We’re having a look at State of Decay 2 from Undead Labs, a developer dedicated to creating zombie games. State of Decay 2 is available on Xbox One and Windows 10 on May 22. As an unashamed fan of everything Zombie-related, take this review with a grain of salt.

Sure, running around with high powered weapons, blowing the faces and limbs off zombies is fun. But ultimately, the apocalyptic existence diehard Zombie-fans yearn for isn’t all about turning zombies into rotten mince-meat, it’s about our most basic instinct: survival. This is what State of Decay 2 is all about. You must build a community, manage the wants and needs of each individual in the community, and protect it by clearing surrounding areas of zombie infestations, from attacking zombie hordes, thieves, and other unfriendly communities. You can even invite your friends to control your community members and wreak havoc as a team but take care, the death of a character is permanent. You’ll likely spend as much time rummaging through houses and managing your community as you will slaughtering the undead, so if you’re looking for non-stop action this game may not speak to you.
 

Check out 12 minutes of the Sheriff: Stolen Meds quest and a base defence against a zombie horde:

 
After finishing the tutorial, I was given a choice of three areas to start in; the foothills, the plateau, and the valley (if you skip the tutorial, this option isn’t given to you). I had a blast roaming the open world with NPCs, choosing which missions and infestations to deal with in my own time. The original State of Decay title from 2013 had no multiplayer and relied on NPC to aid you in your journeys. It’s clear that the AI system in State of Decay 2 has been thoroughly tested to ensure NPC members of the community are actually helpful. Occasionally the AI can get in the way but they’ll usually follow your lead, only firing off rounds if you do and take a stealthy stance when you’re trying to be quiet.

Base/community building:

The base building mechanics seem fairly deep and will require a bit of your time. You should also consider what facilities you build in your base, and make sure your community members have the skills to use them. If they don’t you can find books when on supply runs that can teach (or improve) characters skills like gardening, mechanics, medicine, surgery, and crafting just to name a few.

There are other communities out in the world too, some friendly, some not so friendly. You can interact with them as you choose but it seems best to stay on their good side, for the benefit of trading and to make up for skillsets that your community is lacking. This is where a lot of the story develops in State of Decay 2, it seems, and can involve tasks like fetching satchels, exacting revenge on other communities, or clearing areas of zombies for another group of survivors.
 

Base homescreen

Base homescreen


 
You’ll also have to keep everyone in your community happy. If that means going out to look for materials to stop Crystal from leaving the group, despite the clear issue being a lack of food, meds, and ammunition…so be it!

Combat:

The combat in State of Decay 2 is as complicated as it needs to be, there’s nothing revolutionary or game-changing, but it’s fun and weighty. Some of the animations are just absolutely brutal too. Blunt force weapons are durable and good at knocking zombies down (which is crucial to finishing them) and bladed weapons dismember zombies but break easily. You can grapple zombies, perform stealth kills, curb stomp the undead, and learn new finishing moves by progressing each individual characters’ stats.

There are firearms too, which are noisy and draw the attention of zombies. Muzzle attachments can also be found around the maps. They range from improvised attachments that damage the weapon to legitimate suppressors that are designed for quietly taking down zombies and humans alike. Ammunition can be hard to come by and the correct types of rounds need to be matched with the correct weapons. Due to this scarcity, guns should only be used when they’re really needed.

Zombies:

In State of Decay 2, a zombie bite doesn’t mean instant death. However, a bite from a red-eyed, blood-soaked plague zombie can result in an infection that will zombify the victim over a couple of days. Luckily, it’s somewhat curable but to get the cure, you have to deal with plague zombies and hearts. It seems that if an infected person dies, they turn (based on NPC turning shortly after we beat her to death in the above video).

So far I’ve encountered:

  • Standard roaming zombies
  • Emo-zombie in a hoodie
  • Armoured zombies
  • Big fat zombie guy
  • Armless Screamers
  • Legless Crawlers
  • Feral zombies – somewhat dangerous
  • Bloaters – dangerous
  • Juggernauts – very dangerous
  • Various plague zombies – more bark than bite
  • Tall clown zombie – creepy

 

Plague zombie (top left), Juggernaut (top right), Armoured and fat zombie (bottom left), Standard zombies (bottom right)

Plague zombie (top left), Juggernaut (top right), Armoured and fat zombie (bottom left), Standard zombies (bottom right)


 
Some of these zombies are fairly easy to take down, some  (like the juggernaut) can take out an entire community if not dealt with appropriately. One on one, zombies are usually pretty easy to slay but should you stumble into a large group of zombies, you’ll need to watch your stamina or you may start having a few problems. If you spot a horde before it sports you, improvised explosives and decoys come in handy but they need to be handled with care.

RPG progression:

The RPG progression system seems fairly deep. We’ll have to put more time into the different skill paths (like gardening and chemistry) to get a better understanding of the mechanics. But so far, it seems promising and has had a significant impact on gameplay through the introduction of new ways to dispose of zombies, the ability to un-jam weapons, and drastically improved stats. You can also elevate your favourite survivors to leadership roles in your community and unlock new community benefits and objectives that suit your leader’s ideals.

Multiplayer:

Aside from the occasional connection issue, the multiplayer experience has been a lot of fun so far. From Australia, I’ve played with friends in the UK, with strangers from the US, with friends locally, and it held up quite well. There was some lag when playing with gamers in other regions, especially when travelling by car but really, this is commonplace for online gaming. Bugs were a more present in multiplayer than when playing solo, with car doors not opening while driving, building doors visually being open but registering as closed, and facilities not always appearing for guests on another players server. For me, this was resolved by quickly leaving and re-entering the game and are problems that will likely be fixed in the first patch.

You can join a friends game directly through the Xbox App and bring one of your community members to assist. You have to remember though if your character dies in your friend’s world, they’ll die in yours too – they’re gone forever. You can also volunteer to join a strangers game through the radio menu in game.

If you want friends to join your game, they can join through the Xbox app when your matchmaking is set to ‘friends’. Should you only want people you invite to join, you can set to ‘invite only’. Alternatively, if you want to go it alone you can set matchmaking to ‘offline’, which has the added handy bonus of being able to pause the game.

In multiplayer, certain players will only be able to loot specific boxes around the world (denoted by colour). It seems the yellow player (host) has the most boxes to loot, while other players have less. This is probably a bid to encourage communication and cooperation, forcing players to stay close to each other. On multiple occasions I’ve been saved by having another player, helping me survive situations that would otherwise see the death of my community member. So it’s clear that staying in close proximity to friends is a good strategy.

The bad:

There’s no set story. Instead, your interactions with the world creates the story. So don’t expect a brilliantly written or acted experience. Do expect to have fun running around in an open world full of zombies and NPC communities. It’s important to note that if one of your community members die, that’s it, they’re gone forever. This adds a bit of stress when you’re forced to make decisions on the fly, so it’s best to take a second and plan your next moves.

It’s definitely not for everyone, the thought of going out to a new town on supply runs is a dull task to some. The game does feel a little ‘fetch quest-y‘ at times but it’s clear the developers have attempted to give the quests their own unique tasks and have put effort into giving a greater variety of quest types from the first title.

Playing with a keyboard and mouse was a little clunky at times, but the key bindings were fully customisable and the game is clearly designed for use with a controller.

Finally, the graphics aren’t the best of all time but by no means are they bad. They’re more than good enough to make the game enjoyable, especially on PC. And while I did encounter a few bugs, they weren’t game breaking or overly prevalent, and didn’t really detract from what was going on in game. The worst being the occasional zombie spawning a couple of stories in the air while travelling in a car at high speed.
 
shotty
 

Final thoughts:

For a zombie fanboy, this game is almost everything I’ve been looking for. It’s definitely not for everyone but I can see myself losing many more hours to State of Decay 2, especially when playing with friends. Sure, there may be a lot of fetch quests but regular trips into towns to pick up resources doesn’t yet feel like a chore to me. The bugs weren’t too distracting and will hopefully be patched over time.
 
 
 
Updated: 28 May, 2018.