The first State of Decay game was rough around the edges, but managed to attract a loyal following nevertheless. It’s clear that the concept had a lot of unrealized potential, which Undead Labs could fulfill with a sequel. Well, after originally being announced way back at Microsoft’s E3 2016 presentation, State of Decay 2 is finally available, but is it the upgrade fans were expecting?
State of Decay 2 is definitely a step forward from the first game in terms of content, but overall, it feels like more of the same. On one hand, this means those who were fans of the original will likely find reasons to sink plenty of time into this followup, but on the other hand, it means that a lot of issues haven’t been addressed, and so those who were disappointed by the first may not be too impressed by the sequel.
It doesn’t help that the biggest addition to the sequel, the introduction of co-op gameplay to the series, is so underwhelming. It’s surprisingly restrictive, with one player’s game world serving as the “host,” and other players just along for the ride. This includes restrictions such as players being unable to do things like split up into groups and pursue separate missions, or fan out and cover a larger area of the game world. Really the only reason to play co-op is to get points to spend back in single player. This makes co-op feel like a tacked-on extra as opposed to an integral part of the experience.
While it would have been nice for co-op to have been more fleshed out, at least co-op is in the game at all, and playing with friends is still a great deal of fun. Without co-op, players are left with what is essentially the core State of Decay experience from before in terms of single player, which revolves around base management and trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse as a varied cast of survivors who are all susceptible to permadeath.
Permadeath is meant to raise the stakes in any given game it’s used in, and make players a feel a great sense of remorse and regret when a character dies. State of Decay 2 will stun players when a favorite character dies, but it’s not because of that character’s story arc, personality, or character development. Players won’t be sad when their characters die because they’re attached to the characters themselves – they’re attached to that character’s gear and stats.
Part of the reason why it’s so hard to care about the characters in State of Decay 2 is that they all feel so generic, and they have no personalities except for the one players project onto them. They’re lifeless avatars, meant to do nothing except run around, kill zombies, collect stuff, and return to base. The dialogue written for them is all throwaway stuff, and the voice acting comes across as lazy, which certainly doesn’t help matters.
These characters may have different traits and abilities, but they all end up in the same gameplay loop. Run around one of three maps, kill zombies, collect items, return to base, rinse, and repeat. This loop becomes very repetitive, especially over long play sessions, but there is something almost relaxing about it, and players who enjoy this kind of survival-focused, base management gameplay may even find it quite engaging. Others who want more variety and substance will be left wanting, however.
Admittedly, there is some variety injected into the experience through State of Decay 2‘s steady supply of dynamic missions and main objectives players can pursue. At first, the main goal is to establish camp, and raise the reputation of one survivor high enough for them to become leader. From there, players need to wipe out all the Plague Hearts on the map, which will then unlock a new set of missions specific to the type of character players have elected leader (Builder, Sheriff, or Warlord).
State of Decay 2 is at its best once players have put in a great deal of time and have a routine down, but those early hours are rough, especially when it comes to base management. It seems like the game is constantly generating issues for players to deal with back at camp, like a lack of resources, characters knocking over facilities, or in-fighting. These base management elements would be interesting if they felt organic and were less frequent, but as it stands, they are more annoying than anything else and feel quite random. For example, sometimes survivors will be frustrated and group morale will be low, and then suddenly morale will stabilize without anyone’s gripes actually being addressed.
Gameplay-wise, State of Decay 2 has a lot of areas where it could improve, and that sentiment holds true for its graphical presentation as well. State of Decay 2 is just downright ugly, which muddy textures, stiff animations, and a bland art style.
Even after a massive 20GB patch, State of Decay 2 is rough around the edges, to say the least. Along with disappointing visuals, bugs are commonplace, ranging from minor annoyances to aggravating frustrations. Perhaps the most irritating bug we came across involved vehicles, with them often getting stuck on small objects out in the game world. At one point, we were forced to abandon a truck we filled with hard-earned supplies because it got stuck on nothing when trying to go down a ramp. No matter what we tried, the truck wouldn’t move, and eventually, we just had to cut our losses and accept that all the time we spent looting for those supplies was for nothing.
Other bugs we ran into were less serious but still annoying. Sometimes our character would teleport on top of objects, and other times characters we were transporting back to base would disappear into thin air, only to reappear from seemingly nowhere a few minutes later. It’s clear that State of Decay 2 could’ve benefited from more time in the oven, but at least Undead Labs seems committed to addressing these issues, as the aforementioned 20GB patch demonstrates.
Due to its numerous technical issues and underwhelming gameplay, it’s difficult to give State of Decay 2 a wide recommendation. However, it’s easy to see how the game will appeal to a certain group of players, particularly those who consider themselves fans of the original game. And, since State of Decay 2 is available through Xbox Game Pass, anyone who is signed up for Microsoft’s Netflix-like game distribution service might as well give it a shot. It’s likely that they won’t be terribly impressed by the experience and won’t keep it in their game rotation for long, but there’s also a chance that they may be surprised.
State of Decay 2 is out now for PC and Xbox One. Game Rant reviewed the game on Xbox One.