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Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead's big update is the perfect excuse to play it again

I am in terrible danger. The last time I wrote substantially about the zombie survival sim Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, I described it as “a roguelike you could play for the rest of your life”. That was over three years ago, and it’s been expanded slowly but constantly since then.

Its latest big update came out last week, and already threatens to consume every hour of my days. Now is a perfect time to give it a try, even if you, like me, find zombies boring and dislike roguelikes. It’s that good.

You can replace the zombies with dinosaurs. You can play it with magical spells added, or medieval weapons, or ramped up mutated zombies. You can switch all the monsters (save for normal wildlife) off entirely, and live in its post-apocalyptic cities, remote farms, and forests (an optional desert setting is still in the early experimental stage) forever. Its character creation and development is wild, as Brendy demonstrated before he fled the RPS treehouse and therefore ceased to exist. I still miss him though.

The headline changes though are based around building and interacting with NPCs, making the world bigger and more involving than it used to be. You can still bum around in the woods, fight in the city, build your own fortress, or hobo from town to town in a home-made car, exploring its endless world generation for as long as you can survive. But since last week’s stable update, known as 0.E Ellison, you can direct any friendly NPCs you recruit to build, maintain, and expand semi-autonomous camps anywhere there’s enough clear fields. Get a little food together and you can instruct your fellow survivors to go out and forage, hunt, chop trees, scavenge for supplies, or build while you go out exploring, or sit back sipping your latest batch of strawberry wine.

Cataclysm is a free game, constantly updated by a legion of volunteers over many years. Previously, it was best to use the most recent, experimental versions, which changed from day to day, making the project a bit fiddly to keep up with. Its creators have now committed to releasing a major stable version as a milestone once or twice a year, and it’s this that you should play.

Other features they’ve stabilised include automated long-distance travel, extensive rivers and lake networks, complete with boats, an organised [minor spoiler] faction, and a tonne of new terrain, buildings, topics for NPCs to talk about. There are also over 500 new crafting recipes on top of the heaps of existing ones, confirming Cataclysm’s place as surely the most comprehensive survival sim ever made.

You can see more detail on the project’s changelog, but honestly, whether you’ve played it before or not, I highly recommend you dive in. It’s one of the best games of the last decade, you know. And it’s completely free on the Cataclysm website. Note that it has no sound, but some community soundpacks exist. I recommend the Chesthold soundpack, even though it makes me weirdly sleepy.

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