The first State of Decay, released back in 2013, was a title that, while it had a good deal of problems, offered a compelling world and unique gameplay elements. State of Decay 2, for better or worse, can essentially be described exactly the same way. It doubles down on the things that made the original fun but doesn’t really do much to fix the things that were problematic in the first.
If you haven’t played the original, let me set up State of Decay 2 for you. It’s the zombie apocalypse. You are in control of a community of survivors just trying to get by. You traverse an open world scrounging for resources to bring back. The ultimate goal is to simply survive, by whatever means necessary.
State of Decay 2 opens up with a choice of who you are going to play as, offering various pairings of characters featuring siblings, friends or lovers. At first glance you might think this a lead in to the newly introduced co-op play, but in fact it is just meant to serve as a walkthrough of game’s mechanics, while giving you some familiar faces to start your game off with, as you’ll end the tutorial with a total of four characters: your original two plus a soldier and a doctor. While these four have these basic identities, everything else, including names, is randomly generated.
The game is quick to dump you out into the actual world where you choose one of three areas to start your new community. While much of State of Decay 2 is randomized, the actual layout of each area is set in stone. The different areas serve as a way to either give you variety if you want to start new communities or even gives you the option to move your community to a new area if you’ve run yours dry of resources.
The opening of the game has something resembling the basic framework of a story but falls well short of even the minimal storytelling of the original. It introduces you to the new Blood Plague, an awful disease that will quickly claim the life of anyone afflicted. Luckily the aforementioned doctor you find has the cure, which turns out to be fairly simple to make. Then the game tasks you with destroying a nearby Plague Heart, the source of the disease and hub of the zombies that spread it. Destroying it also marks the end of any real meaningful story.
The fact that the game essentially has to no story doesn’t necessarily do it a disservice since that isn’t what made the first game interesting. After the game releases you it essentially leaves you with two tasks: clear out all of the Plague Hearts in the area and earn enough experience with a single survivor to select them as the leader of your community. Completing the latter will unlock the final storyline, which changes depending on what type of person you elect as leader: Warlord, Sheriff, Trader and Builder. I’ve only sampled the Sheriff, which involves various missions where you have to settle disputes between the other communities of NPC characters scattered across the map, which so far hasn’t been very interesting.
What is compelling with State of Decay 2 is the actual gameplay. As in the first one, you have to keep a community of survivors alive. You venture out into the world, scavenging buildings of various items such as weapons, health supplies, trading goods, base modifications and more. These types of items are used individually by characters. You’ll also uncover large stashes of goods in rucksacks, of which you can only carry one at a time. These rucksacks are the lifeblood of your community, offering the resources they need to live such as food, medicine and building materials.
The gameplay loop has you going out in the world, scavenging areas with a high likelihood of the thing you’re looking for (you can do scouting of an area by getting to a high vantage point). Since you can only carry one rucksack of goods at a time, it’s generally a good idea to bring a car so you can load several sacks into the trunk, extending how much you bring back on a single trip. It’s also a good idea to bring someone with you, either by enlisting another character from your base or by inviting someone to play co-op. Another person with you lets you bring back more stuff (you can switch on the fly to another computer-controlled character) while also giving you help to fight off zombies.
Combat is pretty straightforward but very satisfying. The focus here is on melee, through either bladed or blunt weapons. Weapons have different stats but I’ve found that doesn’t really matter all that much, they all do the job. Guns and ammo are powerful, especially against the various special zombies, but they are loud, which is a big no-no, in addition to being relatively scarce.
A big aspect of the game, like the original, is that you are controlling a group of people rather than a single individual. Playing as one character for too long means their stamina bar will shrink from fatigue and they start to accrue injuries, lowering their health bar. You’ll need to switch out to fresh characters from time to time to let others rest. Each character levels up their abilities individually and maxing out an ability lets you choose a specialization. This means you can have different characters better at different things. Each character also has a talent slot that represents what they contribute to the community, such as computers, medicine or cooking. This is important when it comes to upgrading your base, as often you need certain skills to build what you need.
As before the base management is another major aspect of the game. You use collected materials to build beds, infirmaries, gardens, guard towers, etc. The first site you come upon has limited space to build on, meaning you won’t be able to build everything you need, although you can easily tear down and rebuild with little penalty. As you progress in the game you will eventually be able to move your community to various new spots, all offering special structures as well as more, larger areas to build in. You can also find modifications out in the world that will give you bonuses in certain rooms. Aside from building at your home base you can also create outposts at the majority of smaller locations in the game. The best of these locations will give you a small but constant supply of a resource, while also giving you a new place to drop supplies off and switch characters. They have made good improvements to the base building stuff but I still find it too shallow and restrictive.
The big addition to State of Decay 2 is online co-op, something that Undead Labs has stated they wanted to do in the original. The way it is implemented is pretty brilliant. You can invite friends but matchmaking is done by just shooting an SOS flare (similar to Monster Hunter World). When joining another player’s game, either through invite or through matchmaking, you bring your characters with you. You can switch between characters at will (the same fatigue/injury restraints apply in multiplayer) and any items you collect go towards your base’s inventory. The loot is also cleverly split so that you aren’t fighting over things. When searching a house, things will be color-coded of which items you can search and which ones are for your partners. Rucksacks collected go towards the host’s community but your community’s resources don’t dwindle while playing in someone else’s world. You also get rewarded with extra items the more you contribute and help out in each multiplayer session. So far, my experience with the net code has had ups and downs, with a couple disconnections and occasional lag. When it does work it’s a great way to play the game.
One big problem of the original State of Decay is that it was often a buggy mess and unfortunately that largely seems to be the case with the sequel. The game is full of glitches and bugs, sometimes in ways that are purely incidental and other times verging on game breaking. Maneuvering through the environment is fine when it comes to flat ground and fences but when you get to any type of uneven hills or even rocks and it is very easy to get your character stuck on the environment. Undead Labs is clearly aware of this because there is a built-in “My Character is Stuck” ability to unjam you, which I find inexcusable. There’s also the occasional visual glitches like zombies skating along the ground in a t-pose or the camera whipping around wildly when jumping over a fence.
Then you come to the actual game-breaking glitches. I’ve had a couple instances where my computer-controlled partner just disappeared. You could still see the icon on the map that he’s right next to me, but he’s nowhere to be found. This only fixed itself when I returned to my base and switched to another character, but it defeats the purpose of bringing another character along when they cannot help in any way. In another instance a mission took me to a place I had already cleared out, then tasked me with finding a specific quest item to turn in, which turned out to be impossible because I had nothing left to search. It’s disappointing that the game is like this at release, and almost feeling like an early-access game at times.
There are vast parts of State of Decay 2 that I truly enjoy. The gameplay loop of searching houses, marking them off as cleared and bringing the resources back to your base is enjoyable. This is also in large part to how satisfying the combat is. The base building stuff is fun and offers deeper customization options than the original. It’s very satisfying to build up a new compound and get it running with fresh water and electricity for everyone. However, for a sequel I would have expected a greater improvement, such as more customization options or even building a larger multi-building community akin to Woodbury in The Walking Dead. Aside from the addition of multiplayer, which is implemented brilliantly, State of Decay 2 doesn’t really add much to the formula of the original, almost feeling more like an expansion than a full-fledged sequel. This is especially noticeable with the buggy state of the game, which is another thing it shares with the original. All of that being said, though, there is still something special to the game and the improvements it makes are very welcome. It’s just easy to see how it could have been so much more.
SCORE: 7.0 out of 10
A review copy of State of Decay 2 was provided to Pixel Related for review.