Bones to Pick
7 Days to Die is a game that has been in early access for nearly a decade. It’s a bit janky, it’s never had the best technical performance due to poor optimization, and console version players have been utterly shafted for years. It also happens to be one of my all-time favorite games, the PC version at least.
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It’s one of few survival games that, in my opinion, genuinely nailed the ideal formula for the genre. It’s a challenging game that is almost entirely focused on PvE rather than PvP. You loot, craft, and build a defensive base, and then every seven in-game days, a blood moon rises, and you have to defend that base against hordes of zombies until dawn.
The blood moon hordes give the game a purpose that most survival games lack. A constant ticking clock for you to prepare for, and that goes a long way toward making the game so special.
A new update was recently released titled Alpha 21. Ignoring the unending nature of its ten years of Alpha updates that threaten to upstage even the Fast & Furious movies crown of ridiculous immortality, each update does genuinely change and usually improves the game. Every update does, of course, have a swath of complaints, as is common with every update for any game ever.
The difference here is as I made an attempt to engage the 7 Days to Die community through Reddit and Discord. I had trouble doing so. I couldn’t relate to most people’s complaints or even their experiences as a whole. It felt alien. Like we were playing two different games altogether. I eventually deciphered that it felt that way because we kind of were.
Not only that, I figured out that addressing most of those complaints is as easy as switching one in-game setting. Turn on delete inventory on death, and poof, many of the game’s issues disappear. That’s because 7 Days to Die largely falls apart altogether without it.
It Fixes the Crafting & Loot System
7 Days to Die has a tiered crafting system where you slowly gain the ability to craft a higher-tiered version of gear. For example, you start out being able to make a level one Pipe Pistol. As you read handgun crafting magazines, you will slowly rise in that skill. Eventually, you can make level two Pipe Pistols, then three, etc. Once you can craft level five Pipe Pistols, you can go up a tech level and can craft level one Handguns, then Magnums, and so on. Each tech level has five tiers to it.
A common complaint I’ve seen is that the ability to loot or buy items from a trader breaks the system altogether. You see, each item has a level six version that cannot be crafted, only bought or looted. Many people feel that it invalidates the system when they find or buy a level six handgun when they can only craft level three. That they never have a reason to craft handguns again.
This problem is directly linked to your death settings. If you play on any setting other than delete inventory on death, every single item you craft or acquire is permanent. At most, you might have to respawn and pick up your backpack. Any level six-item you have is yours for the rest of the game. 7 Days to Die is a game with no end, you play until you get bored and want to start a new playthrough. That is what makes the system feel broken.
I don’t have that experience. When I find a level six-item, I’m ecstatic about finding something cool and powerful. But if I die with it, I lose it. This means that I still have reasons to craft those items. For one, I need a second set of gear to use in case I die. I’ll also still need to make level five versions of items because I’m unlikely to have that level six forever.
Without that setting, each non-consumable item crafted is basically a one-time thing. Every piece of armor, every weapon, every tool. You craft the highest tier you can and never again until you reach the next tech level. Once you run out of tech levels, the game stagnates. You are stockpiling hordes of resources that will likely never be used because you have nothing to craft because you have never lost a single item since you started playing.
The game’s resource economy doesn’t support that idea. The amount of iron, springs, or duct tape needed to craft a given weapon is exceptionally small if you will only ever need to craft one of them. You have such an overabundance of resources that many players opt to lower the loot abundance setting, which unknowingly applies a bandaid to a broken leg when the splint is sitting right beside it.
It Fixes the Chores
Some players view many of the game’s survival mechanisms as tedious chores. That’s because without delete inventory on death, they kind of are. That’s because they become meaningless, with no impact on the game except tedium.
Mechanisms like hunger, thirst, and injuries are core survival aspects. But without a consequence to death, they simply become annoying checklists. All three can debuff you, eventually leading to death. But it’s simply an inconvenience since there’s no fear of death in the first place.
For example. One of the nastiest injuries you can acquire is the dreaded infection. It’s difficult to cure once it takes root, once it reaches 100% you die, and it will impact your stamina and stats in the meantime. If you are playing with delete inventory on death. It becomes a relevant challenge to overcome. Your first defense is to not become infected in the first place. But if you do, your new mission is to acquire enough honey or antibiotics to cure yourself. If you die, you lose your inventory, so it has a real purpose in the game.
Without that setting, the fastest and smartest thing to do is to go to your base and unalive yourself, then you can just pick up your backpack. When you respawn you won’t have any injuries that you died with, including infections. An infection, broken leg, or concussion simply becomes an inconvenient thing to fix. A chore, rather than an impactful gameplay mechanic. Simply because all of those things make it easier to die, and death doesn’t matter.
The same is true of hunger and thirst. They become chores to check off so they don’t bother you while you play rather than something to actually care about. One common complaint I’ve seen about the new water system in 7 Days to Die is how it’s all meaningless anyway because it’s invalidated once you find a Purifier Helmet Mod. The Purifier is a mod that lets you drink murky water without consequences. Once again, much like a level six-item, it only breaks the related system if you have it forever. If you can die and lose it, the system functions just fine.
Cheese Is Not an Argument
7 Days to Die is a very elaborate voxel-based sandbox with tons of interconnecting systems. That means there is a level of cheese and exploits that are straight-up impossible for the developers to feasibly address. Some folks will attempt to use the existence of this cheese against my argument, so I’ll cut the head off that beast right now.
Sure, even with delete inventory on death. You could cheese (cheat) the game. If you have an infection, you could put away all of your gear in a box and unalive yourself. You could keep a Helmet Purifier mod at home, dig a hole, put water in that hole, and have infinite drinking water. You could exploit the zombie-pathing AI to cheese the blood moon hordes. Alternatively, you could build a separate horde base away from your main base ensuring that your main base is always safe during blood moons.
You could exploit the nature of the game in a hundred ways to make playing delete inventory on death as meaningless as the other settings. But, you know what else you could do? You could use creative mode, and with a single keystroke bring up a menu of the game’s entire catalogue of items that you can drag into your inventory. Want a level 6 sniper rifle on day 1? It’s only ever a couple of clicks away.
Unless you’re just goofing off, you probably wouldn’t do that. It’s probably pretty silly for me to point out that you have the ability to cheat anytime you want. Having access to cheats wouldn’t invalidate any argument I’ve made for playing with delete inventory on death, because saying my argument is wrong because a cheat menu exists, would also be silly.
It’s the same thing with cheesing the sandbox nature of 7 Days to Die. You have to go out of your way to do it, and you KNOW you’re doing it. There’s no feasible way for the developers to prevent most of it. How would they program a function, that would stop you from putting away your gear to avoid losing it right before you die? They can’t. But just as you choose to not activate a cheat menu during normal gameplay. You can simply choose, not to exploit the game.
After all, if you constantly cheese the game’s mechanisms, it’s probably time to question if 7 Days to Die is even for you in the first place since you’re going out of your way to avoid actually playing it.
Generally, options in games are a good thing, but that’s not always an objective truth. Some options have sweeping effects on how a game plays and the average person probably doesn’t even realize it. The option to play without a death consequence might seem like a good thing. But it makes much of the game’s framework crack under pressure, and while many players can identify something feeling off, they don’t always see where or why the cracks have formed.
Playing with delete inventory on death, seals up a great many cracks, but since it’s not the default option, many people would likely be resistant to trying it. Hopefully, I’ve managed to shed some light on why you definitely should. I myself would never play without it.
Death settings and difficulty are closely related, you may enjoy my article on The Anatomy of Challenge in Video Games.