It only takes a few seconds of playing State of Decay 2 to be amazed by how far indie studio Undead Labs has come since the release of State of Decay in 2013. Whether it’s the combat system, the depth of the community building and management elements, or the overall presentation, there are few things that State of Decay 2 doesn’t improve on in major ways. Where the original State of Decay felt like a surprisingly deep budget game that was riddled with glaring technical issues, State of Decay 2 resembles something much closer to a AAA game.
As with the first entry into the series, State of Decay 2 is all about surviving a zombie apocalypse. You’re presented with the task of managing a community of survivors, and must establish a home base, gather resources to keep the party afloat, build shelters and facilities to make survival easier and a little more comfortable, negotiate treaties or wage wars against other survivor groups, and so much more. If you want to move to a bigger base of operations, you’ll need to find better digs and save up the influence (State of Decay’s currency) needed to make a move. If you want to recruit new survivors, you’ll need to find and befriend other persons or groups living out in the wasteland. If you want to build a new facility that requires specific knowledge to build (like a solar-powered electric grid), you’ll need to find someone with the skills and education to do so.
Keeping your group alive and happy is a constant challenge. You’ll be expected to build various facilities to improve morale and safety, and learn the various ins-and-outs of the personalities on your team, who will clash with one another over strategic disagreements, or simply just get on one another’s nerves as they endure a stressful living situation. Building a watchtower and keeping power generators on might improve morale, but they’ll also consume precious resources and create more noise within the settlement, which inevitably will draw the undead to your door. Recruiting more people to your group will give you more bodies to help out with day-to-day tasks and in fighting off zombie hordes, but it will also give you more mouths to feed and require more valuable space in your community. Balancing the group’s happiness, while also providing the resources you need to get through another day, and battling the apocalypse outside of your community’s gates never ceases to be an incredibly complicated affair.
At the start, your living space will be small (which makes it easy to manage) but lacking in utility. If you want a bigger home, you need to save up that ever-valuable influence, find a bigger place, clear it out, and move. The areas that you can occupy in State of Decay 2 are vast, but resources are limited, and once every building and car has been looted, you’ll find the area nearly impossible to continue occupying. That’s when you turn to the nuclear option: Moving to a new area of the world altogether, which essentially deletes and re-rolls a new space for your community to occupy. If you beat the game, and start a new community, old surviving characters from previous playthroughs can also show up in your new game worlds.
You will also need to choose a leader for your community, which unlocks special abilities in the settlement depending on the leader’s personality and governing style, and determines the parameters by which you achieve victory in the game. In my playthrough, I chose an upstanding ex-military person to lead our group, so we gained access to a special field medical facility, and many of our community’s undertakings focused on making alliances with the local survivor groups and eliminating plague hearts (fleshy totems which attract the most dangerous zombies). In essence, our group’s goal became to bring order to our immediate area due to our choice of leader.
Combat in State of Decay 2 is simple but can be deceptively challenging at times. You get one small melee weapon, one large melee weapon, and one firearm to equip at any given time. However, weapons have a tendency to break quite frequently, including guns, so taking on hordes at a time is often ill-advised. And while combat isn’t very challenging in most cases — due to zombies being stupid, slow, and squishy — it’s quite easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of walking dead that can appear at a time and become consumed by the maelstrom of flesh and teeth. Your weapons will break unexpectedly, your characters will become fatigued when you don’t expect it, and you’ll do something dumb that attracts too many zombies for anyone to handle, no matter how badass they might be.
Additionally, there are a few zombie types that make survival in combat a little more difficult, namely screamers, bloaters, juggernauts, and ferals. Screamers are the most populous of the special zombie types. Their thing is simple: they scream really loudly and make sure any zombie currently occupying space in the Milky Way hears it and comes running. Bloaters are big sacs of foul-smelling gas which create a cloud of gas upon self-destruction or involuntary death. The gas kills most characters in a few short seconds, so it’s best to stay away from these rotund boyos. Juggernauts are massive piles of meat that are incredibly difficult to bring down and can easily wipe out your entire community if you aren’t properly prepared. Finally, there are ferals, which move incredibly quickly (can even dodge bullets), are able to take quite a beating, and do a ton of damage — making them the most dangerous zombie type in the game.
And when any of these things kills you, you’ll stay dead. That’s right! State of Decay 2 retains the original game’s permadeath system. You’ll have to say goodbye to some beloved characters who heroically sacrifice themselves to ensure your group’s survival, and be murdered by your fellow teammates after they discover you’ve been infected with the zombie virus. This mechanic can seem a bit unforgiving, but it makes the stakes much higher and creates some of the game’s most memorable moments.
Luckily, this time you’re able to bring in friends to lend a helping hand, thanks to the addition of 4-player co-op! Now you can bring others into your world or join them on their adventures, which presents several advantages. Obviously it makes surviving dangerous missions a helluva lot easier, but you’re also rewarded for helping out other players with loot found in the host’s world (which only you can take) and you’re granted other rewards at the end of the session for your assistance. Having four players in a single world makes most situations laughably easy, and probably could use some balance adjustments, but multiplayer is something fans have wanted in State of Decay since the beginning, and Undead Labs has delivered.
Where State of Decay 2 excels at being a third-person action game and a settlement management simulator, it struggles to have a focused story in the same way that its predecessor did. The diversity of characters and permadeath mechanics present a unique challenge in telling a proper story, but even the original State of Decay managed to do so under similar circumstances. In this entry, however, story more-or-less falls by the wayside in favor of randomly generated characters and a loose goal of survival.
State of Decay 2 also has many, many glitches that run the gamut from entertaining to deeply irritating. Zombies will float high in the air for no reason, your character and/or vehicle will clip through objects or get caught on things for no reason, the framerate will take massive dives without warning (even on the Xbox One X or a high-end PC), and you’ll spend an ungodly amount of time trying to open/close doors that for some reason won’t function properly. Compared to the first game, State of Decay 2 is a godsend, but it’s still far more glitchy than the average game.
Glitches aside though, State of Decay 2 looks quite good in 4K with HDR. The framerate is mostly stable, except when under intense duress due to the amount of enemies onscreen, and areas are quite detailed even at extreme draw distances. The music, sound design, and voice acting are also much better than the first game. Even when your community members are annoyingly complaining to you about the lack of medical supplies remaining in reserves, you’ll at least be able to appreciate that they’re doing so in a really believable way.
State of Decay 2
State of Decay 2 improves upon its predecessor in almost every way. Although the game still suffers from a host of bugs and lacks much of a focused narrative, it succeeds at being a tremendously enjoyable and addictive experience.