Review: State of Decay 2 is Flawed but Fun Group Survival

Image courtesy of Undead Labs I’ve been playing a lot of open world survival games lately. This once chic genre has since been usurped and far surpassed in popularity by the battle royale genre, but I don’t think open world survival will be going away anytime soon.  I’m excited for the refinement that is possible, and the sort of cool things we might see from a fully realized open world survival game. Unfortunately, State of Decay 2 isn’t so much a refinement of the genre--but it is a natural progression of its series. Image courtesy of Undead Labs State of Decay 2, developed by Undead Labs, is a third person open world survival game. While it’s full of zombies, and they’re your main obstacle, threats also come from starvation or general lack of resources. To survive, you must kill (or avoid) zombies, loot, and establish bases and outposts to bring in a steady stream of supplies. State of Decay 2 doesn’t focus on an individual’s survival; rather, it’s about managing a group of survivors. Where most survival games have you worrying about how well fed or rested a single person is, you have to make sure you have enough food, fuel, etc. for an entire community to survive, and ideally: thrive. This is in line with its predecessor, but there have since been a few significant changes, including the inclusion of multiplayer. Image courtesy of Undead Labs The addition of multiplayer in State of Decay 2 makes sense. It’s exactly what I thought the original State of Decay was missing, and what made State of Decay 2 such an anticipated title for me. You can invite a friend or stranger to come and help your community of survivors, or, conversely, go help someone out in their game. They are not actually a member of your community, though, so they can drop in and drop out, using members from their own groups. This removes the worry of a stranger killing off a member of your community, but also increases the workload of friends wanting to play together—you essentially have to do everything in every friend’s world to stay on par with each other. With 2-4 players playing together, that can be a lot of upkeep.  Luckily, you can get a fair amount of what acts as in-game currency (called Influence) by assisting others in multiplayer. Image courtesy Undead Labs Everything in State of Decay 2 takes time. Building additions to your outposts takes over 15 minutes in real-time in some cases. Wounds your survivors sustain take time to heal. Other things that take time are represented by a progress bar like fueling/repairing vehicles and looting. Most of your time in State of Decay 2 will be spent looting. You can choose to speed up the time it takes to rifle through whatever you’re searching, but that has the possibility of making a noise—and noise attracts the hordes of zombies that are a persistent threat. Image courtesy Undead Labs The zombies range from your normal slow shambling types, to your ever-present special types. These range from the exploding bloater (of course) that leaves a gas cloud, to the massive juggernaut (yawn).  State of Decay 2 even has new blood plague zombies, which infect your characters once bitten. They either have to be cured, euthanized, or exiled. Image courtesy Undead Labs For your community of characters to survive in State of Decay 2, you have to establish a base with a steady supply of food, medicine, building materials, and fuel. Unlike its predecessor, you don’t have to worry about fortifying your base. Instead, most base additions will be in the form of things like workshops to craft ammo and explosives;   infirmaries to heal trauma and infection; and gardens to produce food or medicine, as well as a number of other amenities you can build. You can only build in predetermined areas, though, and the size of your outpost will determine what can be built where. It’s actually quite restrictive, and I never felt like I could have everything I wanted. What survivors you have in your community is another consideration, as well. Each character in State of Decay 2 comes with perks and quirks, as well as specializations in certain abilities. Some of these abilities are useful, like medicine. Others aren’t that useful, like painting. You can improve survivor abilities like fighting and cardio merely by killing zombies or running around, respectively. Doing this allows you to eventually specialize your character, etc. It’s an interesting balance, as each member of your community is an asset with specialized skills. This sort of makes them an individual that you would mourn if you lost—which is a real possibility, since death is permanent, and always a constant threat. Luckily, you can defend yourself. Weapons in State of Decay 2 come in two flavors: melee or ranged. Melee weapons are going to be most of the way you interact with zombies, while guns will probably be reserved for special occasions, lest you draw the attention of the hordes. Of course, this depends entirely on playstyle. If you do like to run and gun, ammo isn’t super scarce. Weapons take durability damage, so they have to repair at home, or replaced. Ammo, explosives, medical supplies, etc. can also be produced at bases, but everything has a materials cost.   Image courtesy Undead Labs The blood plague zombies and their accompanying loci, the plague hearts, are a major point to what little plot State of Decay 2 has. You don’t really follow a story: most of your actions are based purely on necessity. In fact, after you settle in and destroy the imminent blood plague threat, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to keep going besides helping out other survivor enclaves in endless side quests that take too long and amount to “go here and do this thing.” They aren’t very fun. There are many different non-player controlled enclaves that you will encounter. Some will like you, others will shoot you on sight. The ones that like you will trade with you, and even sometimes offer to join your own community of survivors. Even if these enclaves like you, they can be fickle. Sometimes my relations with them would break off suddenly, with seemingly no warning, despite how much crap I helped them with. Also, enclaves seem like they can be based anywhere, ridiculously holing up in say, a shed, instead of the large two story house nearby. It’s pretty ridiculous to come across three-four people standing in a garden shed like it’s the most natural thing in the world. State of Decay 2 is pretty buggy. This is especially true during multiplayer, where I encountered everything from invisible enemies to entire crashes with ensuing loss of progress. No fun. I’ve also lost cars to strange collision glitches or otherwise invisible obstacles.   Image courtesy Undead Labs Vehicles in State of Decay 2 are done well enough, but they can be tedious as they require constant fueling and upkeep. There are only cars and trucks, though—nothing that flies, or no motorcycles. As a passenger you can’t do anything but ride, so sharing a car doesn’t really do much except limit your overall cargo capacity. The lack of turrets or ability to do ANYTHING while being a passenger is a missed opportunity. The open world is pretty well detailed, with lots of locations to explore. Every building that looks like it can be entered can be, sans a few broken and smaller structures. Most of the houses are cookie-cutter, but their enterability is a nice change of pace from the days of closed, empty boxes made to look like buildings. There are also three major areas to choose from, but you can’t move between them at-will, hence dashing my dreams of an empire of survivor networks and forever keeping my community pretty small. State of Decay 2 is an interesting game, but not a great one. Its emphasis on group survival is a welcome departure from the standard. The inclusion of multiplayer is great, as things are better with friends, and something that I thought the original was sorely lacking. It doesn’t really stand out too much in a field saturated with survival games, but it does just enough to be worth a consideration. Its lack of late game purpose killed its longevity for me, but I may find myself going back to it to help along another community of survivors. State of Decay 2 is available now on Xbox One and Windows.
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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.