State of Decay 2: A buggy yet worthy successor of the original

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Zombies. Are we tired of zombies yet? Video games, movies, television; the undead seem to be more popular now than ever — yet we have to ask ourselves …

The answer is no. We really don’t. With that said, it is important to realize that what State of Decay 2 is (as was its predecessor) — this is a game about the living and not the dead.

If what you’re looking for is a “yay” or “nay” based on playing the first one twice through (amassing well over 50 hours of play) — the short review is: yay. If you loved the first one, you’re going to love this one too. There are bugs but you’ll be fine. There. We have that out of the way.

Now, on with the actual review. Note: This is based on early access play a few days prior to day one and the obligatory patch.

State of Decay 2 is a third person survival game that features light building, resource management (items and people), exploration and of course zombie ass kicking combat. There are vehicles, NPCs, a basic-but-servicable storyline, lightweight RPG-style advancement with acquired and learned skills and the joys of permanent death for the inhabitants of the game.

The zombie apocalypse is well underway. Maybe we’ll find out how it started; maybe we won’t. Regardless, you’ll have to survive in the zombie-littered wasteland — finding other survivor enclaves, dealing with a variety of zombie styles and even hostile humans along with the standard needs of food, water and shelter.

The game takes place on a large, open world map. You choose a location to start your home base but your choice doesn’t really make much difference. Wherever you are, you’ll need to Go Elsewhere™ over the course of the game and it is luck of the draw what sort of resources will be around your area.

Your home base is the center point of your game — at least in the beginning. You’ll handle all your supplies, manage people and resources there and you’ll build it to suit your survivor’s needs.

There has been a focus lately on “building” games; Minecraft comes in a variety of formats these days but State of Decay isn’t one of them. Building does require some components and skills, but you fill “slots” (big ones, little ones) within your home base. Each of these slots can be filled with services such as an Infirmary, Workshop, Garden, Watch Tower, Power Generator and the list goes on and on. These service facilities provide all sorts of niceties such as making medicine, food, repairing weapons and other essential tasks.

Each of these services can be upgraded using acquired knowledge, materials and parts. You can also install “mods” — things that offer a little something extra to that area. Mods like ammo or food storage, an electricity generating exercise bike … that sort of thing. Mods can be removed and traded out at any time and you can knock down these service facilities and recover some of the materials you used to create them. All actions require a time evolution to complete (no Smurfberries to speed them up, either).

Those looking for a serious “building” game like Minecraft should look elsewhere. It is essential and more comprehensive than it sounds — but I wouldn’t want to sell you a bill of goods that never ships.

You’ll spend more time managing your stuff. These fall into two different categories; items and resources.

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Management … All day, everyday

Resources are rucksacks filled with stuff your base needs to survive; food, medical supplies, materials, fuel, etc. These are consumed every day by your survival base and you can also perform evolutions at your facilities that consume these as well. If you run out of these resources, things start to get bad for the camp and people will start complaining. If you run out of ammo, your base cannot be as well-defended from zombie attacks for example. If you run out of materials, your facilities (which take damage during attacks) cannot be repaired. Food and medical supplies — well that should be obvious.

In addition to standard consumption, Random Acts of God™ will deplete your resources from time to time (“We found a roach in a food bin and we lost a full container — so sorry” … that sort of thing).

You can find these rucksacks of materials around the map (no guarantee), but each survivor can only carry one at a time. Vehicles can help you (more later) and if you have a follower with you, you can change to the follower and effectively carry two with you. Some service facilities and outposts can provide these resources as well.

Scenic vantage points like cell towers and billboards offer you a means to survey the landscape and should be used whenever you find one. They will help you find what you need — or at least point you in the right direction.

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Never miss a surveying opportunity

Items come in a variety of flavors. There are consumables like medicine, energy drinks (you have both a health and stamina system), fuel, vehicle repair kits and the like. Weapons come in both melee (blunt and bladed) and ranged (handguns, shotguns, rifles) and are all destructible over time. They can be repaired but when your machete breaks in the middle of a horde attack — that can really suck. Carrying a backup is great — but there is a slot system coupled with encumbrance which will have you second guessing how much you carry. You can get bigger backpacks as the game goes on, but if you are carrying a rucksack along with a full 8 slot backpack? Your stamina drains quite fast. You can counter this with skill progression, but early on — do yourself a favor and stay light.

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Great ride … a bit bloody perhaps …

The best way to get around encumbrance is to get a vehicle to carry your rucksacks and heavy items. These come in multiple shapes and sizes; sedans to trucks to vans. They offer storage in the trunk and are great weapons of mass undead destruction which allow you to plow through the wandering hordes with the greatest of ease. Vehicles take damage over time and must be kept stocked with fuel (although fuel consumption is overall quite generous — it tends to run out when you need it the most). Repair kits will let you fix vehicles (no damage meter here; the visual condition of the vehicle will tell you how bad things are) and of course you can build a service facility at your home base to help with this as well.

Vehicles are also necessary to get you around the rather large map as taking routes on foot will drain your consumables and reduce your players’ overall health and vitality.

As you play, even if you are careful and don’t attract zombie horde attacks as you move around — your survivalist will tire and require rest. This means a trip back to your home base (or outpost) and getting them relieved of duty. You can also switch to a follower (you can only have one follower and one “mission” NPC so far) and dismiss your dead tired player (little zombie humor there) and they will go back and rest on their own. Trauma and fatigue will lower your max health and stamina bars, too — meaning that your consumable energy drinks and health packs won’t keep you in the game forever. Once you run out of stamina, you’re pretty much useless in a melee fight leaving you with rapidly depleting ammo as the only means of killing those trying to eat you. You can’t run away or dodge them either — a low stamina survivalist ends up a dead survivalist.

There are plenty of things that will kill your players and deplete your meat sack resources (you’ll have 5–7 people or so through the first act of the game) and while you can fairly easily recruit others into your enclave (doing favors for stranded humans will often allow you to conscript them — provided you have the beds and resources to keep them happy) there is the problem of time investment of building a dream team of survivalists.

Each player you control (you can switch between them mostly at will; either face to face or through an outpost) has their own skill pool, stats and potential skill set. As with Grand Theft Auto, the more you do something (run, fight, search) your skill pool for that goes up. When you fill that skill meter, you can unlock an additional perk — use less stamina, be more stealthy, use bladed weapons faster, carry more items and the list goes on and on. This doesn’t happen quickly — which makes the idea of perma-death that much more scary and real. You also rank up each survivalist in a sort of caste system; starting off as a recruit, becoming a citizen then a hero of the camp — eventually producing a leader of the group. Perma-death kills that dream too (pardon the pun).

If you die, you drop all your belongings (retrievable) and there is no option for recovery (permanent really means forever here). The death will take a toll on your camp morale and your clan will even discuss the death among themselves. Understanding your own limitations and situation is really important; even wandering the countryside can prove deadly if you get jumped by one of the bigger undead and you are caught without stamina and/or health recovery.

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Smelly … Explosive … Unpleasant

The zombies come in a small, medium and large (and extra large) too with varying characteristics. Common variety ones go down pretty easy if you catch’em one or two at a time. There are Screamers (that summon other nearby zombies) you’ll want to dispatch sooner than later. Feral zombies are lightning fast that do tons of damage; much better to climb up on something and shoot them. Bloaters explode into toxic gas. Never a dull moment during the apocalypse.

There are special plague zombies (with red eyes) that will slowly infect you as they hurt you. This is “controllable” with meds and fully recoverable if you happen to make a cure. They tend to wander in hordes so while you’re slicing them up proper, you could be taking a good deal of infectious damage. This is much more of a burden earlier in the game than later.

By the way, if you have a problem survivalist in your enclave? Dying of plague? Endangering the team? You might have to exile them.

Throughout the map you’ll find structures, vehicles and other places where resources and items can be found. These areas will sometimes tell you what resources may be available there (ammo, medical supplies, etc.) and when you actually enter the area, you’re told how many searchable locations are available within. Your map turns into a more local version, showing you what areas of the structure you’ve visited. Once you visit them all (and clear them of zombies) the structure is then available to be conscripted into an outpost.

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Access to this locker can be a life or death situation

Outposts are like mini-bases you create out of a fully clear structure. The area around them is usually clear of zombies. They often provide daily resources and you can access your storage locker to drop/equip items as well as swap to a different survivalist. This can be critical if you’re pretty banged up. The number of outposts you can have concurrently is limited by the Command Station at your home base. You can take an outpost apart and free a slot up — this will be essential as you establish new home bases through the game, or if you just made a mistake prematurely taking a crappy shack as an outpost instead of a fuel station or hospital.

As with most sandbox games, there is a sort of linear story quest to play along with some “per survivalist” story lines. There are plenty of “random events” that show up — mostly neighboring enclaves wanting help, for you to run errands for them, etc. If you don’t help your fellow human settlers around you, they could turn hostile which means they will attack you on sight. Some will get up and leave the area, too — leaving a void of protection where they once holed up.

The game allows up to four players to play online together in one of the player’s communities. At the time of writing (prior to official launch) I was unable to get into a multiplayer scenario to fully test it. But based on how the game works with followers and NPCs, I have a pretty good idea what to expect.

As long as you know what you’re getting into, State of Decay 2 — like its predecessor — is a lot of fun. Those that enjoyed the original will like this one; better graphics, more to see and do and it has a real second generation feel to it with improvements overall to the user experience without removing what made the first one so fun. Those new to the franchise may be eyeballing it as another Dead Rising or a more traditional crafting/building game — of which this title is neither. It is a resource management game first with zombie slaying action second.

The game is exclusive to Windows 10 and Xbox One and features Xbox Play Anywhere meaning you can play it on both Windows 10 and Xbox One with a single purchase (but not at the same time). The standard game is a reasonable $29.99 with the Ultimate edition clocking in at a mere $49.99 (which includes some extras add-on packs along with the Year One enhanced edition of the original State of Decay game). Purchasing either the physical edition on Xbox One or the digital copy on Microsoft’s Store gets both platforms support — so look for a deal.

The game is also free as part of Xbox’s Game Pass service; like Sea of Thieves, the Game Pass gets you both the Windows 10 and Xbox One version. If you’ve never had Game Pass, there are often “one dollar for your first month” coupons floating around the web. You could probably play this game from start to finish for a buck if you play your cards right.

Finally, it is worth noting that the early press on the game offers up a myriad of bugs and issues reported on State of Decay 2. While I have seen many of these, many of them are simply early access growing pains in my opinion and will likely be squashed with the Day One patch. Most of them are limited to visual impairments, but I’ve encountered a few others that are a bit bigger thorns in the side.

Visually, I’ve seen an odd horizontal line that seems to appear mostly at night … mostly. Vans that are quite damaged flicker in and out of existence like the fabled Philadelphia Experiment ship. Some doors that are actually closed show as open (and vice versa). Backpacks on your survivors can be missing in action — only to pop up when a particular event occurs. Again, nothing crazy, but worthy of note.

From a game play perspective, I’ve suffered several instance of being “stuck” on something. There is an option in the menus to help you get out of this situation, but I’ve managed to work my way out of them without using it.

The biggest bug I’ve seen is that one of my followers disappeared. He showed up on my mini-map, but he just wasn’t there. He isn’t invisible — just isn’t there. The problem is, he can’t fight with you and you can’t change to him (or dismiss him) — nor can you take on another follower. Even restarting the game doesn’t seem to solve the issue. Through a handy blog post, I found that if you go back to your home base or an outpost and change to the M.I.A.’s character, you might see your other character long enough to dismiss them. That fixed the issue for me.

State of Decay 2 is a great time — even to play alone. Get some trash talking friends in to hunt the undead with you? Might have a real winner on their hands.

Got questions? Throw them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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I write, blog, record and review anything that interests me — including humanity, parenting, gizmos & gadgets, video games and media.

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