Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead (C:DDA) is a tough game. Thrown into a post-apocalyptic world with nothing but the clothes on your back and no survival skills to speak of, you must find food, water, and shelter, all the while battling zombies and mutated wild animals. This guide helps you get through the first (and hardest) few days of your life in Cataclysm:DDA.

So here you are, in the relative safety of an evacuation shelter while the world outside has gone mad. Overrun with zombies and wild animals, everything around you is dangerous and death comes quickly and inexorably – unless you are prepared! In Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, you can and should all available resources around you to establish a base, find or craft equipment to protect yourself, and go out into the world.

Getting a weapon

It is inadvisable to leave your evac shelter, or even enter the shelter’s basement, without a weapon in hand. Cataclysm survivors start out with a pocket knife which can be wielded or thrown, but larger bludgeoning weapons are better. First off, nip out of the shelter and find a rock; there should be plenty lying about in the surrounding area. If you spot a wild animal – or a zombie – upon opening the door, get back inside and leave the shelter in different direction!

Wield the rock (select it, then press w to wield), and use it to s smash one of the benches in the shelter. It may take a number of hits to smash it, but eventually you’ll get a pile of two-by-fours and some nails. Use these to & craft either a nailboard or a cudgel, and wield that instead of the rock.

With this new weapon in hand, you may explore the shelter’s basement to see if there is any equipment stored there, or explorer the area immediately surrounding the shelter in order to find more rocks, for throwing, and search the undergrowth for food and tools.

Hunting and the throwing skill

For a beginning cataclysm survivor, every wild beast is a danger. While some animals such as wolves, moose and bears are clearly dangerous, even lowly dogs and rats can kill you if you let them. The smaller animals often make up for their lack of power with speedy attacks, and being attack by more than one dog or similar will end you. In fact, without a couple of points in the melee skill, you’ll likely not even manage to land a single hit.

In fact, here’s a piece of advice: if you see a wolf, moose, or bear, run away and don’t come back to the area again until much later. You should be able to spot these opponents at sufficient distance to get away, unless you run into them in the woods. In that case, running away is probably not an option – the beasts are far faster than you are – but pelting them with rocks may save your life.

A better way to tackle small animals and thus guarantee a supply of fresh meat is by throwing rocks at them. Rocks can be found lying around just about everywhere, and you can raise your throwing skill to 3 or 4 by simply throwing rocks around – you don’t even need to chuck them at an animal do gain throwing experience. At this skill level, you will easily hit dogs and even faster animals such as cougars, in a pinch.

Once you make a kill, butcher the corpse. The bigger the animal, the higher the chance that your meager butchering skill will yield you some chunks of meat. For squirrels and the like, it’s highly likely you’ll get no meat at all, but dogs should net you three or four chunks of meat, some bones, and sinew. Take this back to your home base to cook it up!

Managing thirst

Thirst is actually a bigger issue than hunger. At the very outset, it’s possible to hunt a few small animals in the woods and butcher their corpses for meat, which you can then cook on a fire and eat. Water, however, can only be obtained in towns or from a river. Carrying water requires a container and hopefully you’ll find plastic bottles, glass jars, or gallon jugs in your evac shelter’s basement. If not, you’ll need to find containers in a nearby town or scattered throughout the woods.

Going into town is dangerous at first, so you may want to search nearby undergrowth for plastic bottles. Searching bushes (press e, then point at a bush) raises your survival skill fairly quickly, and that means you’ll be able to scavenge up more items, and unlock new recipes while you’re at it. If you do go into town, focus on bringing back any plastic bottles, as well as cooking gear (a pot or a frying pan) usually found in houses’ kitchens.

Once you’ve got a container, fill it with water at a river. You can do this by e-xamining shallow water, upon which the game will prompt you to fill one of your bottles. Make sure you keep one empty container to receive clean water that you’ll boil later! If there’s no river nearby, you can fill containers with dirty water from toilets (found in town buildings) or pools (found in mansions).

Although you can drink dirty water directly, it may make you ill. Therefore, all water should be boiled. This can be done using a fire and an empty can, using a battery-powered coffee maker or an atomic coffee maker (both salvaged from houses). For a fire, find some wood (heavy branches, two-by-fours, or splintered wood), place it on the ground outside your shelter and light it with matches or a lighter. As long as you have an empty can nearby, or some cooking implement, you can press & to craft clean water and store it in an empty container.

Another way to obtain water is by collecting rain. It rains a lot in the world of Cataclysm, and if you place a funnel on the ground outside with a container under it, you’ll collect water over time. There are various ways of getting funnels. They may sometimes be found in kitchens, but you can craft a makeshift funnel using plastic bottles and a fabrication skill of 1, or leather funnels using leather patches, a needle, and a tailoring skill of 2. Select your funnel, press a to activate it and point to the ground in order to deploy it there. If you manage to do this, you will have a guaranteed source of water. Increasing the number of funnels and containers (preferably gallon jugs) increases your catchment area.

Cooking on a fire

A fire can be built using any available wood (heavy branches, two-by-fours, or splintered wood), and lit using matches or a lighter. But what do you do if you have no matches or lighter? With a survival skill of 2 (easily obtained by repeatedly searching the undergrowth) it’s possible to craft a camp fire drill from sticks, rocks and string. Though it takes longer to light a fire, you will now never run out of lighting tools.

A fire is essential to boiling water and cooking meat. As mentioned above, boiling water requires, at least, a nearby empty can and an empty container (bottle, jar, or jug) to store the clean water in. Cooking meat requires no container, but a cooking implement like a pot or frying pan. Still, you can use a wooden skewer in a pinch to hold your meat over the fire. Skewers can be found in the woods, but you can also obtain some by cutting up a heavy wooden stick.

Food sources

Hunting animals will get you chunks of meat, but it’s best to vary your diet and reduce risk obtaining food in the bargain. Searching the undergrowth will increase your survival skill, and you may find bird eggs, reptile eggs, wild herbs and rhubarb, all of which are edible. The eggs are best cooked, and both a boiled egg and scrambled eggs require a cooking skill of 1 (and a cooking implement like a pot or frying pan). You can easily increase your cooking skill to 1 by boiling water and frying raw meat, or using any other food recipe available at cooking skill of zero.

Raiding towns

With a source of food and water set up, you are now in a position to raid your first town for much-needed supplies. The golden rule of entering a town is this: there is no need to kill zombies. For a beginning survivor, a zombie is a major threat. Should you manage to kill it, all you will be able to loot from its body is all-most destroyed clothes. Its meat and bones are unusable. It is far better to remain unseen, approaching houses from the back, and ducking back into the forest when you spot a zombie in the distance. If there are zombies close by surrounding a house, retreat and try a different building.

When you find a building that you can break into without being spotted, try to do it fast and noiselessly. Most doors will be locked, and breaking one down will make a lot of noise and draw every zombie in the area toward you. Smashing a window makes less noise, but is still dangerous. Using a crowbar, you can try to unlock a window with a small chance of breaking it. With luck, you’ll be able to enter the building without making a sound.

A makeshift crowbar can be crafted before you ever leave your shelter. To do so, use a rock to smash one of the lockers in the evac shelter and collect a pipe. Then, using a rock as a hammer, & craft a makeshift crowbar and carry it with you. You can also wield it as a weapon instead of your nailboard or cudgel, thus reducing the number of items you’re lugging around.

Facing zombies

If a zombie spots you and comes too close, your first priority should be to escape. Zombies are slow, and if you’re not overburdened, you should be able to run back into the forest and lose the zombie. If you can’t, then make sure you face any zombies one by one; getting surrounded will lead to your death. With a single zombie following you, lure it into the small bushes that can be found on the open terrain. Zombies will move much slower through bushes, and you’ll be able to get two or three hits in before running away again. Use your speed: even with no bushes around, hit the zombie once, then move away and let it shamble toward you. Do not try and take on any fat zombies or tough zombies in the early game.

If you face a zombie inside a building, retreat back to the window you came through and hop outside. Then wait until the zombie climbs up onto the window sill. Climbing is not a zombie’s forte, and it will be much slowed as it perches on the sill. Use this opportunity to get as many hits in as possible, then retreat.