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A17 Thoughts: Difficulty, Environment, Encumberance


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A17 improved the difficulty curve in creative ways, and expanded it, to make the game more broadly challenging and no longer a simple question of firepower and base design. Better AI, more player limits, and more combined threats ups the threat from zombies without having to increase their stats. The game feels like it rewards careful play and forethought more than having the biggest gun.


Zombie Difficulty


A16 had this problem where upping the difficulty would just make zombies MORE. More hit points. More regen. More screamers. More radioactive ferals. More hit points and regen was particularly tiresome, zombies were spongy and early fights turned into dull slogs. Increased screamers were also tiresome, it became a constant interruption.


A17 has added a broad spectrum of difficulties and the same simple tactics don't work so well anymore. It returns the element of the unexpected, as opposed to simply volume of firepower.


Stamina management


I cover this in another post, but stamina management makes prolonged combat and trash zombies a bigger threat. Manage your stamina wrong: sprint too hard, carry too much, forget to eat; and you might find yourself exhausted and unable to club that nurse who caught you unaware.


Vultures and Snakes


The vulture AI is brilliant. Circling vultures leave me constantly watching my back, knowing they'll try to get me in the back as soon as I'm occupied from the front. Similarly snakes, hard to see and hard to hit, add another thing to worry about. With vultures circling, snakes hissing, suddenly a few walkers are a much bigger threat. It increases the danger of normal threats and pressure on the player without increasing their stats.


More Zombie Speed Choices


We've been able to have daylight runners for a while now, but the leap from daylight walkers to runners was huge. Now we can have daylight *joggers*. It's welcome way to up the difficulty without upping the stats. Jogging daylight zombies add that little bit of extra pressure to combat while looting. Combined with stamina management, you can very quickly find yourself cornered and exhausted if you're not careful.


More random, individual runners


I don't know this for sure, but it seems like there's more random ferals and dogs sprinkled in the game. Just one every once in a while. As with everything else, it adds a level of tension and danger to otherwise routine looting without being overwhelming. They're not much stronger, just faster and in your face before you're necessarily ready.


No zombie loot


Previously we'd refer to zombies as "a renewable resource". Zombie hordes were welcomed as loot bonanzas. "Let's see what they brought to the party!" Instead of a threat, they were an opportunity.


I was trepidatious about no (or very rare) zombie loot in A17, but now that I've played it's the right move. Zombie hordes are no longer a resource, they're just a threat as they should be. Finding a clutch of military zombies is no longer a welcome looting opportunity, it's just bad. It's unfortunate they're necessary chunks of XP for grinding levels and skill points, but that's addressed in another post.


It seems the availability of loot both in the field and via trader quests has been bumped up to compensate. And the breadth of crafting has been increased. I found it pretty easy to find clothing, armor, and weapons by looting... though it still raises the question of how well this works on crowded servers.


Guns are useful


In A16 I hardly used guns. A crossbow was pretty good and the bolts easier to come by than ammunition at least before a chemistry station. Sledgehammers worked extremely well and didn't require ammo. And gun's effects just weren't that pronounced. Zombies seemed to soak up bullets and shells. Rifles were useful for long range head shots, and rockets for day 7 emergencies, but I found pistols and SMGs were a waste of gunpowder and solely for trading.


In A17 I'm finding guns are more plentiful and more powerful. A simple low quality shotgun or pistol lets me deal with a surprise dog or runner. And most importantly they don't depend on stamina. Now that stamina is so important to combat, guns let you deal with large groups without tiring. Yet with the diversity of threats guns don't feel overpwoered.


Restless sleepers


A16 introduced sleepers which added a new surprise element to looting and exploring. It was very easy to rush into a room and miss the zombie sleeping behind the door.


A17 still has sleepers, but it seems they now wake up too easily. Usually all the sleepers are awake and bashing down the door before I even enter the room defeating the point. A tweak to their sensitivity might be in order. The balance between zombies who sit there and let you stealth headshot them, and zombies that give it away too soon, has been lost.


💡Guess the sleeper


Sleepers have the "How Not To Be Seen" problem. Every body is a sleeper. When you enter a room you shoot them all the bodies in the head, they're all sleepers. This takes some of the danger out of sleepers.


What if most bodies you encountered lying around in the open were just dead bodies? Make only a few sleepers. This invites the player to become complacent and sloppy and you not always double tap every body in the room.


Increased bodies would also make the game feel far more creepy. Enter a trashed house and see bodies slumped over tables, on couches, in beds. And maybe one of the will get up.


Zombies attack infrastructure more.


It seems zombies are more likely to attack infrastructure and do more damage. Instead of all chewing away at a few blocks, which was its own challenge but more manageable, zombies seem to run around almost in frustration when they can't get to you. They randomly attack more striking blocks and infrastructure.


In A16 I could, with some confidence, ride out a 7th night on top of even the flimsiest of structures knowing the zombies would just mill around below me. In A17 I'm genuinely afraid they'll tear my support from under me. Cheap, simple ways to dodge the 7th night aren't as effective, and that's a good thing.


And some smaller, welcome improvements...


  • Zombies are smarter. They will get in.
  • Zombies climb better. No more leaving the last rung of the ladder off.
  • Zombies pile up to get to places you didn't think they could.


Environmental Difficulty


Previously, the environment was more of a nuisance than a real challenge. You could very quickly gather or make more than enough clothing to handle hot or cold. Very quickly it would be a matter of simply swapping out a poncho for a duster.


A17 seems to have changed all that. In my game the desert was persistently a problem. Being too hot doesn't just mean I drank more, it degrades everything: attributes, skills, carrying capacity. And gone is the simple trick of drinking cooling yucca juice. The environment itself feels like a threat again, and I like it.


Armor or Insulation or Speed?


A17 makes you choose between protection from zombies, and protection from the environment. A cowboy hat to keep off the sun? Or a SWAT helmet to keep off the zombies? Can't have both! Choose. I like it. It prevents the player from just loading on the best armor. The duster and poncho's environmental protection have also been nerfed, no longer will just one clothing slot nullify the environmental effects.


Armor also has its drawbacks on your speed and stamina. Too much heavy armor and you're slow and tire easily. This makes the question of what to wear situation and dependent on play style and skills making the game deeper and broader.




While I like the new encumbrance system in general, I have mixed feelings on the implementation. Being slowed by how much your carrying, and how much armor you're wearing, is a good thing. It feels more like a guy humping a pack across a desert. The choice of what I keep and what I leave is more complex. I *could* hump everything back home, but I'd have to slowly slog it across desert, or dangerous wasteland. If I get attacked I'll be slow and tired.


Bicycles are small a mercy. It introduces a simple vehicle you can get early on to make the looting slog a little more manageable. But not nearly as overpowered as a minibike. And Pack Mule offers the player another way to tweak their play style.


Encumbrance still being based on slots... I don't know if this is a problem or a mercy. Sure, it's kina silly that that 1 plant fiber weighs as much as a stack of forged steel. But a full weight system invites complex and tiresome loot management. Encumbrance based on stacks also makes it far more valuable to loot as a group, every once in a while you consolidate your stacks to create more space, and encouraging co-op play is good.


Overall encumbrance is a good thing in a survival looting game, but it needs some more tweaks.

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