Undead Labs’ State of Decay launched when the zombie craze in video games seemed to be at its definitive peak. Everywhere you’d turn there seemed to be another zombie title hitting store shelves, and in 2013 that was great. Five years on, though, and it’s clear to see that the entire landscape has changed quite a bit. That said, State of Decay was a cult hit, and after having three hours of hands-on time with State of Decay 2 I came away confident that the game should, once again, be able to make an impact on the market.
If you’ve played the first State of Decay in any capacity, you should have a fairly good idea of what the series brings to the table in terms of gameplay mechanics and open-world design. You find yourself thrown into a zombie-infested open-world with a couple of simple goals: survive, build and harbour a community of survivors, and try and prosper in the face of the apocalypse.
In order to survive, you need to continue to invest in your community by going out to scavenge for supplies to keep the place well stocked, recruiting new survivors, and ensuring the community is kept safe from the undead. It’s as close to The Walking Dead as you can get in game form, save for a certain Negan and Lucille coming to visit.
This formula definitely works for what’s at play here, and while State of Decay and its sequel have a narrative to tell Undead Labs instead prefers to give you the keys to the kingdom. This, in turn, allows you do as you please and develop your own tale of undead survival. And this was always something that I found to be both a good and a bad thing about the first game, with it continuing on in State of Decay 2.
Having the freedom to explore the world as you please, bringing in new survivors, sussing out new outposts to capture, and so forth, is a lot of fun. The game certainly feels like a proper survival experience, and having to constantly micromanage everything about your community — from the amount of food available to the material stock on hand — definitely plays into the hands of those that want a fairly hardcore survival experience. If you’d prefer to go out and just crack some skulls, you can – but it can get a little troublesome down the line.
This is where issues can pop up with the State of Decay formula, though. These micromanagement tools can come back to bite you if you don’t pay attention to them, and your followers can leave, they can die, and you can pretty much be forced into a mass exodus if you aren’t careful. It takes time to get engrossed in this style of game, and it’s one you’d likely have to put a few hours into to really get to grips with all of the systems available. Only then will it start to properly pay off for you.
That said, I tend to quite enjoy this kind of experience — I like being able to invest in a community and watch it grow. Further, State of Decay 2 feels like a necessary evolution of its predecessor, and, as such, feels like a more refined and fleshed out game. There are more management systems here too, alongside a much, much bigger area to explore (there’re three maps each the size of the original game included). As well as this, some of the key elements that made State of Decay so special have been reworked here, like fleshing out the characters you find in the wild, giving your own character traits that you can upgrade as you play, and refining the base building system to incorporate new builds, new methods of interaction, and more ways to define your own experience.
I was thrown fairly far into the game for the preview event, and so everything felt fairly overwhelming at first. I was happy to see that a lot of what made the original State of Decay a lot of fun returned here, having been refined to a much higher level of polish. The movement still feels rather janky and you’ll likely find yourself wandering around doing mundane quests, but it all emulates a survival experience well — you aren’t going to be out clubbing zombies in the face all the time in a real apocalypse.
During my time with the game I made sure I tried to do as much as I could, from going out to loot for supplies and capture outposts to taking out plague hearts on the map. The latter had me shooting a giant deformed heart and taking down a tonne of zombies that I’d evidently angered, which was enjoyable for the most part. Similarly, exploration is still a key element in the State of Decay experience, and I appreciated the way the new map had me travelling across ridges and through towns. It felt much more unique than what was on offer in the first game, as well as feeling more lived-in.
New customisation systems in State of Decay 2 meant that some of the gear I’d picked up on these missions — like airtight containers and a video game console — could be used to modify aspects of my home base, as well. These modifications would increase things like satisfaction and food supply at home, which was a neat touch. The deeper customisation looks like it’ll be an important addition in making the game feel much more open for players than the original State of Decay, and I’m really keen to give the full game a crack and experiment with these mechanics more come May 22.
Something I was really looking forward to trying out during my preview session was the game’s multiplayer, which is the big new addition to State of Decay 2.
Not so dissimilar to Far Cry 5, State of Decay 2’s multiplayer has a player become host while one to three other players join their game. Throughout my hour of co-op time I drove my group across the map — as we scavenged for supplies for my base — as well as taking on a couple of plague hearts along the way. We did encounter some of the game’s freak zombies — zombies that have some kind of mutation, making them bigger, stronger, and noticeably different from the walking menaces that generally inhabit the world — but made relatively easy work of them.
Interestingly, I didn’t notice the game’s difficulty increase in any way during my time in co-op, meaning zombie encounters felt much easier than they were in single-player. That said, perhaps my hour with the game wasn’t enough to explore this, but I did notice that even plague heart encounters — which are some of the hardest parts of the game from what I could tell — were relatively easy with three to four players co-ordinating an attack.I’m unsure as to how the progression system works with co-op, either, though I did notice that areas you can loot are highlighted in different colours corresponding to each player. This meant one player couldn’t horde all of the good stuff from an outpost, as it’s balanced out for each survivor.
My three hours with State of Decay 2 were relatively positive, and I’m excited to tackle the full game later this month. There are still some issues that need ironing out — and the movement system seems to be as janky as ever — but what’s on offer here should appeal to those craving a fairly hardcore survival experience. The micromanagement systems and possibilities for base building are shaping up to be excellent, and multiplayer adds so much fun to the gameplay experience. I didn’t do too much in the way of narrative content, either, so I’m intrigued to see what that holds as well.