Story Mode Survival Guide

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Spoiler Alert!
for version 1.5.2
Note: English is not my native tongue. Feel free to correct my grammar.

Picking Your Main Character

Your main character can have a starting perk that determines starting bonuses.

  • Hobo +scavenging, +5 housing space, starting equipment: Backpack
  • College Student +engineering, schools and bars 25% more effective, starting equipment: Calculator
  • Construction Worker +building and half material costs, starting equipment: Saw
  • Gang Member +defense and no happiness loss from death/injury, starting equipment: Shotgun
  • Politician +leadership and one extra survivor, starting equipment: Top Hat
  • Shop Clerk +scavenging and +25% better trades, starting equipment: Crowbar
  • Doctor +engineering and -1 day to injury recovery, starting equipment: Doctor's Bag
  • Retiree +building and +10% happiness bonus, starting equipment: Hammer
  • Police Officer +defense and +1 from all guns, starting equipment: Pistol
  • Priest +leadership, church, more devout survivors, starting equipment: Megaphone

To start with, a great choice would be a Hobo. As you can see, it instantly gives you a +5 to housing space. Since the game has a random seed map generation feature , each city will be different (unless you entered the same seed with the same settings (unconfirmed). It would be a difficult scenario if you have no nearby apartments or suburbs to increase your maximum population capacity. In addition, reclaiming buildings at the early game is very time consuming since you only have 1 low level builder at that stage. Later on, you will learn why this is very important.

So why not choose Politician?

Yes, it immediately adds one extra survivor, but it does not add max population capacity. 1 immediate survivor will not equal the 5 immediate housing space especially when you can immediately recruit two survivors in just one mission. You can, however, gain the Politician perk (And other leader perks) by completing special quests in specific cities on the Campaign

As someone who plays on “impossible” I simply cannot agree with Hobo being a good choice.

I would recommend the following:

  • Doctor is one of the best perks for higher difficulties. Plus, it doesn't seem to be available as an extra perk throughout campaign. Cutting down on injury times will be crucial when dealing with high zed pressure, and the event bonuses this perk provide will help to avoid a lot of injuries in the first place. The doctor bag and extra engineering aren't going to be of much help in the first map though. It doesn't do much for lower difficulties however, as extra event luck and lame zed pressure make sure that his features are barely ever needed.
  • Police officer is the best icebreaker around. While not quite as crucial later on (both later on the first map and on later maps), early on it provides unrivalled edge for dealing with high zed pressure of your first map.

Once you've got the snowball rolling, you'll be able to pick a lot of extra perks. You can even re-play the maps to take the perks you missed out on. Check the perks page for more details. Consider the following:

  • Real Estate Developer, if available, is one of the strongest perks out there. After you have this there only two uses for building skill left. In events, and for chopping wood. The former will be taken care of by PC, and the latter is not all that great an option in the first place (and still can be taken care of by PC if you do have to resort to that).
  • Construction Worker goes a long way towards making your materials supply from early scavenging last till your trading is strong enough to bear the burden.
  • Rock Star, if available, makes setting up trade and alliances that much easier.
  • Programmer, if available, goes a long way towards building a stable fort. The amount of work it saves you in early game is immense. However it will be much less effective on earlier maps, since a lot of tech is not available on them.
  • Shop Clerk will make it easier for you to exploit trading, however the main driving force behind your trading will still be your farm base, and the above perks help with establishing it much more than this perk helps with the actual trade. Compared to them this is just a gimmick.
  • Police Officer and Gang Member are still worth getting, however their main value is on your first map, once you've got the snowball rolling, they are not all that important. Still better than a Shop Clerk though.
  • Politician and, when the stars align, Hobo can help with the “new blood” in the earliest parts of the map. While they are much more effective on your first map (before “the dream team” hogs the spotlight) they are not good enough to warrant taking for that purpose. However, even on later maps where “dream team” carries most of the burden, “new blood” is still important. On that front Politician provides you with a guaranteed “free scout” for your earliest days, and Hobo, in a rare event where survivors are much more abundant than housing space, can help with recruiting new blood in the earliest part of the game. Watch your food though. Having to many scouts may do you more harm than good. In any event both of these are gimmicks and are only marginally better than the rest of the perks not mentioned here.

First Things First

At the start of the game you will most likely have 1 builder, 1 scavenger, 1 main character and the others are soldiers. Please, do not immediately embark on missions. Read first the list below.

  • Know your surroundings. Your first goal should be to reclaim the nearest farm lands to support your population. Find the shortest route for land reclamation in achieving this goal.
  • Your main character's role. Yes, he/she can be a jack-of-all-trades, however the early game suggests that he/she should become strong as soon as possible. You may not see the peril for now, but as time goes you will notice the influx of zombie hordes that will soon surround your fort. In other words, start by leveling up his/her soldier skill by clearing zombies in the immediate area.
  • Check your survivors' equipment. Before you go to your fist mission, check your weapons and items, and give them to whoever needs them the most. If you picked your main character as a Hobo, give your Backpack item to your scavenger since he/she will be needing it most of the time.
  • Turn-based or not? I do not prefer going for a turn-based strategy for this game, since clicking the GO icon will always advance the game to one day. Using a turn-based game style will not optimize your survivor missions because they will mostly likely finish in fractions of a day, like finishing a zombie clearing in 1.8 days or finishing a reclamation in 3.5 days or so. Skilled scavengers can complete several missions a day, in real time. I prefer the real-time set to maximum game speed. You can just press the Spacebar to pause the game while give missions to your survivors.

Early Game

Define early game?
For me, it doesn't really mean the number of days. It is the stage when your number of farms is not yet enough to sustain your survivors, and you don't have the necessary buildings yet for a thriving colony. Therefore, your goal here is very clear... I just told you. You need to have enough farms, apartments or suburbs, at least one hospital, a school , a workshop, and a laboratory. If there's a fire station, water treatment plant, disused farm, or power generator, prioritize reclaiming it!

  • Soldiers and Main Character. You should start sending them to zombie clearing missions to level up their skill and protect your fort. The very first land you should clear is towards the nearest farm, or towards the nearest group of farms. To maximize zombie clearing, stack them in pairs to increase mission speed. Two low level soldiers can clear a green danger building in one day, a single low level soldier can clear it in two days (See that difference!?). Another thing in maximizing zombie clearing, after you drag-and-dropped your soldier to the spot you want to clear, point your mouse to the Gun icon and you will see how many zombies it has and the danger level of that mission. Always appoint your strongest soldier or stacks of soldier to those with lots of zombies to maximize zombie killing. For better precision, click on the square you intend to clear and select the mission that way. You can see exactly how much each additional soldier affects the time and danger, and choose precisely the needed number of soldiers. And please, going on a mission with a yellow or red danger level (I'm not talking about the color of the land or buildings in the Info Overlay, I'm talking about the color of the small triangle with the skull) should only be your last resort if it comes to that point, which I doubt will never come if you follow this guide. Unless you want to dispose those survivors. If truly necessary, send your leader. They can't die.
  • Scavengers. His/her first mission is not to scavenge food since you start with a full food resource. Send him/her to scavenge materials instead. Once your food resource dropped to at least 45, you may send them to scavenge food, or better yet, send them to areas which both have food and materials. This saves you a lot of time. Scavenging missions also finish faster if not done alone. If you badly need to finish scavenging asap due to some reasons, you may partner your scavenger with your main character. Another tip, you only need a maximum of two scavengers in early game or even at the whole game if you have good survivor management skills. And one last important thing, do not send them to scavenge food if you already are full of those resources, as it will just go to waste.
  • Builders. If you have nothing to reclaim or build, scout!
  • Engineers. Until you have a laboratory, they are pretty useless (unless they have the MacGyver perk). Use them to scout or change their jobs in a school. however, do save some for research
  • Leaders. If there aren't any survivors to recruit, scout!
  • Idle Survivors. There should be no idle survivors defending your fort even without the danger of a zombie horde in the vicinity. Use them to scout lands and buildings, put them to schools to increase their skills, put them to farms or fields if you need food, put them to rest if they need to, or put them to chop wood to gather materials. However, in the early game, idle survivors are more importantly used to scout, especially those unexplored areas.
  • Scavenging/Zombie Killing Trick. You are still able to issue scavenging/clearing missions to unscouted areas (Although it's safer if scouted first, this can be used to save time). You may safely do so by checking the danger level after dropping your scavenger/soldiers into that unscouted land or building. If the danger sign is green, it's safe!
  • Other factions (If added). As you scout further outwards of your fort, you will find other factions that have set up fort in the same city. these factions are usually not hostile when you first meet them. You can meet with other factions every few days or trade with them at where their caravan is located (Shown by a guy holding an apple (Exept Gustav's caravan, which would have his face instead). If you haven't built a city hall yet, visiting them will do almost nothing (sometime they activate or continue a special quest in the city). So for now, focus on building your fort first
  • City Hall. After you reclaim plenty of buildings (exact number determined by city size), You can build a city hall. After it's built, you need to set the basics of your city's goverment, it's ideology, priorities, how it deals with crime, etc. every choice brings a different effect to your fort (like policies). When you're done, you can meet with other factions and start making friends (or enemies)

Additional notes:

  • Get a lab ASAP. If you can survive on scavenging for a time than it's even more important than getting farms. The lab is the key to fort stability. Even in the earliest maps where most techs are locked away, construction and people management are crucial. Management needs no advertising, and construction in most cases will play a key part as well. To build a stable fort, certain buildings are a crucial, and not every map will provide you with this buildings in reachable vicinity. You absolutely need enough hospitals, (2-3 even for a doctor, depending no how bad the zed pressure is), having bars and churches (even if unmanned) will come in handy in events, at least a single school will be invaluable when it comes down to dealing with slackers (builders for Real estate developer, excessive leaders, survivors unsuited for their current profession (such as pacifist fighters) will all require re-training that only a school can provide). Point is – if you don't have construction you run a risk of not having something crucial available.
  • Mind your fort stability. While it's “ok”, and even somewhat beneficial to survive on scavenging rather than farming while you can, it can quickly go from can to can't. Don't let your food per day fall too far below 0 in early game (I'd say around -4 or -5 is the time to start worrying), don't bring it above about +4 or +5 in early game either. If it's there already, time to get someone to chow it down. If there' isn't something more pressing to deal with, try to keep your food supply above 20. Not having that much may force you to fight the slavers and that can mean fresh graves. On top of it, Gustav may at times offer his services for food and it's a real shame to be unable to afford them. Also be sure to keep some extra housing space. Even if you aren't actively recruiting there may still be an event that will provide you with extra survivors. Even if you aren't ready for them, it's better to get them and deal with food shortage then not to get them at all.
  • Take note of any “hostile” factions (less than 50% respect). Before you get a City Hall keep sending your scouts to “meet” them for extra respect. “City Hall powered” meetings can get nasty, and you can't trade with a faction that doesn't have 50 respect points for you. This is why it's important to get those unfriendly factions to at least 50 respect points, and the pre-City Hall visits can help with that.
  • Once you have the City Hall, even if you aren't ready for real trade yet, get a negotiator and start sending him everywhere as often as possible. Even if you can't trade yet you can give 'em 1 food, and tell them that “they can keep it” at the end of the trade for extra respect. Better respect means better prices, and “trade -> they can keep it” combo is one of the best ways to rack up respect.
  • Trading is the best source of resources. Materials, bullets, fuel, medicine and equipment will all be yours if you can combine a high enough respect with a high enough farming base. While your negotiator is setting up your “connections”, get your engineers and builders to set up your farming. You need the “pesticide” tech branch for better farms and bigger storage, and you obviously need a lot of farms. The sooner you get this done the sooner your resource trouble will become a thing of the past. You could say that getting this done is more or less the goal of the early game.
  • Scavenge early, scavenge a lot. One aspect of scavenging that's easy to overlook is equipment. Until you can get your trading into full swing, scavenging will be your main source of equipment. Just having enough materials and food isn't a reason enough to stop scavenging. You also want your survivors geared up.
  • Don't let the zed force you to go on defense. If you are not killing zed you are loosing. While your soldiers are sitting there slacking their jaws away, more zed are spawning elsewhere. Which means even more defense will be needed in the future. Depending on difficulty this can quickly spiral out of control. Generally speaking, the time you waste on defending is worth more than the time you'd need for getting materials, re-killing the zed, and re-reclaiming the tile. One notable exception is the “zed horde” unit. Those guys don't sit under your walls for long, nor are they an easy target to counter. Those CAN be worth defending against, but even that is situational at best. Go on counter-offense instead. Yes, it is harder, but it is a lot more productive.


Additional notes for higher difficulty:

  • Don't be afraid to “go yellow” when necessary. In fact on the first map it will be unavoidable. Even a highly successful reclaiming campaign on the first map is bound to run into enough zed pressure to hit the yellow risks at some points. You'll have to power through it. This is where the Doctor truly shines and this is where you'll need those extra hospitals. Just don't go orange, THAT is suicide.
  • The whole difficulty of the game hangs on being able to expand faster than the zed threat escalates. You need to find, feed, equip and train a strong enough force to power through the end-game. It's not the end if you started loosing ground, it's the end if you stopped gaining momentum. Put your priorities on whatever it is that's bottlenecking your progress even if that hurts you in other areas. For example, if you're constantly lacking materials switch some of your weaker soldiers to scavengers, having more soldiers later is more important than having more soldiers now, weak army that can continue growing is better than a strong army that can't.
  • Feel your expansion slowing down and your army slowly cracking under the zed pressure? Use your over-abundant materials to make and deploy zed traps. They WILL make a difference. Don't yet have over-abundant materials? Well, then you've either gotten yourself in to a temporary fluke of bad luck or into a downwards spiral of defeat. Seriously, you can't afford to lose all your momentum before the early game is over.
  • Use chain countering. With some management, one squad that is strong enough to counter a “massed zed” threat can be used to counter multiple “massed zed” threats. Normally when a threat pops up under your walls it'll sit there for some time then storm the walls. The key to successful defense isn't in sitting across from them the whole time, it's in being there when they DO attack. And this is also why countering is superior to defending. Defending from a threat sets it attack timer back too much, countering does not. If you attempt to defend from one threat and then move to a later threat you may easily get into a situation where the later threat actually strikes first. Countering however almost always work “in turn”. The idea behind chain countering isn't as much in countering as it is in defending. If a zed unit attacks while your troops are countering it it'll resolve as if your whole countering squad was waiting for them behind the walls. As soon as that happens you can move the squad to counter the next threat. Keep in mind though, that even without defenders throwing off the timing there WILL be some minor fluctuations in zed attack times. The threats that popped up nearly simultaneously CAN attack in a different order. If that happens involve an extra countering squad.
  • If you are desperate to squeeze more efficiency out or if you are micro-tolerant you can use the following two small tricks to your advantage:
    • Swap-diplomacy. Send a “scout” to a diplomatic (or trading) mission instead of your skilled leader (or multiple scouts on multiple missions with comfortable time interval) then once the mission is nearly complete swap the scout for the leader. This way you can cut the time your leader spends on those missions (by replacing it with your scouts time). If your diplomat happens to be one of your dream team members this can give a notable improvement of your total workload.
    • Swap-scouting. If you have less named binoculars than scouts start your scouting missions in turn and swap around either the binoculars or the people with them to be there when the scouting finishes. While tedious this can really accelerate your scouting in the early game while you still don't have the improved scouting tech.
  • Mind the lousy coding, the number of zed in the tile gets updated dynamically as the zed killing mission progresses, but the timer and difficulty are not. The missions difficulty will reset to the appropriate level some time after being abandoned. Depending on how you dance around this issue it may greatly help you or greatly hurt you. For example I've seen a single zed injure two lvl25+ soldiers in turn, just because it was a remnant of a large horde of zed.
    • A countering mission will still retain it's extra danger levels even after the zed unit has made it's move. Unless there's a good reason why you want that particular tile cleared you'd be better off cancelling the mission and having your soldiers work somewhere else. However, if you do not have better targets around, and the countering mission is “stable” by all means DO finish it (happens a lot in early game when a dream team member counters an early massed zed threat).
    • Conversely you can use this to your advantage. A zed killing mission's progress will not reset when a new unit enters the tile. Once you have determined where the zed horde will attack you from you can “pre-kill” this tile 99% of the way, and leave it hanging till the horde walks in. At that point it will take only one last tick of danger to kill the whole horde. Mind the danger though, the last tick of a killing mission always does a danger check and the arrival of the unit WILL update the danger level, so be sure that the squad that does the finishing touch is strong. Since it'll only take a short moment however, you can safely pull a lot of soldiers there for that time without it strongly affecting your army's overall workload.
    • You can also leave normal zed killing operation in a similar state if you're not yet ready to reclaim the tile. However it is not advisable to keep them that way for long.
  • Beyond the first map, large part of your success will hinge on the team and equipment that you take with you. Here are tips related to building up a team to take with you and some occasional tips on general people management:
    • Don't be fooled by the game's class system. YES, the PC is the only person that can TRAIN all 5 skills without switching them in school, NO that doesn't make him the only one who can USE all 5 skills without switching them in school.
      • Train your dream team in all 5 classes.
      • If some of your normal class-maxed survivors are slacking for some reason feel free to give them a second class. Though frankly speaking that is not likely to happen in a course of a well played yet challenging game.
    • Perks are usually generated in the following manner:
      • First of the 3 is drawn from the “personal” pool. Those can be pretty typical and boring, can even be negative, or can be really rare and beneficial but they all do not depend on the current class and only depend on the “person”. If not taken those tend to linger.
      • The second and the third are drawn from the class perks pool of whatever class the survivor is currently in. Want a soldier with first aid? Get him up to a perk level, then train him till he becomes a lvl1 engineer, then check if you can grab the first aid perk, then switch back to soldiering.
      • If the personal perk is pretty standard, consider taking it and training that person in whatever class that perk belonged to. For example if your new leader's first perk is firearm training consider switching him to soldier. From the second perk choice and onwards you get better chances at rarer class perks if you have more perks of that class already taken out of the pool. On top of that, you cleared your path to your second personal perk, and who knows, maybe it's a miracle waiting to happen.
      • Some perks can be provided by items. If such a perk appears in your perk choice cancel out, temporary equip such an item, and see what changes. You MAY get a better perk in it's place.
    • When looking for potential recruits for the “dream team” pay extra attention to special people:
      • Pilot. You can get the pilot (always the same person AFAIK) on any mission that allows using the plane. And to use it you'll need a pilot. If your pilot is already well trained not only do you save time on re-training your next pilot, but you also save a bit more wiggling space for choosing the extra people for your next map.
      • Rotten. A few maps will give you one at the end of a quest line. Gets immunity perk and no rations perks for free. They don't get any personality perks though, AFAIK, and they tend not to get any good perks in my game.
      • Former Luddies. Come with free Former Luddie perk, and, more importantly, free Green Thumb perk. This makes them pretty great scavengers, see below why that is such a good thing.
      • Any people with free perks from events. For a cheesy method – do a map on easiest difficulty. The extra event luck there will practically shower your people with free perks. On impossible however, don't get your hopes up much. It'll take a lo-o-ong life and some luck to get any event perks on the right people.
    • THE perk you are looking for in your “dream team” of vagabonds is the Scrapper perk in the scavenger class. That gives you an extra defense point for every scavenging point. That means +10 defense from maxing scavenging on top of 10 defense from maxing defense. Better still it includes equipment. A scrapper with fire axe or a named boomerang, and named binoculars gets a total of 26 defense and 14 scavenging (plus whatever other perk bonuses you managed to score). If you don't have named binoculars get a backpack for 27/15.
    • The second place goes to MacGyvers. Those get half of their engineering to their defense. If you could get both of those on one person that'd be great, but don't count on that.
    • If you got a Resourceful scrapper you've got yourself a notably better scrapper.
    • Good combat perks also help. A fighter would be almost as welcome as a resourceful scrapper.
    • Superhero would be welcome. So would be Commander. Don't even bother with defense experts.
    • Beyond that try to branch out and cover more ground. For example one of my scrappers doubles down as my negotiator. Providing an easier and earlier access to trading and respect build-up.
    • Fearless Reclaim is also one to watch for, however the perk is pretty rare, and TBH if you can't get it on a scrapper it's not worth the trouble.

Mid Game

By now, you should have built a city hall, have a steady supply of food, and seen other faction's fort. this section will teach you how to deal with other factions and how to win the game by befriending or destroying all factions

  • Missions. If you meet with other factions (assuming that faction hasn't given you a mission or the previous mission is completed), they will give you a mission. these mission range from giving them something, doing a quest, and other things, Completing these mission will increase the faction's respect to you (and sometimes, their strength). Rejecting them will cause the faction's respect to decrease.
  • Trading. After you build a city hall, you can trade with factions in their fort, instead of their caravan. The rest is the same as normal trading
  • Raiders and Soldiers. You may have seen people holding guns and thieves walking around the city. These are the soldiers and raiders of other factions. What faction they represent is shown by the faction's logo on the corner of their picture. They won't do anything to you, unless their respect for you is low.
  • Alliances. If a faction's respect to you is 100%, you can make an alliance with them. This mission will be done in your city hall and best done by leaders. after the mission is done, the alliance is announced and, huzzah! You have a new ally! They will give you regular shipments of items every week (exact type of item and quantity differs by factions)
  • War. If you prefer destroying a faction instead, you can declare war on them and start destroying their fort, one block at a time. Of course, they will try to do the same to you so you must fight back. how hard it is to attack a building is determined by the faction's strength and whether there are soldiers or raiders in that block or not. Sucsessfully attacking a building beside your fort will add them to your fort. Destroying their HQ (shown by a building with a red flag that says "HQ" on it) will reduce their strength significantly and you'll earn some items, but it won't destroy the faction. After destroying their last block, your group emerges victorious! Making it that there's one less faction to worry about!

Well, that's the end of your city. after befriending or destroying all other factions, you've won! After this, it's time to move on. A mission will be available in the city hall to leave the city, bringing 3 other people with you. If you have found, reclaimed, and completed the quest of the disused farm, you can bring 5 people with you instead of 3. Of course, one of them must be a pilot to fly the plane.