Two of the best-selling games on Steam right now are Rust and the standalone version of DayZ. Both games are multiplayer survival simulators, with players scavenging for supplies to stay alive while fighting off A.I. and human enemies. DayZ and Rust offer very different experiences, though.
While DayZ and Rust are both survival games, they approach that idea from different directions. DayZ is closer to a survival horror game. You're trapped in a country overrun with respawning zombies. Other players can potentially pose a threat as well. Weapons and ammo are scarce. Damage can cause bleeding or broken limbs that require special equipment to cure. If you die, you drop all of your equipment and respawn in a random location.
Because combat is so risky, your best course of action is usually to avoid enemies. You have to use your flashlight sparingly, stay low, and keep your head on a swivel. It's a tense game where death is always seconds away.
While Rust has its share of hair-raising moments, horror isn't the focus. It's a building game. You have to gather wood, metal and other resources and use them to create shelter and equipment. DayZ forces players to enter towns, the areas with the greatest concentration of zombies, in order to get even basic supplies. Rust has zombie-infested settlements but they're easily avoidable. You can build a dwelling, craft a stockpile of items and stay fed in the relative safety of the wilderness.
You'll drop all of your equipment if you die in Rust but the stakes are lower. Death rarely wipes out all your progress. You can respawn at your home, where you can store spare items or at least raw materials to build them. Having a static respawn point also makes it easier to return to the spot of your death and recover whatever you lost.
Rust and DayZ drop you right into the action with no introduction. If you get in a fight, you're not going to survive. In fact, you can expect to die once or twice before you have any idea what's going on. It's a stark contrast with the mandatory tutorials and hand-holding of most AAA titles.
Of the two games, Rust is easier to figure out. The crafting system gives you a clear path to follow in your early hours. You chop trees to get wood for your first shelter, smash rocks to get stone for your first hatchet, and so on. DayZ emphasizes scavenging supplies rather than crafting so your early hours are spent literally wandering. You run from home to home, searching for any supplies to help you. It could be several hours before you find your first weapon.
The learning process for Rust is helped by the game's intuitive controls and UI. You can perform most inventory actions just through dragging and dropping. The list of craftable items is organized by category and lays out the materials you need for each item. You can also craft multiple items at the same time.
The standalone version of DayZ is a big improvement over the precedingArma 2 mod but it's still a complicated game to navigate. There are pages of controls to sift through. You'll probably have to use Google to find out how to turn on your flashlight. Another newbie mistake is charging at a zombie, equipping your axe and pressing "fire"...only to learn that you need to raise your weapon, too. Oops, you're dead.
Neither game is perfect on this front, though. To move past the basics, you'll have to dive into forum threads and wikis. Also, while DayZ is harder to learn, it's easier to find answers to your questions because of its established player base.
In both games, other players pose the biggest threat. It's quicker to kill someone and take their stuff than to find or make these items on your own. The penalties for death in DayZ and Rust drive some players to kill on sight out of fear that others will do the same. Other players are just dicks.
At first, Rust seems like the friendlier game. If someone kills you, you respawn in the safety of your home. You can grab a spare weapon and then head out to track down your killer. You can also stay in the safety of your home to lick your wounds. Your home automatically locks when you close the door, keeping you and your valuables out of thieves' reach even when you're logged off.
Player-made buildings actually make you more vulnerable to griefing, though. DayZ players can just run off into the wilderness and lose their attackers in the woods. Your building in Rust, however, is a bull's eye. You have to constantly worry about defending it. With the right equipment, bandits can break in and steal everything you've got. If you're on a server with "sleepers" enabled, your character still exists in the world when you're logged out and can be killed and looted.
While raiders are an issue in DayZ and it's harder to revenge yourself on them, at least there's a limit to how much they can hurt you. If they kill you once, you'll respawn on the other side of the map and won't see them for hours - if at all.
State of the Game
It's important to keep in mind that DayZ and Rust are both Steam Early Access titles. They're still in development so features are missing and bugs are plentiful. Both developers have acknowledged that the final release of their game will look far different.
If I had to say which game is a better purchase today, I'd lean toward Rust. It seems closer to what the final version will be. All the basic pillars - combat, building, survival - are in place and decently polished. I can't guarantee that you'll like the game but it still feels like a full-fledged game.
DayZ is in rougher shape at the moment. Zombies spawn far less often than the ought to. Useful loot seems to be too rare, too. Still, DayZ could turn out to be the better final game once Bohemia Interactive adds everything they've promised. Future features include vehicles, crafting and destructible environments. Rust's future is more vague. I've had fun with both games, though, so I'm very excited to see each of them evolve through 2014.