things can be repaired, or broken down to use the materials for other things.  You also have to manage your food and water levels to maintain your wellness.  If you go too long without either, your max HP and stamina will go down.  Fortunately, the reverse is true, so if you maintain them correctly, they will increase.

There's also a temperature rating.  Unlike the food and water ones, which I can deal with, I hate the temperature system.  Every piece of clothing adds or subtracts from it, meaning if it's too hot, you have to take off your clothes (but leave on your cowboy hat and sunglasses!) to cool down.  While I get the realistic aspect of it, it's obnoxious.  There are a lot of clothing styles, and even armor, but you end up having to juggle it all around because it's warm or cold outside.  I'd rather the clothing is more down to what you find and how you want your character to look instead of having to throw on (or take off) different things as often as you do.  If a good solution to the problem is walking around with only a hat, bandanna and sunglasses, your system is flawed.

Learning to manage your inventory and crafting recipes is important, but unfortunately, the menus feel really awkward.  They are a combination of PC-like and console-like controls.  For example, you can navigate the tabs and recipe pages quickly with controller buttons, but you select many things by moving a cursor.  It isn't horrible, but does take getting used to, as does remembering where every recipe is and what materials you need for stuff.  Many of the best recipes have to be found, and some items can only be found.  Either way, you are again at the mercy of the random number generator.

Building is the second component of the game.  In some ways it is really nice, since you will usually place "frames" that are the outer parts of blocks, and help you rough-in the design.  These can be picked up and placed easily.  Then you "upgrade" them to fill them in and give them some durability.  After this they can't be moved, but you can keep using materials to make them stronger from enemy attacks and to fix them.  Digging up and placing dirt is a lot harder, as it doesn't use the great grid-like layout of building blocks.  Instead, it is much more vector-based, or something similar.  The effect of the dirt (or rocks) shrinking as you harvest them is pretty cool, though.  There is also some gravity in the game, so you can't really build things too high without supports.  If you do, they crash down.

Problem is, the gravity seems very inconsistent.  Once, I was climbing a tower, and it just started to collapse as I did so.  It dropped me to my death.  Annoyed, I set back to grab my stuff and found only part of it collapsed.  I'm still not sure why, since it was standing in the first place.  Another time, I was on a pier, and it just randomly collapsed.  I fell 2 feet into the water and was killed.  Again I set to get my stuff back, more annoyed and bewildered than the first time.  A third time had the ground collapse beneath me and reveal a cave.  I didn't die, but did break my leg.  I managed to climb out and then was immediately mauled by a bear.

Ok, so the bear isn't part of the weird gravity.  Even so, it is just too wonky.  Things will randomly collapse, like a bridge my wife had just finished crossing.  It also leaves water looking strange, like there are invisible blocks in it, or an anime character is rippling it by powering up.  Hopefully the system gets fixed or tweaked enough that it will stop randomly making things collapse (and killing me in the process).  I guess I really did die to misadventure...

The third major component of the game is combat.  It's also my least favorite.  Thankfully is doesn't have to be a common occurrence.  Most enemies you run across are just regular zombies.  On normal settings they are fairly slow during the day.  Because of this, or because you see many more zombies than you do other things, their attacks are really strong.  Besides the chunk of damage they do, there is a good chance they will give you a status ailment, too!  Wow, what a deal.

Seriously, though it is annoying.  The normal enemies are stronger and tougher than I think they should be, and that's only in the day time.  Once night rolls around, they can run.  Before it was usually best to just run around the zombie to avoid it, but that isn't possible in the dark.  In fact, you aren't really safe in your shelter either.  Nights in 7 Days to Die can be downright terrifying.  Zombies can be straight up crazy, smashing through whatever is between you and them.  Occasionally you even get a horde.

Nights in the game make me look paranoid.  When it gets dark, I tend to go inside my spike perimeter, shut the doors and wait around.  I usually craft to pass the time, because there is no shortcut.  It would be nice to sleep, but I assume your character is too scared to.  There are lots of random noises that do make me jumpy.  Even if you turn the enemies off, it is really dark outside at night.  Yes, you can carry a torch or flashlight (assuming you can find one), but you would have to put it away to gather or build anything.  You're just better off sitting inside and cooking or something.

Death comes frequently in the game.  It feels like it has a timer, and will send something to kill you when it thinks you have lived too long.  I assume that's why there are achievements for living for longer periods of time.  The penalty for death is a loss of wellness and some inventory (you can set what drops upon death in the options).  It's honestly not as bad as it could be, but it is an annoyance.  You can turn off 99% of the enemies if you are so inclined.  This does cut down the number of deaths, and still leaves the game surprisingly fun.

One great bullet point of the console release is the inclusion of couch co-op.  So, I grabbed my wife and had her help me out.  At first I didn't think she would like the game, but she quickly became addicted and we ended up playing a lot of the game together.  For the most part, it runs fine, and you are allowed to get really far from the other player (we didn't hit any limitations on that).  However, the game tends to hang up every minute or so while playing.  It's annoying, and happens more often in co-op.  Plus, sometimes one player will be stuck in a menu, or the buttons will stop functioning for a few seconds.  It seems to happen when one person is in a menu or dealing with inventory, which is pretty often.  Your maps aren't shared, and you have to remember to unlock any storage you create so the other player can use it.  At least they give you duplicates of any schematics you find so you can share with your partner!

Thankfully there are many options when making or loading a game to tweak your experience.  You can have a random map, or a more starting friendly random map (it starts you near a shelter).  There are options for loot amounts, enemy density (or off!), daylight timers, and others.  I strongly encourage you to mess around with them to find your sweet spot.  It does make a difference!

Since each world is random, there is a lot of replayability to the game.  Plus, playing with friends always adds something.  It can take a lot longer to set up a base and get supplies than you might realize, so it is really easy to play the game for a long time and not get much of anywhere.  It doesn't bother me as much in 7 Days to Die, simply because I feel like I'm learning something most of the time I'm playing.  Every once in a while, it will also throw you surprises, even if you've played the game for 40 hours or more.  If you can get into the game, it has a ton of playtime.

7 Days to Die is very much a mixed bag.  The visuals are dated, menus are awkward, and combat is not skewed in your favor.  However, it can be very fun to play when exploring, finding new places and making better items.  A few of the systems work okay, like the food and water.  Others, like the temperature and wellness, not so much.  I like that it tries to be realistic, but I wish some of the more unfriendly systems in play were more in the player's favor.  I can easily see people not liking the game off the bat, but it does get better once things start to click.  If it sounds at all interesting, I would encourage you to try the game for a few hours, as my wife and I have a lot of fun playing it.

The Good:
Exploring the random worlds can be really fun, and there is a lot of stuff to do and a ton of replayability.

The Bad:
It can be hard to get the hang of menus, crafting, gathering and combat.  I also severely dislike the temperature system in the game.

The SaHD:
Wow random animals can sure take a lot of effort to kill.  Also I did track down the bear mentioned previously and ended his existence.  Yay me!

(Review code for 7 Days to Die was provided by the publisher)

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