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State of Decay 2 Review

by William Schwartz
State of Decay 2 Artwork

State of Decay quickly became a sleeper hit when it arrived on the Xbox 360 in 2013.  The last generation had its fair share of zombie games, big and small, but none of them nailed the survival aspects quite like Undead Labs did with State of Decay.  The game combined open world exploration, zombie-slaying action and survival management aspects set during the zombie apocalypse.  It wasn’t an incredibly impressive game from a presentation standpoint, and it had its fair share of bugs and technical hiccups.  Despite these obvious issues to anyone who played it and compared it to the quality of other open world titles, State of Decay gained legions of dedicated fans.

Now five years later, Undead Labs gets another crack at the series with State of Decay 2.  There’s a lot that’s been added to the game that makes it a proper follow-up, it’s a bigger experience with a broader scope.  There’s a lot more content in the new game, things like online co-op have been added, and it has seen a significant bump in the visual department.  While these improvements are welcome additions, they do come with some baggage.  Unfortunately, that’s in the polish for State of Decay 2.  Like the aforementioned issues with the first game, Undead Labs did not redeem themselves in this regard.  Though in familiar fashion, State of Decay 2 overcomes these issues to provide a unique, open world survival experience that offers plenty for players to sink their teeth into.

If you’re unfamiliar with the first game, State of Decay 2 follows a similar pattern.  Just about every aspect of the first game has been refined in terms of gameplay.  It’s a mixture of combat, exploration, base management, and scavenging the world for items to survive.  Players will select a pair of survivors to start their journey into the harsh world of State of Decay 2, and these characters do have some backstory associated with them depending on who you pick.  The game has a loose narrative structure that places these survivors into the open world with a handful of others to set out and start a community.  The setting is 18 months after an outbreak that has brought about the zombie apocalypse.  Just about everything after this opening point is up to player to decide when it comes to story.  Depending on the choices that are made throughout the game, any playthrough of State of Decay 2 can be entirely different due to the possibility of permadeath for any character in the game, including the reality of a community not surviving at all.  This non-linear structure allows players to just enjoy the core gameplay of the game.  Unlike other open world titles, State of Decay 2 gives you a lot of freedom in that the only goal is survival.

Doing so requires that you use the characters in your group to go scavenging for items to give you the resources necessary to stave off hunger, stay supplied with building materials, keep cabinets stocked with important medicines, and ammunition caches filled so that big threats can be handled quickly.  The world map of State of Decay 2 is about the same size as the original game, but this time around there are three of these maps to master.  Each one with different topography, outposts to settle, zombie threats to extinguish, side quests, other humans (friendly & hostile), and plenty of loot.  Since your main priority is surviving in State of Decay 2, the typical gameplay loop has you bringing back rucksacks full of goods for your group and whatever you can fit into your backpack and pockets.

It’s all for the good of your growing group.  As State of Decay 2 unfolds, you can bring new characters into your community.  Each one with different strengths and weaknesses.  While players start out playing as a pair of characters, you can switch to anyone, at anytime and take them out to complete a mission.  Each one has their own skill tree which can be upgraded by doing specific actions.  Running, for example, will build stamina.  Once you’ve maxed out this skill you’ll be given a choice of what to specialize in with that skill.  What players must manage in this game is the health, hunger, and tiredness of these characters as things like health and stamina regeneration are at a premium and overworking any single character not only puts them at risk every time they leave the game’s safe zones, but this becomes amplified by lower health or recovery times.  Needless to say, there’s plenty for the survivalist in State of Decay 2, and that’s just in character management.

In the open world there are many threats that players must deal with alongside managing the health of characters.  For those that played the first game, many of these will be familiar.  Undead Labs ripped a page straight out of the Left 4 Dead handbook with their Juggernaut, Bloaters, Feral Zombies, and standard hordes.  There is however a new addition in Plague infested zombies and Plauge Hearts.  These creatures add an extra layer of danger to the combat because they can infect characters with a blood plague, which if goes untreated, is a disease the can kill characters in your community.  If you don’t have the required meds available to administer the cure, you’ll have to make a tough decision in euthanizing an ally before they turn into a zombie themselves.

Which brings me to the other side of State of Decay 2.  This is the management aspect of the game where you need to basically make sure that your community and the characters within are healthy, happy, and most importantly, productive.  There are numerous outposts in State of Decay 2’s three large land masses, and they all have different aesthetic looks and potential functionalities.  Though the core ideas remain the same.  Players need to manage the storage capability of the outpost.  You’ll need to bring in building materials to build things like a garden to grow food.  You can upgrade vehicles, manage fuel supplies, and build and upgrade medical stations to treat the sick or wounded, among many other aspects of surviving and thriving depending on the items you find and the skills of the characters in your group. There’s quite a lot to wrap your head around in State of Decay 2, and with these supplies constantly dwindling things can get pretty dire, pretty fast if you aren’t constantly bringing in or producing supplies for your group to consume, while at the same time growing your community and adding members.

When you put this all together, like its predecessor, State of Decay 2 is pretty unique when it comes to open world zombie games.  There’s a ton to manage, and there’s a nice pace to the game which provides the tension that is necessary to make it all work.  Where all of this sucks you into the world, there’s plenty to suck your right out as well.  Which goes back to the overall quality of the game itself.  If I had to compare State of Decay 2 to another open world series, it would be the Bethesda RPGs.  There are parts to State of Decay 2 which feel unfinished, and a lot of this is in the visual presentation for the game.  There are plenty of graphical oddities in the game.  You’ll see things like zombies falling from the sky.  You vehicles will randomly clip into geometry of the world.  The little bugs are everywhere.  We didn’t experience anything game breaking, but it’s not quite up to par with other open world games when it comes to fit and finish.

One of the big requests that State of Decay fans had with the first game was the ability for cooperative play, and Undead Labs answered with State of Decay 2.  Players can play with a group of four players, and this functionality is a welcome addition, even if it isn’t implemented in a great manner.  The game can get a little easy in cooperative mode, with no real bump in difficulty with the added players.  Add to this a litany of network problem that features things like rubberbanding and lag issues and the game isn’t very much fun to play this way, but can offer some fun moments.  It takes some of the tension out of the game that the single player side offers.

The Verdict

State of Decay 2 follows a similar pattern of the first game.  If you can put up with a game that isn’t quite state of the industry when it comes to visual fidelity and performance, there’s a fun zombie survival game underneath it all.

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State of Decay 2

  • Available On: Xbox One, PC
  • Published By: Microsoft Studios
  • Developed By: Undead Labs
  • Genre: Open World, Survival
  • US Release Date: May 22nd, 2018
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "If you can put up with a game that isn't quite state of the industry when it comes to visual fidelity and performance, there's a fun zombie survival game underneath it all."
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