Review – State of Decay 2
I pulled into my base as the sun was rising, a truck full of resources, blood plague almost at full infection. I deposit all my resources into my storage and feel satisfied that our food supply and other resources are high. As the sun rises and a new day starts I noticed a large amount of food rations were used as each one of your community eats. I realized I was in a constant loop of collecting food and by the time I had enough stored a new day would start and this cycle would continue. I wasn’t able to keep up and provide enough food. With such a large community I had to build more barracks instead of a garden, so I had an important decision to make. A decision that may seem deplorable, but beneficial to my overall community.
I decided to go on a mission to destroy a Plague Heart (more on these later), so I geared up with explosives and extra ammo and med-packs. Taking on a Plague Heart alone is fairly dangerous, especially later in the game, so I decide to have one of my community members assist me. As the battle comes to an end, Plague Heart destroyed, my community member got infected with the Blood Plague. See, before I went on this mission I already knew I needed to thin my community. I made sure to bring my weakest member and one that has been lowering morale with fights and instead of spending medical rations on curing the Blood Plague, I decided to euthanize her. This horrible act was premeditated (murder?), but ultimately solved more than one issue for my other survivors. These are the gameplay mechanics that made me fall in love with State of Decay; realistically providing for a community, surviving, and making big decisions that actually effect the game. State of Decay 2 gives me all of that and more and, while not perfect, it is a great sequel.
State of Decay 2 is the sequel to the surprise indie hit of 2013. A series that is all about surviving in a zombie apocalypse where you build a community of survivors and, well, survive. There is a heavy emphases on your leadership skills and how you would handle the zombie outbreak. You must provide shelter, resources, protection and hopefully lead your community to the end goal of a military safe zone.
Things aren’t quite as simply laid out as I just described. There are a lot of variables and a lot you’ll need to go through in order to provide those basic needs of survival. Each character has unique stats and traits, and depending on these traits they could start fights and lower morale. But if only that one person has the skill you need in your group for example, gardening, you may need to deal with them and make them happy anyway.
You start off by picking a group of two (from a selection of 4 groups) survivors to start off with, but you’ll soon be partnering up and rescuing more to build your community. You’ll want to pick characters that fit the play style you need or possess the traits your encampment requires. The unique things about State of Decay 2 is that you aren’t only tied to one character. Once one character gets fatigued you can let them rest and take control over another. Some characters are better suited for combat and firearms and these will mostly be the ones you cycle through as your main supply runners. However, it is beneficial at times to even use your less combat oriented characters to level them up.
As I mentioned above, each character has their own set of skills and traits and while the traits are permanent, the skills can be upgraded. These skills include combat, cardio, and housekeeping skills. You’ll want a large variety of characters with diverse skills to make sure your base is running well and that you can use their skills to upgrade. For instance, to upgrade your Command Center, you’ll need a character with knowledge in computers. To upgrade your storage you’ll need a Craftsman. While rescuing and recruiting survivors it would do you well to check their stats before deciding to use your resources on them back at base. If their skills are redundant, why waste resources on them?
These are the stories you make in State of Decay 2. It isn’t a story driven cinematic game, it is a survival game and the focus is on its gameplay and mechanics. The story here is in your community, how you decide to survive and the alliances (or rivalries) you make with other settlements. There isn’t really an ending if you don’t want it to end. If you rid your region of all plague hearts, made your area safe and exhausted all resources you have the option to move on to the next region for hopes of a better base and more resources. There are 3 different regions all with a different feel and characters to interact with.
I personally think this is a breathe of fresh air from a company that believes in its gameplay rather than dazzling us with graphics and a deep story. I’m not saying State of Decay 2 wouldn’t benefit from better graphics or an actual story, I’m just saying it’s nice not to be funneled down a predetermined story line.
The few story elements come from your characters’ personal missions and other enclaves asking for trade or favors. There is a personal mission for one of my characters were I had to go collect a song she wrote and sung, which would ultimately reward the base with more morale from the music. During this mission I ran into one of her old friends which started a bit of backstory about this character and I was able to recruit her to my team.
Enclaves play a large part in your game offering help to fight against Plague Hearts or trading for materials and resources. However, they do not start off as friendly. You will need to complete missions for them to gain favor, but if you ignore them for too long they will start to hate you. You’ll lose their perks and they may even try to attack you.
Plague Hearts are the more important addition Undead Labs incorporated into the sequel and it is a pretty important part. Essentially they are a mass of bones and guts that radiate this blood plague to nearby zombies and turn them much more dangerous. They’re faster, will attack more and of course if you get hit enough you’ll get infected and will either need a cure or, like my ‘unfortunate’ member mentioned at the beginning, be put down before you turn. The trick with these Plague Hearts is as you attack them, hordes of blood plague zombies will come at you, and as you kill Plague Hearts they will get stronger. Later in the game you’ll need a full arsenal of explosives and ammo to take these on.
These are obviously easier tackled with some friends. And this is now possible since State of Decay finally has multiplayer! A feature fans asked for since the first game launched is finally here and it works . . . most of the time. Me and our editor, Andrew, decided to play some together and we ran into a couple networking issues and some periodic freezing mostly while driving. We had our connection drop twice (driving issues), but the majority of the time it ran well. Taking on a Plague Heart, infestations, looting and all that worked perfectly well and was incredibly fun. The value of this game is in the multiplayer. Hopefully there is an incoming patch to help out with the networking issues, but that’s all we experienced, no bugs.
The plague zombies aren’t the only new enemy to fight against and while the other isn’t a zombie, they may offer more of a threat. The enclaves I mentioned before can be much more lethal than a pack of slow zombies if you don’t make nice. But even amongst the zombies there are certain kinds more dangerous than others. Making a return are the Screamers, Bloaters, Juggernauts, and Ferals, but they have all had a more of a fierce update. Driving at night and running into a Bloater and having to bail out of the toxic filled cab with a horde of plague zombies swarming you can get quite intense. Ferals are super fast and can hunt you down quickly. Screamers will stun your character very briefly and attract way more zombies. And juggernauts are monstrosities that, frankly, you hope not to run into.
The combat starts out pretty basic, you have your melee weapons and guns. Melee for the most part is hitting ‘X’ until the zombie dies or falls to the ground so you can perform a finishing move. However, as you upgrade your combat skills you’ll unlock more combat moves. For example you can unlock a ‘Home Run Swing’ that hits multiple zombies, a suplex maneuver that throws the zombie to the floor leaving them open to a quick finishing attack, and more. The gunplay is actually pretty well done. The variety of guns all feel and react different, ranging from the slow but accurate bolt action rifle, Spas 12 semi auto shotgun, AR-15’s and of course a myriad of pistols. This is really accentuated by the feedback rumble system and making use of the trigger rumble. The guns are all really well detailed and come with their own pros and cons. A 10/22 only holds so much ammo and it’s pretty ineffective outside of headshots, but .22 ammo is common. While an M4 might be a lot faster, more powerful, and hold more rounds, but 5.56 isn’t exactly the most common ammo type.
There’s a nice variety of weapons and moves and smacking a zombie upside the head with a bat feels satisfying, but it’s too bad the overall controls are very clunky. The characters’ movements are too stiff sometimes, which can make melee attacks and navigating around the enemies in tight situations frustrating at times. Speaking of navigating, the vehicles have gotten a nice upgrade to how they control. They feel much more natural while driving, but are much more scarce then they were in the first game. My only issue with the cars are their sound effects. They’re nice, but not particularly evocative.
Speaking of sound effects, I am very pleased about the overall sound design. Undead Labs did very well in this department. The ambient sounds of running through the forest and then hearing a zombie grunt as the music starts to get intense feel great. Finally getting back to your base after a long nasty fight with a Plague Heart and hearing the more relaxed music is calming. I think my favorite part of the sound design is hitting zombies with your car. The sound of the thud and guts spraying with the rumble in your controller just feels so satisfying, and the music is almost always perfectly timed to your experience and the intensity of what’s going on around you.
The graphics are honestly nothing to write home about. It is using the much nicer Unreal 4 Engine which gives it a much better look than the first, as it should being a game from 2018, but it’s certainly not going to win any awards. The lighting is very well done and night time is intimidating in how pitch dark it is. My main issue with this game is not including a bloom slider and an option to turn off motion blur. It took me a few hours of playing before my eyes adjusted to the motion blur, which makes me almost nauseous. I am playing on the Xbox One X so there is some definite added flair with much better textures and draw distance, but even with the X there are still some noticeable pop ins while driving.
Before we wrap up, let’s talk about this major issue with bugs that make this game unplayable. Where are they? I keep hearing from sources and other reviews that this game is just a shambling mess, but I’m a little confused by this. Yes, the controls are stiff and there is a level of jank in some animations and physics, but bugs? If they are there I certainly haven’t run into any. Even in co-op the only issues we had were with the network, but I wouldn’t call that a bug. Maybe I’m just a lucky one who hasn’t experienced all these myriad of game breaking bugs. But even on a base Xbox One S there haven’t been any game breaking bugs so far.
As I’m sure you could tell, I’m a big fan of State of Decay 2, I loved the original and the sequel is better in every single way. If they could patch the networking issues and add in the option to turn down bloom and turn off motion blur this would be a near perfect sequel. Needless to say, if you’re a fan of the first State of Decay or are into the idea of a full zombie survival sim, absolutely pick up State of Decay 2 for only $30. Or if you already have GamePass. . . what are you waiting for? Download it now.
Using the Unreal 4 Engine there is a nice level of detail. However, the lack of a bloom slider and an option to turn off motion blur is frustrating. Also some noticeable pop ins while driving.
The controls can be stiff and feel very outdated, but the driving and shooting are well done. The haptic feedback rumble feels really nice while in combat.
State of Decay 2 does a fantastic job with the sound department. The ambient sounds of the forest and wandering zombies; the calm and hectic music fit very well. My one gripe is that the cars sound strange.
State of Decay 2 may not reinvent itself, but it gives its fan base everything and more. The overall jankiness is still prevalent, but I didn’t run into any game breaking bugs. However, I did run into a few network issues in co-op.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Reviewed on Xbox One.
State of Decay 2 is available now on Xbox One and PC.