There was a moment in State of Decay 2 when my character was looking for luxury items to trade with another settlement. Upon approaching a seemingly empty house, a special zombie type called a feral smashed through the front door. With low stamina, and weapons close to breaking, the feral began charging at my survivor. After initially failing a couple of dodges and missing a few shots with my pistol, death seemed imminent. Yet, in a stroke of luck, I was able to put a few last-second bullets into the vicious creature, ending its charge. While I was able to kill it, however, the noise from my gun attracted a bunch of zombies that were now itching to maul me to death. Quickly, I ran into the house, hid in a corner, and started to isolate the zombies. After a prolonged encounter, I was able to dispose of the entire horde, and then I let out a sigh of relief. It was at that moment when I realized I loved State of Decay 2.
I’ve always been a fan of State of Decay, but my biggest question going into State of Decay 2 was, how would the sequel differentiate itself from the original? With the exception of the game’s cooperative mode, State of Decay 2 feels just like the 2013 predecessor. While that seems like a knock at State of Decay 2, it’s actually the biggest compliment I can give the game. The sequel plays it “safe” at times, but the formula worked the first time, and it does this time around as well. Fans of the original will feel right at home, but unfortunately, State of Decay 2 has a huge learning curve that will stump newcomers to the franchise.
State of Decay 2 seems like a simple enough video game on the surface. At first glance, you might think that scavenging for items and killing zombies is the key to survival, but that’s not the case at all. In fact, those two elements are minuscule compared to the rest of the gameplay systems that players will have to master. Upon starting the game, you choose a pair of survivors that must create a settlement, survive, and find others to join your community. Your starting survivors also have a narrative connection that binds them together. In my playthrough, I chose a bickering couple that has had a rocky relationship since the outbreak started.
Those looking for a traditional story won’t find it in State of Decay 2. There are moments of context throughout the game, and you also get a sense of how life is in the world thanks to dialogue from random survivors. Besides these instances, State of Decay 2 doesn’t really have much of a story. While in most games a lack of story would be detrimental, I found it acceptable in this game. The reason being that State of Decay 2 is basically a giant sandbox where you have to survive. The struggle to survive is your settlement’s story, and that’s what drives you forward. Without knowing much about my characters and those around me, I felt surprisingly attached to every survivor in my community. Like an average person, each survivor needs to sleep and eat regularly. If you stay out for long periods of time, you’ll grow tired, and your stamina will deplete faster. If you take too much damage, your maximum amount of health will decrease as well. These problems are manageable, but you need the proper buildings in your outpost to accommodate your needs.
For instance, you can build a water irrigation system if your community needs water. Constructing infirmaries are vital because not only can you heal hurt survivors, but you’ll also have the option to cure blood plague. Some zombies (red ones) are carriers of the deadly blood plague. If they hit your character enough times, they’ll contract blood plague. In order to cure the disorder, players must kill zombies who carry the disease. It’s an added layer of strategy to an already deep video game. When I first started playing State of Decay 2, my community was in shambles. I didn’t gather enough supplies (food, ammunition, fuel, crafting materials, and medicine) to satisfy the people I chose to look after. My seemingly content settlement became depressed and started turning against each other. I realized that I wasn’t collecting enough items and focusing too much on helping other factions, that I neglected my own people. I promptly started the game over again, and the second playthrough ran a lot smoother. I frequently called in favors to find resources, and always stood on top of what my community desperately needed. Unfortunately, trying to please everyone else often left my character in a near death state which is catastrophic in this game.
State of Decay 2 features permadeath. This means that if your character dies at any point (whether in your game or a cooperative session), they are dead forever. You can’t get that character back, and you’ll have to start using someone else from your settlement. I haven’t died yet, but there have been too many close calls that left me literally gasping for breath. For the most part, zombies aren’t dangerous on their own, but if they’re part of a horde or infestation, you better watch out. No matter how powerful your character is, being bombarded by a zombie horde will be a challenge to escape. To make matters worse, some zombies have unique abilities. The screamers will alert nearby zombies of your location with a piercing shriek if you enter its line of sight. Feral zombies run on all fours and viciously pounce on your survivor, bloaters are bulky zombies that will spew toxic gas when attacked. (Stay too close, and you’ll lose health rather quickly.) Lastly, there’s the juggernaut. I saw a few of these in the wild, but I didn’t confront them because they looked tough, and I was never fully prepared to take one of them on in battle.
Surviving the zombie apocalypse is fun and manageable on your own, but playing with a friend is a lot more fun. Cooperative play allows up to four players to explore, scavenge, build, and survive together. Everybody plays in the host’s world, but each player will have their stats increase, and can also claim items they scavenge, and then bring those resources back to their own save file. I played with one other person throughout my time with the game, and it was a blast. While it took a few tries to get into a game, when we actually started playing, the overall experience ran smoothly, with the exception of a few framerate drops. Cooperative play is so fun, but one of my biggest issues is that you can’t “walk through” another player. In one instance, I was stuck in the corner of a room because my partner was trading with an NPC, and I couldn’t leave the area until he was finished. Minor gripes like this slightly hampered cooperative play.
When State of Decay launched in 2013, the game was notorious for the myriad of bugs that plagued the game. I loved it despite these issues, but I hoped that Undead Labs would be able to release State of Decay 2 with minimal bugs. While there aren’t as many bugs in the sequel, there were a few bugs that made me laugh out loud. One particular bug cause zombies to “rain down” from the sky while I was driving a vehicle. Another humorous bug had a zombie open a door into my settlement only to get confused and walk through the door it just opened. My last issue has to do with cars. Driving is fun and responsive but I lost count of how many times the car got stuck on a rock formation, and then I had to continue on foot. I wouldn’t mind if this happened every now and then, but I witnessed my truck get stuck more often then not.
Visually, State of Decay 2 isn’t a jaw-dropping game, but the graphics do look nice with HDR. It’s become a custom for me to turn off HDR so I can see just how different the game looks without the feature. Doing so shows just how much work Undead Labs put into the game. It looks far better than the original State of Decay, but those looking for a stunning visual experience will surely be disappointed.
State of Decay 2 is a game I’ve been looking forward to since its 2016 announcement. Despite the fact that I loved the original, there were so many things I thought the developers could do better. Fortunately, State of Decay 2 is everything I wanted from in a sequel. The world is big, the gameplay mechanics are deep, the simulation aspect is broad, and the open-world is bleak and fascinating. State of Decay 2 makes up for its lack of narrative by having players make gameplay decisions that truly matter. Every action has a consequence, and each breath could be your last. State of Decay 2 is not a game for everyone, and it’s not always user-friendly, but the overall experience is great. Undead Labs did a stellar job with this sequel, and I can’t wait to see what else they have planned for the State of Decay universe. Xbox One owners should definitely give it a shot. If you can overlook its shortcomings, State of Decay 2 is a breath of fresh air in the Xbox ecosystem. I’ll be exploring this apocalyptic world for months to come, and you should too.
Intuitive and Strategic Gameplay
Fun To Play Cooperatively
Deep RPG Elements
Many Intense, Unpredictable, and Memorable Moments
Some Cross-Play Connection Issues
Non Traditional Narrative May Upset People
Cars Getting Stuck On Rocks