State of Decay 2 is now finally upon us. I made a strong point in my preview that I appreciated Undead Labs’ development process here. Crackdelay 3 has practically lost all of its hype, I don’t care how much Terry Crews you sprinkle on it, it’s nowhere near as sought-after as it once was. Sea of Thieves, on the other hand, enjoyed a wide open development, so open that high expectations were made, but are sadly yet to be met. Undead Labs, however, has been sensible with their handling of State of Decay 2. They haven’t over-hyped and run the risk of under-delivering, delays have been minimal to maintain interest and they’ve not revealed too much about it, to instill excitement.
Does the end result pay off? Has it been worth the wait? Well, for fans of the first game (such as myself) yes, it certainly has. Whether or not this will appeal to newcomers remains to be seen, but it’s not one to overlook, that much goes without saying. By and large, State of Decay 2 is very much inline with its predecessor. Which is to say that the forefront concept here is to survive the zombie apocalypse, micromanage several systems and ultimately build a thriving community. The game starts out by allowing players to select from a random couple of characters, each with their own backstory and personality. Once you’ve chosen your couple, the game wastes no time at getting you in on the action.
State of Decay 2 does a good job at feeding you into the basics of play during the initial phases of the game. You’ll quickly learn the controls, how each system handles, as well as how to deal with specific scenarios that are thrown at you at a regular pace. One of the first assignments you’re given is to establish an outpost before padding it out so that you can facilitate your communities’ needs. Naturally, your community is lacking in diversity to begin with, but as you gel with the experience, it wont be too long before you’re growing in both numbers and capability. This typically amounts to completing random quests, winning over allies and scavenging for resources to keep the greedy bastards happy.
Regardless as to which of the three sizable locations you select from at the beginning of the game, there’s a heavy focus on exploration and daring. You see, your community will consistently demand your aid, but it’s equally as important to scout out the environment in search of goods. This is where a lot of the “risk-vs-reward” aspect comes into view. Do you head to an abandoned building a few miles away and leave your people wide open to attack? Or do you stay close to home so that you’re always on hand? This almost always creates a paradoxical situation, being that curiosity tends to pay off in leaps and bounds, but often comes at an expense that you cant always afford.
Your community’s mandatory needs are spread across a range of different resources and capabilities, which collectively feeds their overall moral. This stock includes the likes of food, ammunition, medical supplies, fuel and so on and so forth. Outpost upgrades such as a medical bay, vegetation and much more, also plays a vital role on your path to success. The kicker is, is that many of these items are rewarded through exploration and straying off the proverbial beaten path. It sets up a very tense atmosphere and has you questioning every decision as you weigh up the pros and cons. This, for me, is what made State of Decay 2 so alluring, followed closely by that sense of accomplishment when a plan comes together.
What sets State of Decay 2 aside from its peers is that this game isn’t merely about killing as many zombies as you can to survive. Instead, it’s a journey of resolve and unification. Unlike the predecessor, characters that you meet come with their own stories and aspirations, making it easier to identify what roles and positions newcomers should fill. This added depth also applies to the outposts too. Outposts are now clustered rather than confined, enabling you to overthrow unique facilities to expand your settlement in a range of useful and interesting ways. Furthermore, certain facilities offer distinct perks and options, so it pays off to think strategically about the needs of the many, rather than just your own.
This growth is what makes State of Decay 2 feel like a personal journey, one that for the most part, puts choice completely in your hands. The structure of the game tends to rely on completing unique missions and side quests, though, you’ll also need to contend with everything else on top of that. Throughout the course of your survival, you’ll encounter a wide variety of different buildings. These buildings need to be cleared of threats and internally surveyed before they become resource-rich safe zones or potential facilities. Any given character can unlock facilities for your community to access, but to unlock advanced faculties, you’ll need allies with a particular set of special skills.
Buildings and other points of interest can be surveyed from up-high, such as via the top of a watch tower or communications structure. Once the environment has been correctly surveyed, these buildings and points of interest get added to your map, ready for you to explore and liberate. Allies will help you out through the use of your radio if you find yourselves knee-deep in shit, granting you backup and resources at the touch of a button. The aforementioned risk-vs-reward also plays a role when out and about with other survivors. State of Decay 2 introduces a new virus known as Blood Plague; a nasty infection that needs to be treated with medicine, or else it’s a bullet to the head.
It can be quite disheartening to lose an ally to the Blood Plague and there’s never truly a “safe” way to play the game, despite its stealth elements. This makes each and every encounter with the undead that little bit more tense, especially when you learn that you need to clear an infestation that’s close to home. Infestations usually occur within nearby buildings and tends to require killing all zombies as well as any screamers; a special sort of zombie that will attract more of its kind if you don’t put it down before it screams. The first infestation occurs quite early on in the game and was required to be completed by one of my soon-to-be allies, granting me some useful resources and influence for my effort.
Most of the enemies that you’ll encounter within tend to be your run of the mill bog-standard zombies; normal zombies, armored zombies, freakishly dressed zombies and more. The more capable of beasts, such as the aforementioned screamers and the devastating juggernauts, will often give you a run for your money. Juggernauts are towering foes that can withstand mass amounts of damage before they go down, hell, they’ll even total your car if you try charging them. This is where co-op plays somewhat of an important role, enabling you and your friends to fight side by side against the hordes of varying undead. It’s a well defined system that rewards all participating players, if indeed progress is tied to the main player.
Influence is the currency that you’ll be working for within. This can be earned through natural play by completing goals, helping other players and through trading. This can then be spent on radio commands and trade, which often proves useful. Blood Plague heart events are not entirely dissimilar to infestations. Here you’ll need to wipe out a mound of flesh while hordes of deadlier zombies are constantly being drawn to your position. Blood Plague hearts are littered throughout the map, with each living heart becoming stronger as you begin kill more of them. I personally thought it best to steer clear of anything too tough until my skills were better developed.
Skills unlock organically as you play and include the likes of backpacking, wits, fighting, shooting and so on. Special skills become available to utilize when you master each skill string, which doesn’t take that long to achieve. Characters will also gain standing in the community when they achieve goals, inevitably becoming “heroes” of the community and offering up group bonuses as a result. Heroes can indeed be promoted to community leader, which is a neat touch to say the least. Though with that being said, you’ll still need to keep a close eye on your group’s moral. Certain characters can clash, which can decrease moral and lead to brawls.
Books and documents can also be read to unlock new skills, however, characters are locked to just five skill strings to prevent becoming over-powered or overly capable. This isn’t a bad thing by any means as it helps to retain a balance. Regardless as to how you play or how well prepared you are, State of Decay 2’s challenging gameplay will almost always be there to knock you down a peg or two. Zombies are quite literally everywhere in sight and will be attracted to any loud noises that you make. This leads me to my first gripe with the game. Rummaging through belongings can be achieved in one of two different ways; by holding down Y (the long assed silent way) or by holding down LB (the often loud, fast way).
The problem here is that the likeliness of making a noise when holding down LB is far too high. Though, the speed in which the animation takes to search for something by holding down Y is simply far too long. There’s nothing fun about being swarmed by the undead, simply because you didn’t want to wait ten seconds a pop to open up five different cabinets. This is a minor frustration in the grand scheme of things, but something I wanted to make a note of all the same. Other issues are also not too invasive, certainly something that a day one/launch week patch can resolve. This includes getting stuck in the environment from time to time, zombies popping up out of nowhere and frame-rate issues when driving.
The audio largely delivers the atmosphere of the game, serving up audio cues that hardly become dull. The visuals could have been better. State of Decay 2 is a huge step up from State of Decay, but it’s hard to completely overlook the texture and rendering issues at times. On the flip side, State of Decay 2 offers up some diverse and interesting locations across each of its sizable maps. Each location remains jam-packed with things to do and places to visit. This is bolstered further by the needs of your community and potential recruits, who will collectively call for you via your radio to deliver heaps of objectives. The missions tend to vary quite well, ensuring that you’re rarely doing the same thing twice.
Combat is a simple affair irrespective as to what weapon your character is wielding. Weapon variety is top notch, giving you no shortage of tools to defend yourself with. Guns and melee focused weaponry such as bats, knives and crowbars popping up more often than most. Weapons do come with their own stats and durability, but due to how plentiful weapon picks up are, it’s not a huge loss when your favorite machete breaks down. When all is said and done, State of Decay 2 is a love letter to fans of the first one and a very accessible and easy to understand game for newcomers. This game certainly wont be for everyone, but there’s no denying that it’s tense, challenging and cleverly structured.
State of Decay 2 is a huge step up from its predecessor. There’s a large and diverse variety of content within, all of which is upheld by well developed systems, fluid gameplay and easy to understand functionality. This isn’t going to be for everyone, however, there’s no denying that despite its niggling issues and bugs, it’s easily one of the best Microsoft exclusives in recent memory. It’s tense, action-packed and thoroughly entertaining.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.