Review: State of Decay 2 brings us back into the zombie routine

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The zombie apocalypse gets no shortage of love. Books, movies, comics, TV — you name it. Games about it are usually on the action side of things, though, mainly about surviving the outbreak and nothing else. But what happens after? Not many games show it but living in a “zombified” world isn’t easy, and that’s exactly what State of Decay 2 is all about.

Having played the original, the first thing that came to mind was how alike the two games are. It has the same controls, the same gameplay mechanics, the same… everything. It kind of feels like State of Decay 2 is more of an updated remaster or an expansion pack. Depending on your stance on the original, that could be a good or bad thing.

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If you’re new to the series, State of Decay is a survival game set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, focused not on just your character but a community of NPCs. You’ll build bases and facilities for your survivors, all the while making runs out into the dangerous world to help other survivors or to gather essential supplies.

Base building is relatively unchanged from the original. Yet again, only certain locations can be used for your base. Depending on how big it is, you might need a certain number of survivors and reputation points (RP) to do so. While a bigger base is of course better, with more slots for construction, it also attracts a larger zombie menace. You can mitigate this danger somewhat by building certain facilities, but fighting the undead is a part of everyday life in State of Decay 2.

Weirdly, the guard tower doesn’t seem to work in my review copy. In the original game, a survivor would climb the tower to shoot any approaching zombie — I have fond memories of the AI covering my mad dash for safety. In the sequel, this doesn’t happen at all. None of my survivors have ever climbed the tower, even after upgrading it and meeting the requirements. Hopefully this is a bug that gets ironed out for launch.

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There are a handful of new facilities in State of Decay 2, though they’re mainly tied to Hero traits. For example, Trader unlocks the trading post for a set amount of RP each day. I’d have preferred more unique facilities, though the new ones are pretty awesome. As mentioned, you can upgrade these facilities to make them more efficient. There are also mod slots now, enhancing your buildings in different ways.

Upgrading to higher tiers requires survivors with specialized skills, which does logically fit the game’s theme. I just felt it hampered my enjoyment a little. I played most of my first campaign without an automobile repair shop, simply because no survivor I encountered was a mechanic who wanted to join me. That meant I couldn’t make vehicle repair kits, in a world where every single car was treasure. Luckily, these vehicles can take a beating, with repair kits randomly found in buildings.

You can offset this by finding skill books for your survivors to read, but I never found a book I needed at the time. It’s all random, of course, so your luck might be better than mine.

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Keeping your base functional and your survivors happy takes resources. These come in multiple flavors: building supplies, medical supplies, food, fuel, and ammo. They’re shown as duffel bags and are separate from the normal loot you scrounge up. Resources go towards your base’s stockpile, but it takes a delicate balance to maintain. Too much and the excess is wasted. Too little and you’ll be left vulnerable.

Of course, it takes your most valuable resource to find these supplies: survivors. You’ll initially start the campaign with three (four if you play the tutorial), but that number can climb if you persuade other NPCs to join you. Each survivor has their own set of stats and specializations that increase through gameplay. You’ll want to keep an all-rounded group to cover every contingency, though that’s easier said than done.

Also, State of Decay 2 can now have survivors infected with the Blood Plague. Thankfully, the Plague Zombie carriers are all bloody with red eyes, so it’s easy to spot them. Getting hit by those fills the survivor’s infection meter, and if you’re unlucky enough that it gets full then a timer will appear.

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It’s a slow, real-time countdown before the poor survivor turns into a zombie. You can cure this, but it takes five Plague Samples which are a rare drop from the Plague Zombies. You’ll also need an infirmary. It’s all a bit troublesome but it does add a welcome new element in the war against the undead. It could even make for harrowing situations if an important survivor gets infected.

Survivors may be equipped with melee and projectile weapons, and can even spend RP to radio in special support options such as artillery strikes — you’ll want that in a fight against Plague Hearts, which I’ll describe later. Weirdly, the ability to call in another survivor to scavenge has been removed, so you’ll now need to personally return to base once your inventory and vehicle are filled. I have no idea why such a useful feature’s been taken out but perhaps it’ll be added in later.

Another issue I have with inventory management stems from the inability to swap items with an AI follower. It’s incredibly stupid that you need to put something down, manually switch over to the other character, and have them pick up the dropped item.

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Unfortunately, quality-of-life problems from the original are still present. There’s still no way to move time forward, or even a way to accurately tell the time. I hate venturing out at night, and it’s hard to gauge if a long journey is feasible with the amount of day light left. Why can’t I just choose to sleep?

While the urge to gather survivors like Pokémon will be strong, letting too many in can be detrimental if your base isn’t able to support them. You could fill up every base slot with food generating facilities, and that’s certainly a viable way to play (experimenting is part of the charm), but doing so leaves you handicapped in other areas.

On top of facilities and your home base are outposts, which serve as staging points for your excursions into the world. You can only have limited number of outposts so establishing them at key locations and in specific buildings — different buildings have different passive perks — is key.

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Outposts serve as places where you can restock, stash loot, or change your active character. You can’t deposit resources, though, so you’ll still have to trek back to home base for that. There’s nothing new to outposts in State of Decay 2, however, and I do wish they were more fleshed out. I know I’d welcome a feature to station survivors, so I don’t have to trek back and forth every time I’m making a long journey.

In fact, the new major gameplay features in State of Decay 2 seems to be Plague Hearts and multiplayer support. The Hearts spawn in random locations on the map and are the cause of the Blood Plague, so it’s obvious you’ll need to destroy them for your own safety. It sounds simple in theory, but they’re pretty resistant to guns and will summon tons of Plague Zombies at certain damage thresholds. The remaining Plague Hearts get stronger after each elimination too, increasing their durability and the amount of summoned Plague Zombies. It’s always a challenge to take them on and are a definite highlight in your survival routine.

As for the multiplayer, it’s a bit hit-or-miss depending on your crew. You can have up to four players but communication and cooperation is key for an enjoyable session. Unlike single player, you won’t have a faithful NPC tagging along so you’re forced to depend on the other players to watch your back. I didn’t encounter any griefing or anything of the sort, though that may very well change after launch.

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One thing that didn’t see much improvement has to be the visuals. They certainly look better than the original but State of Decay 2 somehow looks like a last-gen title. It’s bland with drab textures all round, and has a wildly fluctuating framerate too. Playing on a regular Xbox One, the framerate usually tanks when driving around. In fact, driving also triggers an obvious bug where zombies randomly spawn in mid-air before raining down when you approach. It’s pretty funny but a bug nonetheless.

At least we have the music. The melancholic score sounds like something out of Diablo and it’s a high point of the game for me. The voice acting’s not bad either though it’s nothing to write home about.

State of Decay 2 is a decent game to pass the time but is incredibly unpolished and rough. For those who’ve played and enjoyed the original, picking up the sequel is a no-brainer as it’s more of the same with a couple of new additions on top. New players will also enjoy what’s on offer, but only if they’re into the premise and genre.

State of Decay 2 releases on 22 May for Xbox One and PC (supports Xbox Play Anwhere).
Developed by Undead Labs and published by Microsoft Studios.
A pre-release copy was provided for review.

State of Decay 2 (Xbox One)
was reviewed on the LG OLED C7 Television.

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Salehuddin Husin

Sal's just your average hardcore gamer. He started gaming on the NES in the 80s and has been ever playing since. Sal doesn't care about which platforms games are on, only that he wants to play them all!