Back in 2013 when Undead Labs released the first State Of Decay game, I was bored of the whole zombie survival genre. There were zombie games everywhere, even in games you think wouldn’t have them – I’m looking at you Red Dead Redemption. Don’t get me wrong, the Undead Nightmare DLC for Red Dead Redemption was amazing, but did anyone honestly think that the game needed zombies? Zombie games were everywhere and as I said – by 2013 I was just so utterly bored of those undead bastards. Then State of Decay was released and my brother kept hounding me to play it…and I really didn’t want to. But he was persistent and without giving too much away he just kept telling me how great the game was and so I reluctantly downloaded it and hated it. I sat there playing this abomination of a game for a while, running around and smacking zombies around the head with a piece of wood. It was tedious and I got rather angry with my sibling for convincing me to fork over my hard earned cash and quickly turned it off. The game was ugly, had numerous glitches and frame-rate issues.
“Just get to the safe-house at the church” is what my brother told me. So I did, I gave State of Decay another go – hell I paid for the fucking thing so I may as well get something out of it right? All through my play time I just kept hearing my brother in the back of my head saying “get to the church, get to the church, get to the church” in a really annoying voice. Long story short, he was right as its when you do “get to the church” in State of Decay when the game really opens up. Character management, base building, scavenging, equipment creating and so much more are all unleashed onto you and what starts out as a pretty boring zombie game suddenly evolves into something totally different with a depth of gameplay I rarely see in big budget, AAA titles never mind a low budget indie game as State of Decay was. It went from being a game I detested to one of the best games I played last generation. I must have poured hundreds of hours into State of Decay on the 360 and then the Xbox One, I even played through it again before the release of the sequel on my Xbox One X. So when Undead Labs announced a sequel at E3 in 2016, I was ready with bankcard in hand and as soon as I could pre-order, I did. I even went for the Ultimate Edition which comes with some in-game items, and future DLC including a new map and new gameplay mode. But more importantly, it came with early access to State of Decay 2 which was available four days before it’s official release date of tomorrow. I did a very quick (and rough) first impressions when I played the game for a couple of hours and liked what I saw. But I wanted to do a proper write up and look at the game after I’d put more time into it as first impressions can change over time. So I’ve been playing State of Decay 2 over the weekend and?
First thing I need to make clear is that this is still a low budget, indie game here not a big budget title and there are a few cracks. There are some issues with frame-rates, lag and other minor niggles but nothing game breaking at all. There was a patch released for the game which sorted out a lot of the bigger problems but a few do still remain.
The game starts with you choosing from three pairs of characters, each with their own skill sets and strengths. There’s a little blurb on their relationships and back stories but it really amounts to nothing as the individual stories are not important in the grand scheme,its really just background filler. After you choose your pair of characters, you are thrown into a linear tutorial that teaches you the bare basics of movement, combat and scavenging. For a seasoned State of Decay player, the tutorial is just insulting. Get to the end and you then can choose which of the three maps you start on. As far as I can tell, there is no major difference in the main story and the map/character selection is nothing more than just that, a map/character selection. But once you get passed all of that – that game starts proper and you are thrown into an open world extravaganza.
Right from the off, the game looks good. Okay so its not as graphically impressive as something like Assassin’s Creed: Origins but again, State of Decay 2 is low budget and in that regard it does look impressive. The world feels alive despite the fact you are trapped in a zombie apocalypse. There are little details like rats and lizards running around, rubbish strewn on the floor that make the world you are in seem lived in at some point. Many of the staples from the previous game return and have either been tweaked or overhauled to work better. The base building is back with several more options and multiple upgrades for your base. The character building plays out pretty much the same but with some new features. In State of Decay when you maxed out one of your character’s skills, you could chose a specialization and that was pretty much it. Now when you max out a skill, you can chose from several specializations each with different strengths and weaknesses and continue to level up that specialization further.
I mentioned in my first impressions article how I found myself pressing wrong buttons and not really getting on with the menu system. This is mainly due to coming directly from playing the original (a lot) and my being so used to that set up so that switching to the sequel and its tweaks did throw me for a while. But now I’ve spent more time with State of Decay 2, I’m finding my way around the menus and interface easier, its become second nature. Base building works like a dream with the new options as does managing your characters. You can switch between your survivors with ease, promote them if needed, check out their skills and stats and so much more. All of this helps create one of my favorite aspects of the game, the building of your community. Situations can change if you don’t keep your base well stocked with the essentials, lack of food can lead to your community’s morale dropping and even to depression. Some of your characters may clash and fight between themselves. Low building materials can mean you’ll see your base suffer damage and in need of repair. You need to keep an eye on everything and ensure you maintain your stocks at a level that keeps your base and residents happy. Then there is a flip side to, overstock with food (for example) and it can spoil if not used. There is a delicate balancing act going on among all the zombie slaughter which you need to keep an eye on to help your community grow at a steady rate.
As you build your base, you can and will encounter problems. A bigger base will attract zombies. If your base creates a a lot of noise and building a generator to give your base electricity will create the most noise then zombies will most definitely come a-knocking on your front door. This is a new feature were your base will get attacked by passing zombies. Thankfully you can keep an eye on just how much attention your base will attract on the base building screen. So its up to you, build a huge and impressive base with as many rooms and facilitates as you want but be under continual attack from zombies, or keep it much lower key and avoid all the hassle. But of course a smaller base will only attract smaller groups of survivors and you need as many survivors you can find to stay alive. Its more of that balancing act I mentioned before and really gives you a lot for freedom in just how you build your home and community.
The main aim of the game is to survive. Gather resources, build up your base and community, fend off zombies. Its State of Decay with some tweaks and improvements…and I’m perfectly fine with that. Undead Labs have not messed with the winning formula too much. They have kept what worked with the original game and improved in the areas that needed it. If you played the original, you’ll find yourself right at home with this sequel. All the special zombies are back too, the screamers that stun the player and attract zombies, the bloater that explodes in a cloud of zombie gas that can poison you and those really annoying ferals that jump around erratically and leap on you from a distance…oh yeah, lets not forget those great hulking juggernaut zombies that take several dozen rounds of ammo to put down. But this sequel adds a new type of zombie to the mix, the blood plague zombie. These blood covered blighters can and will infect your survivors if they get in close enough, this leads to you contracting the blood plague and you’ll soon have to find a cure or your survivor will end up deader than a dead thing. The only way to really stop the blood plague is to destroy the plague hearts that will appear around the map – but there is twist as the more hearts you destroy, the stronger the next heart becomes. So things can get a little tough further down the line if you are not properly equipped…which is where the whole base management and equipment crafting comes in useful.
The three maps are big, not the biggest maps I have seen in an open world game but they still have plenty to see and do in them. Put it this way, I have sunk around 20 odd hours into my single -player game (I also have a co-op game going with my brothers) and despite the many hours I have put in, I think I have only seen about one fifth of one of the maps…one of the maps – there’s still two more to explore after the one I’m currently on. Now I read a review that claimed they finished the game within 10 in-game days. I can not say how true this is as I’m only on day 5 and still have a long way to go. But I think this is due to the fact I am not rushing my way thorough the game (20+ hours and I’ve still not finished it) and if you are one to rush to the end, then you are really not playing the game right and will miss out on a lot of what it offers. This is a game where you really need to take your time and enjoy what is there to get the most out of it.
The environments themselves are varied between the three maps, I did start new games just to take a quick look at all three. There seems to be a lot more verticality over the previous game. There is more variety in the locales within each map, more places to discover. Though I have noticed a lot of the buildings have the same layouts as they did in State of Decay. Some of the houses are the same, the shops, gas stations, etc all seem to have the same basic layouts even if the graphics in them have been updated.
Of course I have to quickly cover the all new co-op mode in State of Decay 2. You can now team up with up to three friends and take on the zombie hordes online. Its damn good fun too with a decent team of players who know that they are doing. Good team work is the key to survival and just running around aimlessly is a surefire way to end up one of the undead. Gathering resources, building the home-base and keeping the community happy is easier with a few pals. One of the big things a lot of reviews are seeing as a negative is the the tethering, you see guest players are tethered to the host player and can not wander off doing their own thing and if you do wander off too far then you get a warning to head back, ignore the warning and you will be auto-snapped back to the host. Some reviewers have called this out as a negative, but I don’t see it that way at all. The range you can wander from the host is still pretty big to be honest and besides, this game is all about support and backing each other up…so why would you want to go off and do your own thing, that is what single player is for. Yeah the tethering works well and means you have to stay within range of the host, but still gives you enough freedom to do what needs to be done. I really have no problem with it at all.
Its not all good news though. As I mentioned earlier, there are still some glitches even post-patch. Strangely I found most of the glitches seem to happen in co-op mode over single player. For instance, I played games where doors were ‘open’ as shown in the game but actually closed and needed to be opened – if you get what I mean. Sometimes the locker you use to store your items is not there, rooms you build in your base may not show up on another player’s screen. There are still problems with frame-rates and lag issues – particularly when driving. Its still rough around the edges and I hope Undead Labs do fix the niggles in the future with another patch. Plus I don’t know if its just me, but I find the game far easier then its predecessor. In the original I used to dread alerting a zombie horde as they could very easily surround, overpower and kill you. In this the zombie hordes are nothing but a mild annoyance. Searching a building and making too much noise attracts zombies, this was a disaster in the first game as you could get rushed with multiple zombies all attacking you at once, yet here when you make noise and you’ll just get two or three zombies shamble over to you. Infestations in the first game were a real battle yet here they are a slight distraction. There seems to be fewer zombies around in general and they also seem less aggressive over the first game too. Maybe it is just me but I find State of Decay 2 less of a challenge. I think it needs a hardcore mode.
State of Decay 2 has had a few bad reviews that call the game out on its “game breaking” glitches. I believe some (if not all) of these reviews were done pre-patch and are not entirely fair now the game has been patched to a much more playable state.
Overall, State of Decay 2 is a cracker of a game. If you loved the first one then I highly recommend this as its everything a sequel should be. The core of what made the original great is still there and its been improved just enough. There are some new features that keep the gameplay fresh and interesting. Plus the co-op mode is just so much fun, one of the best co-op games released in years. Despite its niggles, State of Decay 2 is a solid and entertaining title. Yes the bugs and glitches are an annoyance but nothing that will ruin your enjoyment of the game. If Undead Labs could iron out the problems – this could be one of the best open world games around and most definitely the best zombie survival game yet.