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Dead Years – PAX East 2016 Hands-On Preview

Dead Years is the first title from two-person, Montreal based Studio ZeroByte. It’s a narrative heavy, quest-based title set in a cell-shaded, open world zombie apocalypse. You play as both a girl and her dog, which you can switch between at the press of a button. To survive, you must scavenge the wasteland for supplies, craft useful items and level up both yourself, and your K9 companion. “It’s an RPG with survival game elements.” says Nataliya, Co-Founder of ZeroByte.

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(Dead Years, ZeroByte)

During my demo, I played with a mouse and keyboard, which felt suited to the game’s current UI and “Diablo style” inventory screen. However, using a controller does not seem to be out of the question. Combat, which took place both indoors and outdoors in a small, town square area sliced off specifically for the PAX demo, felt very rudimentary. Unless I was attacking zombies from a distance with the pistol I acquired from completing my first quest, I was forced to engaged in cumbersome melee combat. Despite my best efforts, I was never actually able to melee zombies without taking any damage myself, both as the dog, or human wielding the axe or machete I’d scavenged. While novel, I found little use for the dog during my demo other than using his faster speed to kite away large groups of zombies from areas I wanted to explore.

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(Dead Years, ZeroByte)

After my demo, I was informed that the small slice of the game I played was not even remotely representative of the current build as it was created using a much earlier build of the game. The current build, which is approaching Beta, is not only far better rendered, but includes improvements to combat and allows the dog to do more. After leveling up the dog’s survival skills, players should be able to equip it with a pack and teach it to scavenge and even hunt.

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(Dead Years, ZeroByte)

According to the map I was shown, Dead Years‘ open world is huge, comprised of urban areas, industrial zones, and vast wilderness areas, which makes sense considering the game’s 25 hour length. The world also includes a full day/night cycle which influences the appearances of NPCs and enemies. Depending on the game’s success, ZeroByte hopes to be able to roll out additional episodic content in terms of new locations and quests.

Dead Years is slated to launch “sometime this year” on PC, with a console version coming approximately 6 months later. After it arrives on consoles, ZeroByte indicated that they hope to implement a form of multiplayer, allowing one person to control the dog while the other controls the girl. They are also open to the idea of other multiplayer options, but given the game’s narrative focus, the team’s not exactly sure what that will entail.

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