Thursday 28 January, 2016
Day 3 Entry:
At this point, I've actually gotten very near to the end of the game. Not quite there, but close. For this play session, I started a new game with Marko, Pavle, and Bruno, and I subsequently added Katia to my group of survivors. This set of people, it turns out, are fairly bad-ass. Marko has the scavenger perk, giving him 15 storage slots (up from Pavle's and Katia's 12). This makes him incredibly valuable.
At the beginning of the game, I played quite cautiously, avoiding conflict as much as I could. I also prioritized getting an axe, which turns out to be an incredibly useful tool, allowing the player to chop up useless furniture both in the sanctuary and outside of it. Furthermore, the axe is a useful combat weapon, so I had the dual advantage of keeping my scavenger armed and allowing him to break down materials he encountered. I still looted the Quiet House for its easy resources (a morally dubious decision), but this time did not murder the elderly couple -- keeping my group relatively happier. Happiness, as I played it, was treated as another resource -- if I could afford to sacrifice a little to gain another valuable resource, I would. I treated theft throughout the game as a double-edged sword; if the group was feeling low, I would avoid it -- otherwise, I might take the opportunity.
The game really turned once I managed to reach the warehouse. This place was, from the outset, incredibly dangerous, containing three armed soldiers. On my first visit, I managed to sneak attack and kill one of the soldiers after he started chasing Marko. The soldier had an assault rifle and a bulletproof vest. I then managed to take high ground to kill the other two soldiers as they came to investigate the noises they had heard. Now I had enough weapons to arm my scavenger and my base at once. The rifle proved exceptionally useful for other locations loaded with resources and controlled by enemies that the game deemed OK to kill, such as St Mary's Church and the construction site. It was amazing how dramatically the difficulty of the game diminished once I had a real weapon. It's not that Marko was never wounded in any of these encounters, but he was never critically wounded. I had stocked enough medical supplies to allow him to recover from any wound.
The radio also proved an invaluable asset. It made me aware of shortages, the items which I could sell at great exchange rates. I saved most of the tobacco I gathered in unrolled form, and I would make cigarettes only on the actual day that the trader visited (which was conveniently predictable). Bruno, being sort of a louse, would crush cigarettes if left to his own devices, so I needed to limit his consumption. The radio also gave important weather warnings, allowing me time to build heaters and prioritize consumables. The visiting trader also was incredibly important for providing basics in exchange for the valuable but useless items I collected while scavenging. I unloaded gems, shotguns, and cigarettes in exchange for building materials, water, and food.
Self-sufficiency, at least to a limited extent, proved invaluable. I built 2 animal traps early on, and I always kept them operational. I eventually also upgraded my garden to be able to grow vegetables, but the intensive water requirements were problematic. With four mouths to feed, there were times that food became somewhat scarce -- those were the times that I was driven to steal from innocents. Again, due to the penalty to the general well-being of the scavenger in particular, I would try to avoid stealing, but if it came down to survival, I had no qualms about it.
Oddly enough, it was ultimately water that became the greatest challenge, but that was a function of running out of construction materials, leaving me unable to make water filters. Part of this was maybe mismanagement on my part -- the real shortage happened at the time that I upgraded my garden and then had to build heaters to deal with the winter -- but part of it was an issue of communication within the game. The requirements of the garden, for instance, included 10 units of clean water, an enormous investment in scarce times. The requirement of "clean" water for the garden didn't make intuitive sense either.
One last thing that I will mention is that this game did an incredible job taking relatively flat characters and building player investment in them through mechanics. The time investment and commitment ensures cautious and rational play to avoid danger and death. Now, at Day 35 and having received news of the arrival of international aid about a week ago, I am close to escaping the war. But this didn't happen without a fairly cutthroat attitude about survival.