State of Decay 2

State of decay was flawed but interesting XBLA title from 2013 with a later pc port with some additional improvements and two DLC add ons that had some different play modes and additional story.

It's core gameplay was that of a zombie survival simulator focused on building up a colony of survivors fulfilling their needs and improving your encampment with you taking control of individual characters and then rushing off into the apocalyptic surroundings to scavenge various materials like food and ammo and building materials. I regard it as the best base building zombie survival simulator yet attempted while it didn't tick all the boxes it got closer to the sort of game I wanted than any other thus far. So I was excited to see what the sequel State of Decay 2 would bring to the existing formula.

State of Decay 2 is a windows 10 and xbox one dual title (ie if you buy it digitally you get it for both windows 10 and xbox one via the windows store) which takes that same core gameplay and adds a few extensions and improvements.

You start the game with a little tutorial area set on an abandoned military base crawling with zombies you pick two characters from a few options and then you also pick up another two survivors one military and one doctor. Then you head out to one of three maps to begin the game.

Survivors are randomly generated and have unique sets of stats and appearance. In the original game your stable of survivors had fixed traits and flaws that aided and hindered them as well as an attitude that was influenced by game events like achieving some difficult task or the death of another survivor. There was permadeath in that if one of these randomly generated survivors died they were gone and you picked up action as another survivor. Now the survivors in addition to traits and flaws have a small set of skill trees that they level up by doing various tasks. They are broadly cardio (running endurance), fighting (melee), shooting, wits (stealth and exploration), and often some special like medicine or engineering. These skills level up as you do things in the game like exploring fighting zombies and running. When they reach maximum level you have the option to specialize them with two different options to choose with different stats boost and abilities which are random from a set of four possible advanced skills. They often add special moves or different attack boosts.

The base building aspect is extended to allow for more options and upgrades on those options. Each outpost has some fixed facilities and then open slots to add more of your own if you have the resources to build them. As you progress you find bigger bases with more slots to fill and more room for survivors. These facilities are basic things like beds for your survivors, utilities like power and water, functional areas like infirmary and workshop, then defensive structures like watch towers. Usually each of these will have a few upgrades available to improve them add additional options and reduce resource drain. The game also adds a new option of mods where you can find items out in the world which when installed in a compatible building add some extra feature a rifle ammo press will add the ability to make certain types of ammo and so on. As the buildings get more upgraded their requirements get more difficult often requiring other buildings like power or water production or specific skills in your stable of survivors like chemistry or engineering or medicine or computer use. Bases depending on the number of people the activity (like building or various facilities being run) cause noise that attracts zombies. The higher the noise level the more the zombies are attracted eventually leading to a wave of zombies attacking which you have to defend against.

One new element of the game is the survivor level as they gain experience they go from recruit to citizen to hero each level boosting various stats and eventually allowing you the option to specify them as a leader of the base. These leaders come in four possible types builder, sherif, trader, and warlord. This unlocks unique buildings to that type, in my playthrough my leader was a builder so I got the sniper tower which boosted base defence and allowed me to call on sniper support out in the field.

The main activity of the game is leaving the safety of the base with one of your survivors with the option of taking another as an ai assistant running around the various buildings looting the resources which come in two flavours pocketable resources which is almost all things weapons usable health and stamina consumables crafting resources and various mods then backpacks full of one of the core resource types (food, materials, ammo, fuel, medicine) these take up a special slot and a survivor can only carry one at a time. These go into the base resource stacks and are used in building and maintaining the base. Once you have filled up your inventory and that of your ai cohort you hoof it back to base drop of the stuff rinse and repeat cycling through survivors so they all get rested repaired etc. An additional aspect to this is the ability to get cars which increase your speed and allow you to carry more backpacks of core resources in their trunk (usually up to 6 slots) making for more efficient resource collection at the expense of fuel and repairs for the car. You can also run down zombies or smash them with the cars door by opening it as you race past.

Noise management is a key part of the gameplay, zombies are attracted to noise make too much and every zombie in range comes running and you can quickly get overwhelmed. Almost everything has some noise component to it and sometimes there are tradeoffs. So if you search a container you can do the slow silent method or risk the fast but potentially noisey method. Weapons make noise depending on their type, bladed weapons make less noise than blunt weapons, firearms make a lot of noise but there are things like silencers. Cars also make a lot of noise and the various explosives are also loud. There are also ways to use that to your advantage certain throwable consumables act as distractions attracting zombies away from where you are.

The maps are pretty big and as you deplete the resources in the opening area you need to get access to a car to reach further afield.

In addition to the main base you can also claim outposts out in the world these then offer safe havens to drop off some resources (not base resources) they also offer some additional boost like medical clinics adding medical supplies regularly or petrol station adding fuel houses offering additional beds. You can increase the number of outposts you have by upgrading your command center I think I never got above 3 as I didn't have the right survivor to unlock the next level.

On top of this you have other survivors who will radio with various missions to help with or needs they have. If you help them they may join your base as a new survivor or if it's a larger group offer trade or other bonuses. Sometimes there will be conflict with these groups which is usually a lot harder than zombies since they are all packing firearms.

The area is strewn with zombies just everywhere they also occasionally group in hordes where a large pack wander together. On top of that you have the blood plague zombies differentiated by their red eyes and blood covered bodies these are tougher and sometimes come in special variants. Screamers will scream if they see you stunning you and attracting every zombie nearby, ferals are fast and vicious tougher versions of the normal zombies that leap at you, bloaters explode leaving poison gas, and juggernauts are huge super tough zombies that are hard to kill. Zombies also group in two other ways infestations where they congregate in a house usually accompanied by a screamer and some blood plague zombies and have to be cleared out. Then also at plague hearts which are weird red pulsing sculptures of bones and organs that need to be destroyed and spawn blood plague zombies if you attack them.

The blood plagues is another new element if you are hit by one of the blood plague zombies your infection meter rises if it fills you get the blood plague and that character has a certain amount of time before they succumb to the plague and become a zombie. You can put that person in the infirmary which slows the rate of the plague but you then have a few options as to what to do with them. You can kill them, you can exile them, or you can try and cure them which requires blood plague samples harvested from blood plague zombies to make a cure. In my play through I never needed to kill or exile any of my survivors as I always had loads of blood plague samples ready to cure anyone. It didn't seem like it was rare enough that it was ever a problem.

Combat is fairly simple you have a few options you can stealth up to zombies for a sneak attack, if you knock them down you can just smash their heads in on the ground, you can use a crowd control kick to give yourself some space, and there are special moves you unlock like flying kick or melee smash that are gained as you specialize a character. It does often devolve to just hammering the attack button until everything is dead as in a lot of situations zombies just surround you in large groups making any tactical attack difficult. You also have to contend with running out of stamina running and attacking all take stamina which depletes and then recharges in the middle of a fight it often runs out and your attacks become less effective carrying snacks and energy drinks can combat that but thats consuming one of your inventory slots that you could use for scavenged resources. Your weapons also have durability and eventually break leaving you with your crappy backup weapon. You could carry more than one weapon but switching in a fight is difficult and also that inventory space you could use for resources etc so it's a tradeoff.

There are also firearms going from simple pistols to machine guns sniper rifles and even rocket launchers. These make a load of noise and that just attracts more zombies so they are weapons of last resort. In my game I rarely used them such that I don't think I ever leveled up the shooting skill tree on any of my survivors. You can apply things like silencers to the guns to reduce noise but ammo for them is scarce and takes up another inventory slot so again it's a trade off going heavy weapons.

Finally there are throwable items like molatoves various improvised grenades as well as distraction devices that attract zombies leaving you free to attack from behind or run away. The fire based throwables are very effective against plague hearts and when clearing those out it's worth carrying a few molatoves or the more advanced versions you can get like fire bombs.

In terms of story there is not much of one, you get the odd radio broadcast about the various factions and some odd military goings on but it never really effects game play. You basically are constantly going out for resources helping out with other factions although often times the time limit on those missions means you don't get to them in time when you are scrambling to fill up one or more of the resource pools if it's gotten low. Your main task is clearing the plague hearts and building up your bases. Typically you clear an area building up the base there out grow it and then qualify for the next base which is bigger move in there but all your buildings are converted back to resources so you have to spend some time building it back up and adding to it with lots more scavenging then you outgrow that base and so on moving around the map as you go. Survivors in the base will also occasionally have their own missions pop up which will boost their influence if completed.

Once you have a leader and all the plague hearts are gone you get a legacy quest where you have to do some task specific to your leader type (mine as a builder was to build the sniper tower in the base and upgrade various things) then it will trigger the final mission in my case I had to defend my base from a rival faction wanting to take it over. Once that's done you've won and you unlock a special legacy boon based on your leader type. The game then allows you to start again in a new area from scratch taking up to two legacy boons and three of you survivors to the new area.

The legacy boons are very powerful game boosting elements the builders one which I had means all your base structures have power and water at all times without the need to build power or water generators or add mods with no resource cost and no noise addition. It give some level of replayability to try to get the different legacies.

So there is a lot going on there but in terms of enjoyment it can get a little repetitive. The loop of rushing out into the wilds to scavenge and bring back resources feels pretty good but it becomes basically the whole game. Compared with the original there is a fair amount more depth to the base building and survivor management developing their specific skills and tailoring their build to one path or constructing your base to give you access to certain abilities or better weapons. There were several building types I didn't unlock or just didn't use like the various training buildings that improve firearms or melee. The lack of any real story makes it feel a little empty and after a while of building up base then moving to a bigger one building that up moving to a bigger one building that up and so on and so on it gets repetitive and feels a bit like I've moving from base to base for no good reason since I'm just doing the same thing each time. Bigger bases do give you more options in terms of what stuff to build but they don't substantially change the gameplay moment to moment.

I'd also like to have seen more flexibility in the base building in terms of defence. You can add structures like watchtowers to the building but that's about it and they don't seem to massively increase the defence of the structure. You can't increase the wall height or add additional defensive measures to the base it's basically fixed and zombies just climb over the low walls or break into the various gates all the time then getting pulverized by the survivors. I'd have liked to see the option to add extra layers to the defence more walls, traps, more towers. I'd like to be able to funnel incoming zombies into a kill box slow them down and grind them up tower defence style. Or be able to extend the base rather than have to up and move to a new one like some sort of hermit crab.

The combat could use a bit more effort maybe more crowd control options as most fights just devolve to hammering the button and hoping to make it out alive. The special zombies offer some additional challenge but mostly you can just avoid them or run them down with a car (well except for the juggernaut try that with them and you just bounce off). Weapons break pretty easily and when you are out and about or in the middle of fight there is no quick way to swap out to something else I can understand why they went that way it does make you feel more vulnerable and accentuate the risk vs reward aspect of a resource run but still I fell like if I want to load up with a pile of axes and run around with no inventory room I should be able to allowing for things like a pack mule strategy the ai assistant carrying everything while I deal with the zombies. The ai companion is another area that could have used some tweaks, normal combat and following works fairly well although occasionally they would block me in a room by standing in the doorway and refusing to move. I would have liked and option to hand off inventory items to them without having to take direct control as in some cases when you are on a mission you either can't swap or it will end the mission.

It would also have been nice to have some more types of ranged weapons that don't generate as much noise like throwing knives or arrows or crossbows it would have allowed a less powerful but silent ranged option to more strategically approach infestations or some such.

Vehicles work well and are really fun to drive smashing into zombies or flinging them off with handbrake turns is great fun. The only problem I had was some fences you can just drive right through other ones are indestructible and the difference is not always obvious hit one of the later at speed and the car tends to explode with you in it I lost a few survivors that way.

The current version has it's fair share of bugs I got stuck in the scenery a few times (it happens enough that the game has a built in "I'm Stuck" help option in the radio to fix that) and sometimes the car physics goes a bit nuts. It's something they seem to be working on I didn't encounter any game breakers in my playthrough.

All in all it is a fun game and a worthy improvement on the original but still not quite yet to the state of my ideal zombie survival simulator. Some of its extensions like the blood plague seem like a nice idea but don't really substantially effect gameplay in the long run. The lack of any story or additional task beyond the collecting resources and repeatedly moving to bigger and better bases can make it a bit repetitive and while it seems to be designed to replay over and over to unlock the different legacy boons I'm not sure whether I can be bothered with another run since I'm not sure it would play out substantially differently. I had fun playing this game and it does add things over the original that improve the gameplay it does feel a little more like State Of Decay 1.5 rather than 2 an incremental update rather than a whole new game. The choice to release it as a win10/xbox1 exclusive will likely limit it's potential audience but since it's a microsoft studios game it doesn't surprise me too much. The price point isn't bad with it coming in 30 dollars or half the price of a fill triple a title. The graphics are serviceable but nothing amazing we are definitely in well polished indie game territory here.

I enjoyed it but as I say the repetitive gameplay does mean that it can lose its appeal over longer playtimes. If you like a bit of zombie survival colony simulating it's probably still the best version to date but not without its flaws.

Well maybe State of Decay 3 will be the perfect zombie survival simulator I crave.


It's also 4 player co-op. Would it be more fun with friends?
If so, perhaps in the future we might Sunday-night it. We'll put it on the watch list.

brainwipe's picture

It didn't get fantastically reviewed, especially regarding technical stability.

babychaos's picture

There are times when State of Decay 2 is so buggy that it stops being a stodgy post-apocalyptic looting game and transforms into metatextual horror theatre.

That's some damn fine writing right there.

Metatexutual Horror Theatre should have been the subtitle to my PhD thesis.

brainwipe's picture

If you want a game recommendation, can I suggest waiting for Stardew Valley to have it's multiplayer release (shouldn't be long now). I think it has pretty much everything any game has ever had (exect possibly get a slingshot though), and also has a 120-level dungeon and an infinite level dungeon. I'm currently building up a void mayonnaise empire on the Switch...

babychaos's picture

I think SDV would be a great thing to try on those Sunday nights where we're all a bit tired.

brainwipe's picture

Yeap state of decay 2 is a little buggy although I only got a few minor issues on the PC version getting stuck in walls some occasional physics glitches nothing game breaking (well partly because they have a "I'm Stuck" help mode that puts you back in a valid place)

In terms of coop it might well be more interesting all loading up and filling up with resources and battling our way back. I think it would get stale fairly quickly though as the gameplay loop lacks any sort of variety or escalation it doesn't really get more difficult as such the special zombies add a bit of challenge but not really more than a large horde of zombies mobbing you. I'd certainly be willing to try it if people wanted to.

Ah yes SDV I got it on PC ages ago and keep meaning to go back to it as it does have an awesome amount of content and with the multiplayer version just on the horizon.

While we're talking of other games I'd also like to try Factorio multiplayer at somepoint I think that might be interesting building a mega factory and battling alien creatures as we ruin the environment of their planet with hideous amounts of pollution from our industrial hellscape.

Evilmatt's picture

that eurogamer video is classic all of the griefing the hell out of each other :D

Evilmatt's picture

I've not bought factorio yet - I fear it.
SDV is definitely doable. Would love to coop that when it comes out.

brainwipe's picture

Do not fear factorio EMBRACE IT! LET IT CONSUME YOU!!!!!

Evilmatt's picture