The promise of surviving in and exploring a post-apocalyptic landscape in which even the slightest mistake matters and players get to live out their own Walking Dead fantasy is the promise that the original State of Decay tried to deliver on in 2013. I say ‘tried’, because while the original did so many things right, it did just as many things wrong and still had a lot of untapped potential. So when a sequel was announced at E3 2016, my expectations for the game were through the roof.
State of Decay 2 was one of the most anticipated survival games of this generation and I had some very grandiose fantasies about what this game could turn out to be. I did indeed board the hype train despite many people telling me not to, and the very same metaphoric train has now proceeded to stab me in the back.
This analogy doesn’t make complete sense, but I’m guessing you still understand the point I’m trying to convey, which is that State of Decay 2 let me down big time.
Which is not to say that State of Decay 2 is a bad game, it’s not. If you liked the first game, you are going to absolutely adore this one as well. But if, like me, you were hoping that developer Undead Labs would have taken advantage of the success of the original game and made a sequel that took the already laid out foundations and built upon them with new ideas and gameplay mechanics, you’re going to be disappointed. What we have instead is a game that has much more polish than it’s predecessor and is a hell of a lot of fun to play, in the first few hours at least, but looses steam very quickly and devolves into a cycle of repetition and mediocrity.
It’s still a really fun game though, I’ll grudgingly admit, and there are a lot of things to like. Combat is much more refined and doesn’t feel as static as in the original and you can even unlock a bunch of different moves for you characters depending on what path you decide to take in specializing their skills. There are leg sweeps, slams and even a flying kick attack that knocks zombies off their feet.
Guns are much more varied this time around and have a real kick to them. You can customize them with silencers, muzzles and other attachments and there is really no shortage of ammunition in the game. They do however break this time around, and have to be repaired occasionally.
Vehicles play a much bigger role this time around as they not only act as an extension of the player’s inventory, they actually control much better as well. Although they are a much rarer occurrence now and actually require fuel to run, you can customize them into your own personal apocalypse death machines at you home bases, provided you have the proper facilities installed.
And speaking of facilities, you have a much greater choice this time around in how you want to specialize your bases as well. Become a farming community and grow you own food with farms and hydroponic facilities, construct a still and produce your own whiskey to trade for influence, install a workshop and make your own ammunition or start a forge and make your own melee weapons. Each of these options provide an alternative source of resources for you, to alleviate the need for you to go and have to look for them in the world manually.
Some of your facility unlocks are also tied to the type of character you choose to lead your community through the new Legacy System, through which each survivor is given one of four different traits, Warlord, Sheriff, Trader and Builder. The trait of your community’s leader not only determines the types of facilities you unlock, but also impact the type of missions you have access to as you play trough the game. If you are a Sheriff, you are called upon in times when Justice needs to be dealt, and so forth for the others as well. And at the end of a playthrough, the trait that your leader possesses also determines what permanent Boon you unlock for any future communities.
And all of these features are great to play around with, but they don’t distract you from the larger problems. You play the same handful of instances again and again, with survivors asking for assistance against a zombie attack, a resource rucksack request, a scavenging run and repeat and repeat. Even the main objective of the game which is to destroy the new Plague Hearts, seem like nothing more than slightly challenging side objectives that up the difficulty with each successive heart destroyed.
The game’s main unit of currency, Influence, is what is used to both trade with allied enclaves for weapons and resources and to claim outposts and bases for your community. And while Influence for minor items is almost never an issue, it is doled out in such painfully small amounts that I found myself engaged in hours of mindless grinding just to be able to save up enough of it to afford a good home base, which was immediately followed by more grinding for the outposts that provide your community with water and electricity.
On top of the four returning special zombie types, Juggernauts, Bloaters, Screamers and Ferals, players now also have to deal with Blood Plague zombies, which are honestly more intimidating than they actually sound. If you get attacked by them enough, your character develops the Blood Plague and has to either be put down or given a cure made from an item only found on Plague zombies or Plague Hearts.
This is supposed to provide a moral dilemma for the players and have them choose between killing a member of their community or risking another member to go out and find the ingredients to make a cure. I played the game fairly recklessly during my two 20 hour playthroughs, and I accumulated enough materials to concoct dozens of cures and not a single one of my characters apart from the one in the tutorial section of the game actually developed the Blood Plague.
One of the key selling points for State of Decay 2 was that it would allow you to play with up to three different players in online co-op, either you join a friend’s world or they join yours. Luckily no random players can enter your world and start ruining your community as interaction outside of scavenging and combat is fairly limited, and the game makes it clear through color coding the areas which each specific player in a session can search through. Which I think must have made more sense on paper, giving each player a task to accomplish, but mostly just came down to me standing over a ‘Yellow’ search area yelling at a friend to search it because I was assigned the color ‘Blue’ and couldn’t interact with it. Also the lag in multiplayer is absolutely egregious, and that’s about all I can say about it right now without ripping it to shreds.
And the other bugs. Zombies spawning in mid-air and getting stuck on fences and clipping through walls, characters falling from massive water towers and dying because they forgot how to climb down stairs and open doors becoming invisible force fields that didn’t allow you to pass through without having to open them again with the button prompt that then magically manifested a second door.
I had one situation where I was returning home at night from a run, already low on health with my recovery items all used up, when a Bloater corpse suddenly spawned in front of me in the middle of the road, causing me to crash into it. When that happens in this game, your vehicle becomes engulfed in poison gas and you have to evacuate it or continue to rapidly lose health. In this case I did exit the car, and ended up being mauled to death by a Feral, because of a spawn bug.
The game had so much potential and it could have been so much more, but it seems that the developers instead chose to play it safe and just give us a visually improved version of the original game with minimal improvements in terms of gameplay and a lack of polish.
You might not be able to tell from the numerous complaints in my review but I did actually enjoy State of Decay 2 to some extent. And regardless of the problems I am still giving it it’s current score, even though I think it should be lower, purely on merit of the fact that most of the game breaking bugs are fixable. The gameplay design choices however are not, but I won’t begrudge the developers that even though the game was a major letdown in a lot of ways.
State of Decay 2 is available now on the Xbox One and the PC. It was developed by Undead Labs and published by Microsoft Studios. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
State of Decay 2 is not the game fans hoped it would be. It’s definitely not a bad game, but it is very frustrating to play at times and badly needs a patch or two. It’s disappointing but I still had some fun with it, and you will too if you enjoyed the original, just keep your expectations low.