State of Decay 2 Review

Posted May 23, 2018 by Sean Capri in Video Games

Developer: Undead Labs

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Release Date: May 22 2018

Platforms: Xbox One, PC

Driving along the road, dodging car wrecks and smashing into squishy zombies, my friend and I encounter a Juggernaut Zombie for the first time. This hulking monstrosity is enormous but surely our Jeep can take him out with enough velocity. We slam into this brick poop-house and I am certain there was more damage to our vehicle than the enemy. Well, that was unexpected!

Calming our hysterical laughter, we exit the now-smoking Jeep and start unleashing hell on this thing. It’s a battle for the ages. He’s charging at us and it’s all incredibly intimidating – particularly with the threat of permadeath knocking on our door.

Finally, my co-op partner jumps on his back like a Titanfall rodeo, relentlessly stabbing him in the head and neck until finally he goes down. We catch our collective breath and agree that State of Decay 2 is a ton of fun.

State of Decay 2 is not a Triple A, super-polished experience. It’s characters and enemies are far from original. Still, it’s gameplay loop, balance, variety, and perpetual angst make it entirely worthwhile. 

It’s about community. The game begins with a choice of starting characters, including estranged siblings or an on-again-off-again couple. It appears to be more meaningful than it really is. After a brief solo-only tutorial, co-op is unlocked and the player can open the session to anyone, friends-only, or close it altogether. Having players join your session means they will help keep you alive, fight increasingly large mobs of zombies, collect more resources, and ultimately enhance your community. Only the host can build or upgrade Outposts but the balance comes in the form of character upgrades and multiplayer bonuses that increase with longer co-op sessions.

The Zombie Sims

Personally, I’m what’s known as a pleaser. I like to know everyone around me is happy and having a good time. So when State of Decay 2 thrust me in charge of keeping morale high by dealing with conflicts, looting key resources, expanding the base, and – of course – slaughtering hordes of zombies, it tickled a special part of my amygdala. When the morale drops to “Depressed” I simply cannot let that stand. We need beds? No problem! I was just on my way out with a two guns (in case one breaks), lots of ammo and health, and the biggest backpack I can find. Thanks to some earlier scouting, there’s a spot on the map that should have the materials we’re looking for. So I grab a fellow survivor and the NPC keeps me safe as we venture towards our loot destination.

The loop of snagging materials to better the community is pretty simple. And in the early goings of State of Decay 2, I was able to safely wander and learn the mechanics. Sure, I encountered a few zombies here and there but they were easily handled with my baseball bat or tire iron. And just as I was getting the hang of things – morale’s looking good, community’s growing, characters are leveling nicely – new and more zombies start ruining my day. Impossibly unstoppable Juggernauts, inescapably predatory Ferals, war-crying Screamers and other special zombies force you to rely on a more powerful but loud offensive arsenal. The more noise, the more zombies. The more zombies, the higher chance of infection and in a truly worst case scenario – permadeath.

Mixed Bag of Broken Bones and Great Fun

Goodness, permadeth is damning. But what kind of zombie apocalypse would it be if the stakes weren’t as high? On one particularly unremarkable jaunt down the street, Gibbs and I were a few dozen meters from home when a Juggernaut-led Infestation (a mob of zombies) started following us. The Juggernaut grabbed Gibbs – community Leader and badass military-type, effortlessly raised her over his head and granted her torso freedom from her waist and legs. Just like that. Gone. I stood with my jaw dropped, realizing I don’t have nearly enough ammo or health to avenge her, then ran home with anger tears in my eyes. That’s as unpredictable a death as I’ve seen. But it taught me to expect the unexpected. Always be  prepared with guns and backup guns, ammo and health. And respect the danger of Infestations.

The risk of exploration makes successful ventures all-the-more satisfying. This is only sullied by the lame tower system. Climbing up a ladder to reach a billboard summit never feels as good or fun as other open-world tower climbing. Then, you take aim at a collection of question marks in the distance to lock the locations to the map. Revealing new locations feels like a chore when discovering new frontiers to explore should feel exhilarating. And then you have to go back down. There’s no way around it, descending ladders is awful. Far too often, my character just ran over the edge instead of climbing down. Sometimes, she would climb up when I was pressing down. The controls seem to breakdown whenever the camera flips around like it does when approaching a ladder or hurdling a fence.

Finding a working vehicle in the zombie apocalypse is key to survival and exploration. Plus, it’s crazy fun to speed down the road and smash a few dozen zombies into a few thousand pieces. It’s made all-the-better when a co-pilot NPC or co-op friendo is sitting shotgun and opens the door for maximum killing. Driving feels and controls about the same as mostly everything else in State of Decay 2 – fine. Shooting is loose but forgiving – firing in the general area of a head will likely result in a fatal kill. Characters awkwardly bump into each other in a close-quarters environment – and don’t get out of the way.

The surface-level gameplay sits atop a deep and layered RPG system. Base building features branching build orders and cultivating the community involves leveling characters naturally – though, without an XP meter, it is somewhat unpredictable. Shooting more logically increases the Shooting skill. Running increases Cardio. So more frequently used characters will become more capable just by playing with them. This makes them more valuable but also more precious – perhaps to be saved for as-needed missions only. Characters naturally get hurt or tired and this forces you to switch it up and play with other members of the community. This ensures nobody is too far behind on the skill tree and the playable characters are all capable of fighting and contributing.

Final Verdict

The story and characters are fairly unremarkable but that hardly matters. Game play is king and State of Decay 2 is embarrassingly addictive. The constant threat of permadeath compounded by the never-ending need for resources plus an occasional false sense of security makes this an absolute riot to play. Sadly, not enough polish was applied to the end product. Countless bugs, both in single player and co-op, some questionable controls and camera work, and poor performance – even on the X, make this an asterisked recommendation.

About the Author

Sean Capri

I am a beady-eyed Canadian. I play video games and feed/walk my three dogs.