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Project Zomboid beginner's guide: tips and tricks for surviving the apocalypse in Project Zomboid

Discover our top tips for surviving in Project Zomboid

Looking for a Project Zomboid beginners guide? You might tell yourself “Oh, I could survive in a zombie apocalypse.” Some might even occasionally wish for one. Project Zomboid is a hardcore zombie survival sim that lets you live the apocalypse in extreme detail, and you’ll quickly realise how difficult it would really be. One cut is all it takes to start the downward spiral towards death. Honestly, that’s all Project Zomboid is. Lots and lots of death. As the game makes explicitly clear when you start a new save, this is how you died.

Hopefully, we can help fend death off for as long as possible. Below, we’ve got 10 beginners tips that you need to know when playing Project Zomboid. We cover everything from those very first moments to setting up a base and finding a car. By the time we’re done, you should be much more confident that you can survive in the world of Project Zomboid. For a while, at least.

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Project Zomboid guide: top tips and tricks

Below are our 10 top Project Zomboid tips for beginners. Hopefully these will guide you to safety in those crucial first few days. Click on each of the below tips for more details.

Our tips and tricks for beginners in Project Zomboid:

  1. Always crouch when moving
  2. Only take the essentials
  3. Use ripped sheets as bandages
  4. Find a base
  5. Watch some TV
  6. Avoid guns
  7. Use a map
  8. Find a car
  9. Store water in your base
  10. Accept death
Project Zomboid player crouched by the front door of a house as they set out on a scavenging run

1. Always crouch when moving

When you first spawn, you’ll find yourself in some kind of home. It might be a house on a regular street or a caravan in a trailer park. Regardless of where you spawn, you probably want to start looking around. There’s loot to be found everywhere, after all. However, before you move even one step towards the kitchen cupboards, you need to crouch using the C key.

Crouching is king in Project Zomboid. If you don’t crouch, you’ll make a lot of noise. Noise attracts zombies, and zombies almost always bring death in these early stages of the game. Even if you feel safe inside, zombies will quickly hear you walking around and start banging on the windows and doors. Crouching is significantly quieter, so if you want to survive past the first few minutes, stick to sneaking.

Project Zomboid player carrying tins of food in their backpack while walking down a suburban street

2. Only take the essentials

At the start, your first priority should be to find some kind of base. That could be the first house you start in, but we usually recommend fortifying somewhere off the beaten path where there are fewer zombies wandering around. We’ll cover more on finding and fortifying a base below, but this tip is essential regardless. When looting, only carry what you absolutely need.

It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzied panic of an apocalypse. Everything suddenly seems important. That fork? It now feels like a sturdy weapon that you can’t go without. Maybe you see another set of clothes and wouldn’t mind a spare outfit. Before long, you’re lugging around more t-shirts than the local store has in their warehouse. If you get over-encumbered, you'll struggle to make it back to base without a broken back, which could lead to severe injury and death. Then, all of that precious loot is pretty worthless.

We’ve got a handy list of goods that you should keep an eye out for while looting in the first few days of the apocalypse:

  • Weapons (frying pan, baseball bat, etc)
  • Food
  • Water Bottles
  • Medical supplies
  • Bags
  • Carpentry supplies
  • Books
  • Farming supplies

That’s a pretty broad list, but it should help you prioritise which items to take and understand what you can avoid. Of course, you can always mark buildings that still contain loot if you want to return when you’ve got a fortified base later in the game.

Project Zomboid player using a ripped sheet as a bandage to wrap up a wound and stop bleeding

3. Use ripped sheets as bandages

Medical supplies are few and far between in the world of Project Zomboid, especially when you aren't prepared to plan out a strategic looting mission to a nearby pharmacy or hospital. When you’re just starting out, you’ll need to improvise. Bandages might not be common, but you’ll find clothes everywhere. While we made it pretty clear above that you don’t need to grab every piece of clothing that you find, consider tearing some up into ripped sheets. You can do this by right-clicking on the item you want to destroy and selecting craft ripped sheets.

Ripped sheets are excellent makeshift bandages that you can use in a pinch. While they don’t have any healing properties in their own right, they can stop bleeding and might be enough to save your life. Just check your health panel (you can bring this up by pressing the heart symbol on the left side of the screen) frequently to see whether the bandages are dirty, as this can cause infection. If some of your bandages are dirty, simply remove them and apply new ones to continue treating the wound.

Project Zomboid player farming at a base with zombies spilling over the fence. Horde is attacking from the road

4. Find a base

Before long, you’re going to start getting tired. It’s hard work carrying all that stuff around, and you’ve not relaxed since this whole apocalypse started. If you want a safe space where you can stay calm and work out a plan, you’ll need to find a base.

When finding a base, there are a few key points that you need to consider. Firstly, you need multiple entrances. Whether that means windows or doors, you need a few ways to get in and out. If zombies start pouring through the front door, you can head out the back exit and lure them away, rather than getting pinned in a corner and feasted on by the undead.

Next up, you’ll want a building that has an upstairs. A common Project Zomboid survival tactic is to use the upstairs as your main base and completely block the stairs so that nothing can come up.

Finally, your base needs to have multiple storage containers. You can use cupboards, wardrobes, bookshelves, and more to store your items, which is essential if you want to stockpile food and water. As you go on more looting runs and gather a hefty pile of materials and items, you’ll be grateful for every little bit of storage in your base.

Project Zomboid player watching TV in a house, text displayed above the TV shows it is a carpentry show. The house is clearly a hideout and has sheets across all windows and doors

5. Watch some TV

For the first nine days in Project Zomboid, life in the apocalypse shouldn’t change too much. Mainly, it’ll still revolve around getting home in time to watch your favourite shows while curled up on the sofa. Certain TV programs improve your skills in Zomboid, so you should try to make the most of that boost while it’s available. After day 9, the TV broadcast will end and then you’re truly alone. You can still increase your skills by reading books, but the TV is much easier and focuses on specific skills that are vital for your survival, such as carpentry, cooking, and farming.

Project Zomboid player holding a gun while a horde of zombies approach. Streets around the building are foggy, indicating that the player is on a high floor

6. Avoid guns

At this point, you might start to feel confident. You’ve got a base, some food and water stockpiled for an emergency, and you’re still not bitten. If the stars align, the game might reward you. Yes, despite all of the horrific undead that roam the streets waiting to eat your brains, Project Zomboid can be nice. You might find what you see as the holy grail, the bestest best weapon you could think of: a gun.

Stop that cheering, you’ll attract zombies. That gun? Chuck it away. Bury it far, far away, and never use it.

That might seem harsh, but guns are really dangerous in Project Zomboid. With each shot, you send out a signal that attracts every zombie in the local vicinity. Before long, you’ll stare at your screen in tears as your character gets munched on by hordes of the undead. It’s better to just never touch guns in the first place. Oh, and they’re heavy, which makes them a pain to carry around.

Project Zomboid map of the Rosewood region, found in-game

7. Use a map

If you’ve got a base and are wondering what comes next, we recommend using a Project Zomboid map. This will help you find yourself in the big wide world and see what else is nearby. You’ll probably realise that Louisville, the biggest city in Project Zomboid, is pretty far away, but there are plenty of smaller POIs that you should investigate. Look on the map to find local stores and warehouses that might contain food and supplies that you need to survive past the first few days. Police stations and pharmacies are also worth exploring, as they might contain new weapons and important medical supplies respectively.

You can find maps of the different towns in-game, but they seem rather rare. Fortunately, you could also just hop on the internet and find a map, which is much easier. If you don't mind that slight break in immersion, we'd recommend using the Project Zomboid map project. It contains every building and POI in Project Zomboid. Just look at how big Louisville is compared to some of the other towns.

Project Zomboid player interacting with a car outside a house, street around them is dark

8. Find a car

After clearing the local area and looting any important buildings nearby, it’s time to expand your scavenging radius a little further. This might mean a trip to a neighbouring town, or maybe you'll want to explore Louisville. Either way, you may want a car to travel long distances. While cars are noisy and will attract zombies, they offer speed and storage that make them ideal for quick smash-and-grab-style scavenging runs.

When looking for a functioning car, try looking in the glove box for a key. The glove box can be accessed by getting into the driver’s seat (the doors are usually open), going to the loot menu, and navigating to the glove box section. If you find a key, pop it in the ignition. If it has fuel, you should be good to go (unless the car has suffered any damage and needs repairs). You can also hotwire cars if you don’t manage to find a key.

Project Zomboid player interacting with a sink to fill a saucepan and mug with water for storage

9. Store water in your base

For the first few days, or maybe even weeks, things can go swimmingly if you’re careful. Food is found in abundance and water is readily available on tap, so you can forget that the thirsty moodle even exists. Then, you might suddenly discover that the power and water get shut off. This comes as quite a shock and can be a death sentence for the unprepared. If you want to survive, the basic tip you need to remember is storing water.

As you explore the world and go on scavenging runs, look out for any bottles, pans, bowls, and mugs that you find. You can use all of these to store water, which is necessary if you want to survive the shut-off. You won’t be able to store infinite amounts, but you can build up a hefty stockpile that buys you some time while you figure out a more sustainable plan, such as building Rain Collector Barrels. To fill a container with water, simply take it to a tap, toilet, or anything else with running water, right-click to bring up the interaction menu and press fill.

Project Zomboid player fending off an incoming horde with a sweeping brush at a swimming pool

10. Accept death

Ultimately, Project Zomboid is the story of how you died. That doesn’t mean death is a certainty, but it’s extremely hard to avoid. Every cut, scratch, and bite could spell the end. It’s best to accept early on that you will die a lot and it is part of the game. With each death, you will learn new survival techniques and develop new methods for survival in the apocalypse.

Fortunately, death doesn’t necessarily mean game over. While your character can die and become a zombie, your world continues to thrive. You could start over on a new world, but you can also make another character in the same world and venture out to find your previous base. All of your loot will still be in the cupboards, so your progress doesn’t vanish entirely. You could even find your zombified character and kill them to retrieve your clothes, weapons, and any other supplies that you were carrying around.

You’ll have to start leveling your skills again as they don’t persist between characters, but that stockpile of food and water can still prove useful. Then again, starting over with absolutely nothing can be even more fun, as it allows you to start a brand new story from scratch.

That wraps up our tips and tricks for beginners in Project Zomboid. If you’re interested in more base-building and crafting, take a look at our list of the best survival games on PC in 2022. You can also check out our musings on Project Zomboid’s early access status from a few years back. While that article might be a few years old, its message still rings true.

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