7 Days to Die is a PC game. It feels, even on consoles, that it is designed and meant to be played on the PC. The game feels ripe for mods, creativity, and community-based enhancements, but none of that applies to the weak console port.
7 Days to Die is a survival horror game built in the same vein as Minecraft or more closely Ark: Survival Evolved. Blending crafting and survival mechanics, such as finding materials that you use to make clothes and weapons, with base-building elements that have players scrambling to gather supplies before night (and the zombies) descend. As a fan of survival and world-building games, 7 Days to Die appeared promising at first, but making my way through the world left me questioning all of its various pieces and mechanics as they attempted to come together into something more than a cluttered mess. Everything said here is addressing the Xbox One and PS4 editions of the game alone.
My enthusiasm for this new take on survival horror quickly faded after just the opening tutorial. &It cannot be skipped (whether it’s your first time playing or 7th) but more importantly the tutorial also blocks a big portion of the screen with basic instructions rather than allowing the player to see. So after the first time, it's a useless waste of screen space that does nothing more than block your view.
"Collect wood," the screen read, without further instruction. I quickly began punching trees, as Minecraft taught me, and thankfully it works. I punched trees, picked up pebbles and shared what I was doing with my partner working alongside me. However, 7 Days to Die binds players together in a lose-lose scenario, since one player alone cannot gather resources fast enough, but if that player goes to help the other build, you will quickly run out of supplies.
The struggles we faced with the initial item collection were amplified by an inventory interface that is nothing short of abysmal. The closest comparison I could make is trying to play soccer with a hockey puck. Will things get where they should be? Sure. Are you going to knock stuff all over the place and it take far longer than it should? Every time, yes.
Upon opening the inventory, the player is taken to a menu that shows the inventory space with all of the crafting recipes available on the side. Crafting is done by selecting an illuminated recipe followed by pressing a button on the D-pad. However, the newly crafted items move to random locations within your inventory; so if you need something on the fly, such as when a horde of zombies are chasing you, you probably won’t get to it in time. Past that, the clothing you create or gather cannot be quickly equipped from the inventory menu so you have to switch to the player-character menu just to able to apply clothing to their body. In a game that leaves the player battling the clock, the menus feel as though they are set as a hurdle to overcome rather than supporting the player.
Skill points are earned through every action, from combat to crafting clothing. Spending them will present a number of statistical changes to you various traits and abilities, but they are never given a context to make sense in. I leveled up my running skill but often felt as though the choice I made was not ideal, as I was still unable to craft or repair various items that were necessary to survival. Because of this I simply dreaded spending skill points I had spent so long earning simply because it was confusing and unsatisfying
Once the tutorial was finished, my partner and I found a small plot of land to work with. I enjoy exploration and combat while my partner enjoys base-building, so we split up to pursue our desired objectives. As I explored, my inventory became stuffed with supplies that promised recipes of defense and combat, but the game fails to make clear how to get the other materials required to finish those recipes. I could press a button to see the recipes for things I wanted to make, but without indication of where to find supplies, I was left with full, useless pockets. Hypothetically, I could have placed items in a box at my house for later, but navigating the landscape is so slow, it would have been a larger inconvenience.
I returned to the home plot, dismayed. While I was away my partner had built a small wooden hut for us to use through the night, so I hopped in, threw down a bedroll, and settled in to the anticipation as we closed the door and prepared for night. The night is insanely long. In-game hours creep along as you are subjected to every howl and growl the game can muster. After patiently waiting for what felt like an eternity for our foes to arrive, the zombies were able to completely destroy the wooden hut that took all day to make in mere moments. We watched as the walls were ripped off and door smashed as the zombies worked their way in. We destroyed a rear-facing wall and ran from the death-shack before we became zombie-chow.
We spent the night running as dawn slowly came, but the next day was no better. We found a house and got killed. Got our supplies back, boarded up doors, got killed. Playing with another player was fun, as it allowed us to share what we were learning and doing, but the feeling that it was a series of endeavors all leading to death loomed over us.
We tried to stay still and maintain a base to survive; we ran out of food. We tried being nomadic, to find food; we died continually. The further we ventured into the wasteland from our aforementioned base, the more the game would lag, initially just navigating menus but eventually the lag worked its way into actions such as walking and combat. We continually found what seemed to be usable materials in our quest, such as gun parts, but we were locked out of being allowed to build weapons or even supplies for survival because we hadn’t found the required blueprints.
Moving to the online space, I jumped into a game where the players I met were extremely cautious with a random person in their world; after all, who wouldn't be? Players can kill other players in-game and then take their hard earned goods. The players I met had been recently killed and looted by random other players, leaving them with very little tolerance for anyone they didn’t know. I convinced my fellow survivors I was there with their best in mind, so they set me to ‘Ally’, which allows players to see one another on the map. However, the game spawned me complete day-cycles away from the other players, so while they were talking of the buildings they were raiding and hiding out in, I was left to make the long journey alone. I died, multiple times, working my way towards the other players.
The connectivity was no problem, with the game running smoothly regardless of the distance between all of the players involved. But, the inability to spawn even remotely close to other players made playing online equally painful to split-screen, in some ways more so, as the game was in the 8th day when I joined, with more powerful foes now inhabiting the land. Realizing that online was going to be as hopeless as going alone, due to traveling (and dying) alone being all I was doing, I bid farewell to the other survivors, heading back to splitscreen that felt like my best fit.
In single player, button prompts are on screen, making for a far easier experience when learning and navigating menus. In exchange for my new indicators, the fun of building was taken, as playing alone in a wasteland was dreadfully boring. Single player was a complete waste of time, as I found myself sitting alone in a cabin, waiting for the sun.
The End of Night
As I wander around, leg broken, starving, lagging, growling, I wonder, "Am I the survivor, or am I the zombie?" as I push forward in a dead, boring wasteland that offers no reason to live.
From a technical perspective, the game’s lack of polish becomes more apparent with more time spent. Zombies out-maneuver players with ease and will randomly pop up behind players, bringing with them far more hit success than we the living carry. Sometimes my partner or I would hit a zombie and it would stun them for a considerable amount of time, other times the hit wouldn't do much to the foe, allowing their strikes to crash down with full power.
7 Days to Die hides what could have been creative variations to survival/crafting games under frustrating technical problems and odd navigation choices. Split-Screen feels like the best approach, as it allows you to create a genuine life or death bond with your partner. But even with great fellow survivors by your side, the game never rises to be the best of intentions, buried inside a system of hard to navigate menus, paired with frustrating gameplay.