Game: State of Decay 2
Consoles: Xbox One, PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Undead Labs
A State of Decay 2 review copy was supplied by the publisher.
After playing State of Decay 2 I now understand why Rick had so many mental breakdowns in The Walking Dead. Running a community of survivors is tough, especially when there are hordes of zombies trying to turn you into a meal. Though after 25+ hours of playing I found myself turning more into the ruthless Negan than the show’s main protagonist.
Developer Undead Labs’ sophomore title, State of Decay 2, tasks players with starting a community, networking with other survivors, and simply trying to get by each day. Missions pop-up based on your interactions with the world and will be different each time you play. Every decision you make has a lasting impact, especially when it comes to helping the other communities – here called enclaves – scattered across each of the three different maps. Outside of gaining experience and Influence, State of Decay 2’s in-game currency, these enclaves can offer special benefits such as supply caches.
Missions have a decent amount of variety, even if they are different variations on the same four or five concepts. A personal favorite was trying to help someone prove they weren’t a murderer, which involved gathering evidence and dealing with the real killer. It’s a fun moment that highlights the desperation and paranoia people have. Yet, these types of missions are pretty scarce, so get ready to defend a lot of people as they scavenge for supplies. State of Decay 2 can grow pretty repetitive, especially for those who make it to the late game.
Thankfully, managing your survivors is much more rewarding and engaging. Don’t get me wrong, they constantly whine and end up wasting resources. However, there is a tangible feeling of accomplishment when you move into a new base or construct the right combination of facilities. Since your survivors can only live in one location at a time, picking the right real estate is a game unto itself. Are the walls high enough? What amenities does this building have? Am I close to other survivors or Infestations? It’s HGTV, but with zombies.
No single place is better than others, so it’s important to weigh your options before packing up everything. Once you are set up, State of Decay 2 allows players to upgrade and customize their home to an extent. There are a little more than a dozen structures you can build in designated slots. From a live-saving infirmary to a morale-boosting lounge, each addition offers something different. There’s almost never enough room to construct everything you want, leading to moments where you need to sacrifice convenience for necessity.
All of this can be enhanced with mods that offer small bonuses or abilities to the designated facility. It’s a surprisingly robust system that certainly allows personality to shine through. While we would have liked to see more cosmetic customization options, the idea of crafting the perfecting base was a big driving force for logging on every day.
Outside of simply surviving, players are required to eventually exterminate the fearsome Blood Plague from the region. A special virus carried by blood-covered zombies, this infection can actually turn your survivors into a ghoul without them directly dying. The only way to cure an afflicted survivor is a rare antidote you can craft. It’s an extra layer of danger that users will need to always consider, especially if they haven’t built an infirmary or a cure. Plague zombies are fairly common enemies to come across, so the threat of infection is always present.
In order to truly eradicate the Blood Plague, players will need to travel the region and destroy around a dozen Plague Hearts. These are buildings that have become completely infested with plague zombies. In order to stop the flow of undead, it’s vital that the Plague Hearts are destroyed. This is easier said than done since damaging a heart will call more infected zombies to your position. Fighting your way through the waves of zombies is incredibly challenging and one of State of Decay 2’s most exhilarating experiences.
Of course, slaying these pulsating masses of tissue is much easier with a friend of three. State of Decay 2 offers four player co-op with either friends or complete strangers. Similar to Monster Hunter World’s system, players can fire a flare into the air that signals they need help. This allows any player willing to volunteer their services the ability to join a person’s game. All supplies, experience, and Influence gained is saved regardless if you’re the host or guest. However, if your survivor dies in a different game then they are gone for good.
Yet, playing with friends and exploring the post-apocalyptic landscape is an absolute blast. Having an extra set of eyes or a second gun can make all the difference, so it’s worth playing with people whenever possible. State of Decay 2’s difficulty doesn’t scale, so the game becomes a bit too easy when four competent players are working together. If you’re more of a lone wolf then State of Decay 2 can be played completely offline. Even though the NPCs aren’t as reliable as a player, they do a decent job of fighting the undead or staying silent until you’re ready to strike.
Combat typically consists of flaying wildly with your melee weapon of choice until a zombie dies. Survivors can perform an instant kill on most ghouls by executing a silent takedown from behind or driving their melee weapon into their face when they fall to the ground. There are a few special combat moves you can unlock, but their use is more situational. Guns and ammo are rare commodities which can turn the tide of battle in seconds. But State of Decay 2 challenges players and sometimes punishes them for using a firearm.
Every action in the game creates a visible sound that can attract zombies around you. Gunshots are one of the loudest things in the game, which can make a bad situation even worse. Even though a bullet to the head kills virtually any zombie, you may end up calling a dozen more to your positions. This makes firearms a final solution, forcing players to partake in the brutality. It’s a smart concept that continues to reinforce just how helpless you are in this world.
State of Decay 2 stumbles on the performance side, as the title is absolutely riddled with bugs. Floating zombies and pop-in hordes are pretty standard sights, which can produce a few, unintended comical moments. Where things get frustrating is when the game’s framerate dips or outright crashes on you. The game only crashed three times during my 25+ hours playing, but I did suffer multiple framerate issues throughout my experience. This can be quite frustrating when you’re in the middle of a fight and every second counts. These bugs weren’t enough to ruin my fun with the game, but they did present some annoying moments that couldn’t be ignored.
Visually the game is also a mixed bag. While the three different regions offer a ton of personality and color, State of Decay 2’s survivors could use a little work. Some of their animations are wonky, especially when you asked them to refuel a car or look for goods. They just stand there, arms outstretched over a container as if they’re trying to will medicine into existence. It’s funny the first few times and just boring the subsequent hundred. Thankfully, the sound design is top notch and the voice acting is passable – even if the writing is super cheesy.
State of Decay 2 Takeaways
When it all clicks, State of Decay 2 is a macabre masterpiece of zombie carnage – even if the game is inconsistent on delivering these thrills. While you can lose hours in managing your base and community, State of Decay 2 doesn’t offer a ton of variety once you venture into the world. You’ll quickly fall into a routine of killing zombies, scavenging for supplies, and upgrading your base. The unique missions offered by certain survivors are few and far between, which is a shame given how much fun they typically are.
Combat has a nice weight to it and the variety of weapons keeps engagements feeling fresh. Couple this with the Blood Plague and different special zombies to get a world that truly feels dangerous. Ultimately, State of Decay 2 is a game that’s fine to play on your own, but so much better with friends. If you plan to pick up this ghoul gutting game then make sure to bring a friend or two.