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You will die in Project Zomboid. The game is merciful enough to tell you this up front. There is no way to win, only stave off the inevitable.
Despite that, there's nothing that says you have to make it easy for the game to kill you. There are many, many tricks to surviving in Project Zomboid. Given the right combination of luck, planning and quick reactions, you can survive indefinitely.
When you first spawn in Project Zomboid, you'll be inside a house or trailer. Depending on the size and location, this might not be such a bad place to fortify.
It's more likely that you'll want to find somewhere else.
The best type of shelters has multiple floors. Single storey dwellings make it much harder to escape a horde descending on your base as you can be easily surrounded. Having a second floor to retreat to means that you can escape out of a window using a sheet rope. If you happen to find a sledgehammer, you can destroy the stairs entirely, meaning that you will be completely safe from the zombies, as they cannot climb sheet ropes.
If you're planning on staying in one location, you'll need to have a renewable source of food and water. We'll be covering these under their own sections.
Any building is vulnerable to attack by zombies. Windows and doors can be battered down quite easily by lone zombies, and groups can be very risky to engage. You can make it more difficult for them by barricading entry points. This can be done with planks or metal sheets.
To barricade a door or window using planks, you will need planks, nails and a hammer. You can place up to four planks on either side. You should barricade windows outside first, as this will prevent zombies from shattering the glass and drawing more zombies because of the noise. Barricading with planks with increase your carpentry skill.
Metal sheets will require a propane torch (which can be refilled). The supplies are much harder to come by, but you can create metal sheets by combing small metal sheets if your metalworking skill is high enough.
Zombies aren't just drawn to the player character. Light, noise and smell will also attract them to a location. You can add sheets to windows and doors that don't already have a curtain. Once you have four planks or a metal sheet across a window, it will stop zombies from being able to see you. In the meantime, make sure you raid wardrobes and drawers for sheets to cover these gaps.
But barricading doesn't end there. You can build completely new structures with multiple floors. This will take a lot of planks and you will need to spend time increasing the carpentry skill, but the possibilities are pretty endless. Your first priority after making sure you have somewhere safe to sleep and eat should be securing a decent perimeter with enough space for water and farming. Building fences can slow down zombies a little, but building wall frames and filling them in is the best way.
If you're low on planks, a quick way to make any building more secure is to make an entrance hall. If a zombie has to break down two doors, it's going to give you that little bit of extra time you need to escape.
Aside from the ever-present risk of death by zombies, thirst is your second biggest killer. The exact amount of time it will take your character to die of thirst depends on the traits you picked at creation, but at most you can only survive two in-game days without water.
Eventually, the power and water supplies are going to fail. This could happen at literally any time (depending on the settings you've selected) so it's better to prepare for this sooner rather than hoping you'll have time. There are a few ways you can get water.
First, fill up as many pots, pans and watering cans with water as you can find and stash them somewhere easy to remember. If you can create a few extra caches of drinkable water in useful places you'll make your life a lot easier. These other locations can be secondary bases which you can retreat to if your main base is overrun, and outposts that you can stop at on the way to gather supplies from far away locations.
A more longterm plan is to find a permanent source of water. If you're near a river, you can fill bottles and other water containers from the river as many times as you please. The only caveat is that you'll need to purify the water using a heat source. If you're using the river for water, then the power has probably gone out too, meaning you won't be able to use the cookers you find in kitchens. Alternatives include propane powered BBQs and campfires. If you can find a generator then you can keep the power on for as long as you can find gas, allowing you to use both your cooker and the refrigerator.
The other permanent source of water aside from rivers are wells. At the time of writing, there are only two wells in the entire game. These never run out of the water you'll need and don't need to be purified before the water is safe to drink.
The last option is somewhat less predictable, but also the most useful. You can build rain collecting barrels once you hit level up the Carpentry skill to 4. For construction materials, you'll need planks and garbage bags. Planks can be found by disassembling wooden items you find around the game world, sawing logs and can be found as loot (although this is rare.) The best places to find garbage bags are bins and kitchens. Industrial size bins tend to have the most garbage bags. These can be found behind commercial buildings like restaurants and large services such as schools.
Make sure that the garbage bags you have collected are empty, as you won't be able to use them to construct rain collecting barrels otherwise. To check that the garbage bag is empty, you can place it on the ground and look inside it like any other storage item. If there are indeed some items inside, you can either loot them or transfer them to the ground.
Every time it rains your rain collecting barrel will fill up with water. You can tell it's full by right-clicking and looking at the info provided, but a faster way of knowing is to simply look at the barrel. If it's full, you'll be able to see the water inside it. Like river water, you'll need to purify the water you collect from these barrels if you intend to drink it.
There are several sources and types of food in Project Zomboid.
Perishable foods are ones that will rot over time. This can be slowed down massively by using refrigeration, ensuring that they are a viable source of sustenance until you can create a farm large enough to provide all of your food needs.
Perishable foods include things like fruit, vegetables, meat and bread. You can store these either in the fridge, or the freezer. Freezing meat is the best way to keep it from rotting.
Non-perishable food items have some kind of packaging. These include things like canned goods, chocolate, cereal and so on. These can be stored at any temperature without spoiling. Creating a decent stockpile (or two) of these in various locations can save your life if the power goes down early, or if your main base is overrun. This will give you an extra margin for either finding a generator and fuel or for getting a farm up and running. If you're using canned goods, you'll need a can opener in order to eat from them. In one of my first playthroughs, I didn't realise this and I died from starvation despite having a huge quantity of tinned vegetables. You can also create your own canned goods if you have an empty can and a lid.
Unless you're playing a custom sandbox with loot respawning turned on, you'll eventually run out of food to scavenge. This will take a very long time, but if you're good at surviving the zombie hordes then you'll run into this problem. That's where farming comes into play. We'll cover farming in-depth in the next section.
To provide the maximum hunger reduction, and to avoid illness and unhappiness, you will need to prepare and cook food.
All of those cooking pots, frying pans, bowls and other items that you see lying around aren't in the game just for the sake of it. If you have one of these in your inventory, you can use it to create a meal if you also have the appropriate types of food. For example, right clicking on a bowl allows you to combine it with an item of fruit to create a fruit salad. You can add multiple types of fruit (or vegetables, but not both) to one salad to make it more filling. For some kinds of food, you will need to fill the container with water first.
Some food, like meat, will still make you ill if you don't cook it first. Using any heat source to do this is fine, but make sure you keep an eye on it. Food will cook faster at higher temperatures. You cook food by placing it in the inventory of the heat source. If you keep the inventory open, you can watch a green bar under the items fill. Once it reaches the maximum level the food will start to burn. This reduces hunger reduction, increases unhappiness and can cause a fire to start if left unchecked. Don't walk away from cooking food.
The best heat source for long-term survival will be a campfire. This are made from logs, which you can get by visiting logging camps or using an axe to chop trees. Any flammable material can be used as fuel to keep the fire burning longer. In order to start a fire, you will need a lighter or matches, or a notched plank and sturdy stick. Be careful when using campfires, as standing too close can set your character on fire. Nearby zombies will be drawn to the flames too, and are just as liable of being set on fire as you are.
Farming in Project Zomboid is pretty simple, but there are a few dangers that can ruin even the most carefully organised farm.
To make a farm, you'll need a trowel, seeds, dirt and water.
Dirt is the easiest element to find. Any outdoor location that's not concrete and tarmac is usable. If you have a shovel and a sack, you can move dirt around. This can be extremely useful as you can use flat roofs for your farm location without worrying about a horde of zombies trampling over your carefully tended crops (which will ruin them, meaning you'll have to start the process all over again.)
Trowels are used to dig a patch of dirt by right-clicking and selecting the 'dig' option. This creates a patch of ground which you can sow seeds into. You will need one of these for each planting. Trowels can be found in many different places, so you'll likely come across one without intentionally looking. If you're having trouble finding one, it's worth checking in garages, kitchens and storage closets.
Seeds are found in packets. You'll come across tons of these as you go from house to house looting supplies. To plant seeds you need to open the packet and sow them into a patch of ground which has been dug with a trowel. You'll get 100 seeds in each packet. This sounds like a lot, but you'll use multiple seeds every time you sow, so they will run out much faster than you'd think.
When you harvest plants that have reached full maturity you'll also receive a number of seeds, so you won't run out of them as long as you don't do this too early. You can check the maturity of plants by right-clicking and selecting the info option, as well as other useful information like health and hydration levels.
Water isn't just needed for your character to drink. In order for plants to grow, they'll need to be watered regularly. There are several stages of watering, ranging from 'Parched' to 'Well-watered'. You can water plants manually using any source of water, or wait for it to rain. Plants always start out as parched, so you'll need quite a lot of water to get a new farm up and running. The best way to do this is to get a few Watering Cans or Gardening Spray Cans, as these carry the most water. Having 5 or more is ideal, as you'll spend less time running back and forth to fill them up.
Some plants (at this time, carrots and radishes) can be overwatered.
There are a few ways your farm can be put at risk. It takes several in-game days for seeds to reach full maturity, and if your farm is destroyed this can easily lead to death.
The most obvious risk is zombies. If they move across your farm they will trample any plants, and you will have to start again. When plants are near full maturity, they can also hide among them, taking you by surprise. It only takes a single scratch from a zombie to become infected.
Diseases are another problem that plants share with your character. Just like you, they can become infected, although thankfully not with zombification. However, if zombie blood gets onto a farm, then plants will be severely more likely to become diseased. There are currently three types of diseases that plants can get. You can check if your plants have a disease on the same panel for water levels.
Mildew causes plants to reach full maturity much more slowly. This can be cured by filling a Garden Spray Can with milk.
Insects mean that plants require more water. This can be cured by filling a Garden Spray Can with cigarettes.
Devils Water Fungi reduces the harvest you get. It is the most destructive of the three. There is no cure. The only solution is to remove the plant and start again.
Protecting Your Farm
You can protect your farm in a number of ways. If the farm is at ground level, construct walls around the perimeter. This will keep zombies out for as long as the walls are standing. Moving dirt to a higher location such as a roof or balcony is the best way of keeping them secure.
Farms can also be destroyed by fire, so if your farm is connected to your main dwelling, be very careful when cooking.
Foraging, Fishing and Trapping
Perhaps living in the ruins of civilization is too dangerous. If you prefer to go down the post-apocalyptic survivalist route, you can head for the forest. Personally, I don't like this approach as much as farming, as it's far riskier, but it can be pretty fun too. However, if you're in the right location it can be useful to have a few traps and such set around in case your farm is destroyed.
If you want to survive forever, the best way to do it is by avoiding fights whenever possible. It will only take one scratch for your character to become infected.
Avoiding fights can be done by sneaking or sprinting. It is generally better to sneak around zombies than run past them. This stops you from collecting a trail of followers, prevents exhaustion. If your stealth is blown, being able to run away will only be possible if you haven't already tired yourself out by sprinting and fighting or through other energy-intensive tasks like chopping trees.
Of course, combat can't always be avoided.
The best way to approach combat in Project Zomboid is to isolate individual zombies whenever possible. Attempting to take on groups puts you at greater risk of being overwhelmed.
Some melee weapons can hit two zombies at once, so keep this in mind.
The best weapons are spiked baseball bats. These are created by combining a baseball bat and a nail. They have high damage, decent durability and only require nails to repair. Make sure it is equipped in both hands for maximum damage.
If you're going for a stealth approach, bladed weapons can be more useful. Knives have a special one-hit kill ability that will be triggered when you use them at extremely close range. The danger is that you'll mistime the attack, and these weapons also break very quickly. Make sure you have a backup weapon in case you find yourself in a straight fight.
Guns should be avoided whenever possible. Using them will draw huge crowds of zombies to your exact location. By all means stockpile guns and ammunition, but only use them as a last resort. For example, if you are cornered and need to blast through a huge crowd in order to reach an exit.
However, guns have a secondary use. They are much louder than shouting, and this means they are a reliable way of drawing all of the zombies in their noise radius to a specific location. If a zombie horde is about to overrun your farm, firing a round from the opposite direction can be a great way to distract them. Just make sure you know how you're going to escape afterwards.
Project Zomboid isn't just about surviving the zombies. If you survive long enough to reach the cold season, you'll have to start thinking about how you're going to stay warm.
The current game build only includes two tiers of clothing for heat. Don't equip the vest or skirt during the winter. If your character becomes too cold, stay indoors or build a campfire if this isn't possible.
Your character can be injured in a number of ways. Falling from heights, climbing through broken windows that haven't been cleared of glass, fire and combat all pose threats. Unlike in many games, any injury will constantly drain your health and reduce your speed and combat ability unless properly treated.
Treating injuries takes time. For minor scratches, you can apply a bandage to stop the bleeding. You will need to change the bandage when it gets dirty. You will also need to disinfect wounds, which can be done by sterilizing bandages ahead of time, or applying a disinfectant such as alcohol wipes directly.
Deep wounds require a suture and thread as well as bandaging in order to properly treat.
Fractures will require you to create a splint.
Illnesses can be treated too. Keeping your character well-fed and rested is the best cure. If the illness is the result of a zombie attack, you can delay the onset of zombification for a while, but your character will succumb to it.
If you somehow manage to solve the immediate problem of survival, your character will eventually become bored. Alongside boredom there are certain actions can cause unhappiness.
This might not sound like a big deal, but for each level of unhappiness, it becomes increasingly difficult to perform other actions. Unhappiness can be staved off by being active, reading books and magazines, consuming foods like chocolate and taking anti-depressants. Just be careful not to take too many, or your character will OD.