Project Zomboid Beginner's Guide artwork and logo

Project Zomboid's world is riddled with danger, and it only takes one minor mental misstep to start a chain of events that will end with you becoming the newest member of the local zombie horde. However, with a bit of careful preparation and ingenuity it's entirely possible to not only survive the zombie apocalypse all on your own, but also thrive in it!

So in an effort to get you started on the right foot with Project Zomboid, as well as to help you make it through that hellish first week that has claimed the lives of countless beginners, allow me to share with you some handy tips and advice that I learned over the course of hundreds of hours. Without further ado, let us begin!

Video version of this guide (~16 minutes)

1) Do you even lift?

While creating a character in Project Zomboid you will likely get overwhelmed by the absurd amount of stats and traits that modify everything from your hunger rate to whether you prefer to keep the toilet lid up or down. Most of this stuff doesn't matter, so just make the type of character that really speaks to you.

What does matter, however, is strength and fitness. Strength determines your carry weight and power in melee combat, while fitness makes you tire slower, recover quicker and even increases your attack speed. These two stats also happen to be incredibly hard to level, to the point where I think you could become a bodybuilder in real life quicker than you could in Project Zomboid, and I'm only half joking.

So if you want to make a competent character, I would highly recommend taking traits that boost your strength and fitness as those will have the greatest effect on your gameplay. As for the negative traits you'll need to pick in order to counterbalance this, I'd advise going for stuff that you can manage personally like high thirst over something like restless sleeper that just randomly makes your game more annoying to play.

Project Zomboid Beginner's Guide screenshot of the starting stat screen

I tend to start with these types of traits, plus a career to spice things up

2) Don't be a beast of burden

Given that you're the last survivor in a literal zombie apocalypse, you're probably going to be tempted to loot everything that isn't nailed down, especially food. Unfortunately, this is a costly mistake as being overburdened will make you slower, clumsier, less capable in combat, and even actively damage you if you really push things too far.

All of that juicy loot will still be there when you come back later - the zombies aren't going to destroy it. So unless you know the path home is 100% secure, or if you have a car nearby, it's best to keep yourself light and mobile. After all, it's better to make two trips than end up dying because you simply had to shove two dozen cans of beans down your pants.

Project Zomboid Beginner's Guide screenshot showing the player walking away from a huge horde

Being slow can be quite deadly in Project Zomboid

3) Focus on the essentials

Not all loot in Project Zomboid is equally important. Food and water, despite being necessary for survival, can be found easily enough. However things like tools, bags and generators are much more rare as not every kitchen is going to have an industrial-grade sledgehammer just lying around.

So if you're going out into the zombie infested streets on a looting run, here are the essential items you should keep an eye out for:

Early Game

Quality bag - being able to carry more is always good
 Hammer, screwdriver and saw - the tools used in most crafting endeavors
 Durable weapon - crowbar, axe, machete, or even a lead pipe in a pinch
 Low level skill books - these will greatly speed up your leveling process

Mid Game

 Gas can - can't go wrong with more fuel
 Generator - a necessity once power goes out
 Generator magazine - can't use one without it
 Needle and scissors - tailoring can help boost your protection
 Sledgehammer - the universal key capable of opening any door, window, wall or whatever other surface you might dislike

4) Pick your fights

Zombies are very dumb, but a large group of them can easily drag you down and kill you within seconds if you don't respect the danger they pose. As such, you ideally only want to fight a couple of zombies at a time as you can do that fairly safely. If there's only 2-3 zombies all you need to do is push one down onto the ground, stand on top of them so they can't get up, and then try to topple the rest of your foes until you're left with a 1v1 situation. At that point victory is practically guaranteed as you're far stronger in a straight up fight.

Unfortunately, zombies tend to be very inconsiderate and will frequently cluster into hordes. If this happens, what you need to do is get the attention of any stragglers, pick them off once they break away from the group, and then keep chipping away at the horde until you can handle a proper fight against them. It's a bit of a time-consuming process, but it's a safe and reliable one if you do it carefully, as well as an important one. You really don't want random hordes just roaming around your base as that will eventually come to bite you... quite literally!

Project Zomboid Beginner's Guide screenshot of a fight against numerous zombies

Their numbers are irrelevant as long as you can avoid being surrounded

5) When in doubt, get out!

Unless you've specifically enabled sprinters, the most important thing you need to know about Project Zomboid is that your walking speed is faster than any zombie's. So if you ever find yourself in a high-risk situation, your best course of action is to simply leave. You can always come back later once the zombies have buggered off and loot in peace, or simply handle the horde in a more secure manner.

Should you decide to flee, there's a good chance you will attract a fair few zombies who will now start to follow you. No matter what, it's important not to panic and run around like crazy as that will simply leave you exhausted. Instead, channel the legendary Pied Piper and lead your posse of zombies on a fun little adventure through the woods, or even just around buildings.

Once you've dragged them through enough obstacles and the horde starts to lose you, your next step will be to enable sneak mode (C key), quietly run around another set of trees or buildings in order to keep yourself out of sight, and then take the long way back to where you started. This will leave the zombies hopelessly stuck for a couple of days while you get to casually loot the previously infested location.

6) Guns are powerful, but...

Guns, as you would expect, are incredibly powerful and can rip through hordes upon hordes of the undead with ease. However, that power comes at a price. Guns not only require ammo which is often in short supply, but they're also incredibly loud. If you start popping off shots at random, soon enough every zombie within a kilometer will shamble over to to your location see what all the commotion is about.

Because of this, guns can never be your plan B. You need to carefully consider when and how you're going to use them, because once you start shooting you're very likely not going to be able to stop until you've killed literally every single zombie within the area. As such, until you have a decent chunk of ammo in your armory, guns are best left as fancy ornaments back at home.

It's also worth mentioning that in order to have guns actually hit anything you'll need to train your aiming skill. So before you even consider picking up an assault rifle, make sure to practice your aiming with a shotgun as they fire out the highest amount of projectiles and thus level up your aiming skill the fastest.

Project Zomboid Beginner's Guide screenshot of a shotgun blast against zombies

Don't feel afraid to use guns, however. They're a ton of fun!

7) Establish a base

Once you've found a couple of essential items, or if the sun is beginning to set, you'll want to secure yourself a base. That said, your first few houses are probably not going to be permanent so don't get too attached to them. They're mostly here to provide you with a safe place to sleep and stash your valuables.

After you establish a permanent residence you'll want to fortify it with barricades, walls and other defenses, but while you're still in the early stages of the apocalypse a simple two story house will do you just fine. Clear it out of any zombies, pull down the curtains to avoid attracting attention, and then retreat to the upper floor. As an extra safety measure you can even place furniture in front of the windows and doors so any zombie trying to break in will have to slowly claw their way through that as well. While this is by no means an impenetrable fortress, it'll be more than enough to keep you safe from any roaming zombies, and even full on hordes in a pinch.

Project Zomboid Beginner's Guide screenshot of a secure early game home

A small slice of paradise

8) Stay in good shape

Much like real life, being tired or sleepy drastically reduces your performance. And when I say drastically, I really do mean that! Being even moderately exerted will decrease your melee damage by 50% among other things, and the same goes for the first stage of sleep deprivation. So if you try to fight while tired and exhausted, you'll be about as effective in combat as if you were wielding a particularly fluffy pillow.

In order to avoid a grizzly fate you'll want to rest up every once in a while, and also make sure you maintain a healthy sleeping schedule. Like I've said before, everything you're trying to loot will still be waiting for you tomorrow, so try not to take any stupid risks while your character is barely conscious. There's really no point to it, especially since you're unlikely to find something that amazing in a random house.

9) Treat wounds quickly

It doesn't matter if we're talking about a small cut you received while running through the woods or a nasty gash from a zombie attack - all wounds need to be treated. In order to do so you'll need to rip up clothes (zombie clothes included), take the clean strips of cloth, and then use them to bandage your wounds through the health tab (H key). For additional effect you can first boil your bandages to sterilize them, though this isn't too important as infections are surprisingly tame in Project Zomboid. Failing to treat your wounds will result in you slowly (or rapidly depending on where you got hurt) losing health and eventually dying, so you definitely want to keep on top of your injuries.

Besides regular infections, you can also catch the zombie virus which is unfortunately a 100% death sentence unless you disable zombification in the sandbox settings. Under normal rules a scratch from a zombie has a 7% chance to infect you with the zombie virus, a laceration 25%, and a bite 100%! So if you find yourself feeling overheated, anxious and queasy, you might want to start preparing things for your next character or go out in a blaze of glory as you're likely not long for this world.

Project Zomboid Beginner's Guide screenshot of various injuries that need treating

You can survive truly horrible injuries, so don't give up hope!

10) Cars and their danger

While they may be loud, cars are incredibly handy to have in Project Zomboid as they can help you transport vast quantities of loot, as well as make a quick getaway if the situation calls for it. Unfortunately, finding an unlocked car in working condition is not exactly easy.

As such, whenever you run across a car on your adventures you should poke around to see if there are any keys on the floor or in the glove box. Once you get lucky and find them, check if the car starts and if there is any gas in the tank. Usually there won't be, so mark down on your map where the car is located and return to grab it later once you've secured yourself a full gas can. This can often be a laborious process, but having a working vehicle is well worth the trouble!

The final thing worth mentioning is that speeding is a great way to die in Project Zomboid, even more so than in real life. You can barely see anything while driving, so if a tree or a wreck suddenly appears in front of you, chances are you won't be able to react and avoid it if you're going at high speeds. If you're lucky this will only severely hurt you and destroy your car, and if you're unlucky this will either kill you or cripple you so much you'll wish it did. So once you do finally get a car, treat it and yourself well!

Project Zomboid Beginner's Guide screenshot of a van driving over zombies

In a pinch, a car can also be used as a weapon

11) Helicopters suck!

Even though you don't get to drive one, you might be intrigued to hear that there are helicopters in Project Zomboid. Sadly, they're all exclusively piloted by morons! The helicopter event will occur between days 6-9 and will involve the obnoxiously loud helicopter circling around your position for hours on end, and in the process attracting hundreds upon hundreds of zombies to your location.

There are two ways to handle this. The proactive way involves you either grabbing a couple of supplies and heading out into the woods so you don't attract too many zombies, or driving around in your car so the zombies never cluster around one singular spot. It's a little bit risky, especially if you're on foot, but nothing you can't manage as long as you stay calm and keep moving.

The more passive option involves you shutting all windows, creating as many makeshift barricades as possible, retreating to the top floor of the house, and then sitting tight until the helicopter pilot gets bored. Once it goes away you'll likely have to clear out a bunch of zombies from your house, but provided they haven't seen you they shouldn't be huddled too closely together and as such will be easy prey. The downside of this approach is that your house is likely going to get wrecked in the process, so I wouldn't recommend holing up in a base you actually like.

12) Dislike something? Change it!

While Project Zomboid has a couple of presets for you to play around with, it's fundamentally a sandbox game. If there is some aspect of gameplay that you simply don't enjoy, you have the means to change it. Don't like how hard zombies are to kill? Make them weaker. Want to see how you fare in snowy weather? Start in December. Hate yourself? Make the zombies sprinters with impeccable vision and hearing!

Not only that, but Project Zomboid has hundreds upon hundreds of quality mods to help you spice up your apocalypse. As such, if you ever find yourself growing bored of the vanilla experience, start experimenting with mods as they can drastically change how the game plays. My personal favorite is the Random Zombies mod that lets you set how many of each type of zombie will spawn in your world. I've found that a small percentage of sprinters, even as low as 2-3%, can really shake up the gameplay and force you to think of entirely new strategies in order to survive.

The most important thing to note here is that there is no wrong way to play Project Zomboid. Tweak things to exactly how you want them and have fun with it, regardless of what the grumpier side of the Internet might say about it. At the end of the day, Project Zomboid is just a game, and games are meant to be as relaxing or as soul-crushingly challenging as you want them.

Project Zomboid Beginner's Guide screenshot of the sandbox menu for zombies

Sprinters make Project Zomboid into a completely different game

Closing thoughts

There you have it, twelve simple tips to hopefully make your first week in Project Zomboid a nice and pleasant one. That said, even if you follow everything I've said to the letter, you'll likely still die a whole bunch because that's just the kind of game Project Zomboid is. After all, there's a very good reason the game starts with the rather ominous "This is how you died..." statement.

Don't worry too much about that, however. I'll use a bit of a cliché here, but it's not the destination that matters - it's the journey! So if you ever find yourself kicking the bucket, just make a brand new character in a brand new place and go on a brand new adventure. Things might end up being better, they might end up being worse, but either way it'll definitely be a fun and unique experience!