Played on Xbox Series X
The Open World zombie genre has seen its fair share of interpretations over the last two decades. From Dead Rising to Left 4 Dead to Dead Island, there have been plenty of hits and misses. Zombie games are usually an easy sell. Most games in this genre are simply about mowing down the undead with a variety of weapons and living through an ultimate post apocalyptic fantasy.
State of Decay 2 was released in May of 2018 and didn’t exactly offer what the genre had given previously. In this game you can definitely kill a lot of zombies, but for a lot of your time in this world, you’ll be focused on surviving at any cost. State of Decay is a game that focuses on living through every single day of a zombie apocalypse and dealing with everything that brings. From maintenance to your base of operations to doing supply runs, you’ll spend a lot of your time hoping to avoid the zombies instead of seeking them out.
State of Decay 2 is a mish-mash of survival horror and maintenance simulation. You control a group of survivors who each have their own personalities, desires, and needs. You can choose who you play as, who you prioritize, who thrives and who succumbs to the elements. The game starts out giving you 3 survivors who have unique skills and traits, and you have the option to grow your group as you play.
A typical session of State of Decay will involve you maintaining your base, going out in the world and looking for supplies, responding to calls from outside survivors, and making sure that everyone has their needs met.
The game often times will feel like you are performing a juggling act. There is constantly something that needs tending to, and there will never be enough time to deal with everything. Just like in a real life scenario, you will need to prioritize what you do and choose what you ignore. This is the main thrust of the game, and will be fun for some and completely frustrating for others.
I found the stress of deciding what to do every day completely compelling. Each choice I made mattered, and each choice could lead to my community thriving or my community completely falling apart. State of Decay features real consequences that cannot be reversed and made each moment feel essential
Such consequences include one of my characters getting angry and causing turmoil in the base, other communities shunning me and refusing to work with me, or even permanent death for a character I cared about. The balancing act of making sure that I made the right choices was thrilling and made me anxious and excited the more I played.
What makes State of Decay truly different in comparison to other zombie survival games is the daily minutiae. While most zombie games only want you to focus on killing a lot of zombies, State of Decay often wants you to focus on what you’re doing when you’re not killing them. This means there will be a lot of maintenance, supply runs, and managing a group of people with different backgrounds and personalities.
Things move fast in State of Decay. There isn’t much time to appreciate a job well done or a successful supply run. Your constantly using supplies or having issues pop up. This can be frustrating for some, but I found the constant need to get something done an addicting gameplay loop.
While most games want you to feel at ease, State of Decay wants you to know there isn’t any time to waste. I played State of Decay 2 on the normal difficulty levels and found myself constantly scrambling to get everything I needed done. There will not be time for everything, and I found having to choose what I did in a session extremely empowering.
Explore and Scavenge
You’ll be forced to leave the relative safety of your base to get supplies often. This means constantly exploring the world to find anything from materials to ammo to food. The easiest way to know where to find what you need is to climb onto a nearby billboard, survey the land, and locate an area of interest.
This portion of the game is easily the most exciting. Having to navigate through the world with no direction marker is incredibly enthralling. Exploration in this game is legitimately exciting as you don’t know exactly what you’ll find when entering each area. Sometimes you’ll find nothing of interest, other times you will find the mother load of loot and feel incredible. Most areas you will explore are buildings, and this will range from abandoned shops to farmhouses.
The places you explore can feel a little copy and pasted at times, and this is where the small budget of this game begins to show. Remember, this game was made prior to Microsoft’s acquisition of develpor Undead Labs. They were not working with much and that does show in a few areas of the game.
Narrative? Don’t Need One
There isn’t a traditional narrative in this game and some may be dissapointed by a lack of a plot. I found that liberating as I didn’t feel the pull or pressure to complete a story. Undead Labs has done an excellent job at creating story in the character descriptions and environments and that has done a lot to creating a game that feels well written and storied without having an overarching narrative. I am able to tell the stories of my characters and the world I am in just based on my experience with the game and I found it refreshing to not have to pay attention to any dialogue or story beats like most other games.
This is a game where you can truly tell stories based on moments you experience for yourself rather than moments the game has scripted for you. Self created narratives or moments are always more personal than something someone wrote for you, and State of Decay is able to offer several of those.
Keeping Morale High
You can’t spend the entire day exploring however, as you have a community back at home base that have wants and needs. Each community member has their own personality and motivations and will be happy or upset based on if you do what they want. This can be a tricky yet rewarding balance. The larger your base, the more people you will need to account for. If you are able to ensure everyone has what they want, this will lead to a thriving community of people. If one or more people become unhappy, it can seriously affect the entire group. You can choose to exile any unhappy members, but this could negatively impact your community as well based on the collective personality of the group.
How each character feels is expressed by an individual morale system. Each characters morale channels into an overall group morale. Positive morale gives your base better traits which make it easier to survive. Bad morale will make everything more difficult. Clearing infestations, building facilities that boost morale, and gathering resources are just a few things you can do to make sure the base is happy. Ignoring your community, letting characters die, and running low on supplies and more can hurt morale.
Fighting the Undead
Of course, State of Decay is a zombie game, and that means you’ll have to address the ever growing problem of undead foes. Zombies in this game are a mix of your typical slow walking enemies that will pick up speed if they spot you. There is also a bloated type that will explode and produce a damaging gas. The most harrowing member of the undead is the “screamer” type that will attract hordes if they detect you, so you’ll need to make sure you avoid them or quickly take them out.
There is also a special variant of the Undead called plague zombies that mostly appear at night but are also found near plague hearts. Plague hearts are essentially super infected areas where swarms of plague zombies live. You will want to take these out as it significantly reduces the number of foes in the area and will give you a nice bit of loot.
The enemies in State of Decay 2 are a collective of the typical zombie you would find in any game. They aren’t necessarily unique but they can be a decent challenge if you run into a roaming horde. They mostly serve as an extra nucance as you traverse the world and can give you a hard time if you aren’t careful. Like any good post apocalyptic fiction, the games biggest challenge isn’t actually fighting the undead, it is managing to survive.
Combat is basic and doesn’t offer too much depth, but I never grew tired of the mechanics. There are special moves you can pull off such as running kicks and ground executions, but those just add flair to an otherwise mundane combat system. The easiest way to sum up the Combat in State of Decay 2 is a better controlling Dead Rising. That isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t something that feels new or exciting.
You will also have chances to fight humans on a few occasions. Human enemies aren’t the most thrilling to fight, but they can pose a challenge if you are outnumbered.
When the game first launched in 2018 there wasn’t much of any customization for your characters at all. Now in 2021, you’re able to fully dress your character in a wide variety of outfits. There still isn’t any actual character customization outside of clothing which is a shame. You’ll have to choose from a collection of lookalike sims, and it is dissapointing that you can’t actually customize how everyone looks. Hopefully in State of Decay 3 they add this feature.
State of Decay 2 is a charming looking game but it won’t win any awards for how it looks. It looks fine, and does a good enough job of conveying the mood that Undead Labs is going for. There is some pretty noticeable pop in and overall jank in the game. It is much improved from launch but the game isn’t a technical masterpiece by any means. On the Xbox Series X the game runs at 60 frames per second which makes the game look clean.
Again, considering the small team and budget, the shortcomings are forgivable. Now that Undead Labs is under the Xbox Game Studios Umbrella, we should expect State of Decay 3 to look much improved.
The game that is playable in 2021 is vastly superior to the game that released in 2018. Undead Labs has done a ton of work here and it shouldn’t go unnoticed. There have been multiple content updates, including weapon packs, mission overhauls, new maps, overhauled graphics and lighting, customization, and much more.
It is seriously hard to overstate how much State of Decay 2 has improved since launch. The core ideas are still there, but the outer coating of the game is vastly improved. If you didn’t like State of Decay 2 for its ideas you probably won’t like the game now. But if you liked the game in 2018 but were frustrated with a game that felt unfinished, you should love what is offered today.
State of Decay 2 is a legitimately great game. The zombie apocalypse genre is oversaturated at this point, but State of Decay is able to find its own lane and provide genuinely unique and interesting mechanics that very few other games can pull off. The game as it stands today has seen a massive improvement over what launched in 2018, and Undead Labs should be proud of how the game has evolved.
Considering the size of the team and the clear budget Undead Labs was working with at the time, State of Decay 2 is a true achievement. Now that the team is growing after being acquired by Microsoft, their next entry into the series will be a game to look forward to. If you haven’t played the game yet, it is on GamePass, and is a true gem that is arguably the best Xbox exclusive of the Xbox One generation.