How to Play Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead - 7 Important Things to Know

This game is harder than life itself. Survive the eldritch nights with these tips.

By Dale S. Apr 4, 2023 · 6 min read Published Apr 5, 2023  · Updated May 29, 2023
Colored by A.I., drawn by Danke
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Cataclysm Dark Days Ahead has consumed many of my waking hours these past few months. It’s one of those games that unknowingly, unexpectedly enraptures you. The strategy and survical aspects are the main hook of CDDA. If you find that most games don’t have a level of complexity enough to satisfy you, then this game might be the gem that sits perfectly. My first tip is to browse the Reddit. even randomly looking at other people’s questions will teach you a lot about the game, and spark inspiration for you next session. If you take the time to learn the basics, the game will quickly open up to you and the reward of braving the eldritch nights will become more apperent.

Below are some tips to keep you alive in the game for atleast a week.

1. Dying is fun

Once this game becomes your next addiction - the dying won’t matter. Cataclysm is one of those games where learning is a part of the fun, and that means dying, a lot. Despite this, I myself absolutely love hitting “Play Now” and being set with a random character and starting scenerio. It’s a new adventure everytime, and working with your character’s strengths is an interesting, intimate and immersive experience. There’s also a lot you can do, so each run gives you an opportunity to ask this question: “What do I want to do with this run?” Loading a new world is fast, and then your back into a new scenario, wiser than before.

2. It’s a long game

I honestly don’t know if you can win this game, but that’s the fun in it for me. How long can I battle the growing hoards, the strange calculations happening off-screen. It’s an immersive strategy game like none other.

3. You are stronger and weaker than you think.

The most basic enemy, the zombie, will delete your character if you try to fight them without any weapons. *Do not fight a zombie if you do not have a good weapon. Or any enemy for that matter. Wasp are deadly close up. Once you have sleuthed around for resources and holed up, craft a good weapon: I always make a quarterstaff because it’s easy and strong. With this, you can take on one zombie at a time. Even then, if your character isn’t naturally strong you won’t be fighting more than a dozen zombies without needing to heal for a day. If you see a radio or firewatch tower there are usually resources and sometimes firearms at the top z-level. As you progress and learn, the levels of destruction that you can achieve will turn you into one of the most dangerous entities on the map.

4. Learn the most important keybinding, customize your own.

Useful default keybind I know and/or use often:

“&": Craft menu
“*": Construction menu (here you can board up doors, deconstruct object if you    have the right tools, and a lot of other things, just look at it.)
“a”: activate, Use Item (pulls up a menu of all useable items you have immediately around you)
“A”: Activate, Use the current item wielded in your hands
“e”: Examine object around you (can be used to examine in certain menus)
“g”: get, or pickup an item
“G”: Grab (Pull a bike through a fence)
“F”: Fire
“R”: Reload
“U”: Unload (take credit cards out of wallets, batteries from other devices…)
“x” Look around
“V”: View (Pulls up a list of all items the character can see)
“B”: Butcher a corpse (Usefule for sinew, fats, harvesting) or disassemble an object
“@": Character sheet
“N”: Stats, character health summary
“P”: Bionics
“[": Mutatons

5. Meds

You can find meds in bathrooms, and use cotton patches to craft bandages. To put pressure on bleeding wounds to stop them from bleeding, make sure you are not holding anything and the character will do it automatically if t hey are bleeding.

6. Useful tools to pick up/craft

Screwdriver Allows you to disassemble things and gain valuable crafting resources. Hammer: Pry open doors, boxes, has “level 3 hammering quality” for crafting. Can be found in kitchens, sheds, and where you would usually find a hammer. Not a very goodd weapon. String: String can be found in the same place as the hammer usually, but can be crafted from tree bark, plant fibers. and sinew. Any sort of cordage is good, a lot of crafting option will open up. If you can craft or find a rope or long cordage string, crafting a “loop of rope” with it will enable you to carry more than one wooden plank, and stack certain large objects for carrying. Books: Books are the best and fastest way to learn skills. Duct Tape: Just get it. It’s as useful as it is in real life. Long Stick: You can make some great weapons with this. Reach weapons. It is different from just the regular “Stick.” Get it from cutting down trees, disassembling coat racks or certain things that look like they would have a long stick in their construction. Axe: Of course. Crowbar: Self-explanatory. Gordan Freeman it up. Shovel: Great starting weapon. But past this you can dig a pit, and later build a great trap called the “Spike pit.” Overall very useful. Guns: If you find a working car, ram a couple of police zombies, make sure you can escape or eliminate the rest. You can end up with a lot of guns. Vehicles are very useful

Rapid-fire resources:

  • lumps of metal/steel
  • credit cards in wallets
  • Withered plant
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • flashlights
  • batteries
  • matchsticks
  • food and water
  • any adhesives

7. General advice/How to play

Fire is your friend. When running from zeds, sometimes I will run to a wooden doorway and set the entrance on fire (a, then active a lighter/matchbook). Then I will stand behind the fire, blocking the way in and forcing zombies to stand on the fire in a single file line, taking damage from the fire and my melee hits. A combat knife is one of the best early weapons for this tactic because it does A LOT of damae and is quick to holster and bring out. Look for Humvees, they usually have great armor and a mounted weapon. But you will end up running over hoards of zombies with it more than shooting in the long run.

You won’t have to get food that much, but it’s usueful to have a canteen to store water in to drink on the go, or to collect clean water from water heating tanks, or fetid water from recesses and ponds to purify(boil) later. With a good vehicle and some looted weaponry, you will find success on the cursed lands.

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