State of Decay 2 Review - A worthy sequel or dead on arrival?

State of Decay 2 Review - A worthy sequel or dead on arrival?
Luke Hoare Greene
Luke Hoare Greene

18 May 2018

It’s been 18 months since the zombie apocalypse has hit the world and your job is to continue to survive in this horrible reality. Don’t worry, you haven’t travelled back in time to the start of the decade, I am in fact talking about a brand-new zombie game released in 2018.

State of Decay 2 picks up the baton from the first title which launched in 2013 and was a slightly buggy but really good take on the zombie apocalypse. State of Decay 2 doesn’t stray too far from its predecessor and if you’ve played that you’ll feel at home with this new entry.

The basic gameplay is the same, you’ve got your home base to keep safe and supplied with food, medicine, ammo and building supplies, this time with fuel as an extra resource to manage.
You can grow your own food and in some bases make your own fuel with breweries, but generally you’ll have to scavenge to find what you need.

You can control any of the survivors in your group, but the more you play as one, the more exhausted you become, so you have to alternate between them frequently if you want them to survive. You cannot reload the game if you mess up and once a character dies, they’re gone for good – no respawns, which is tense and scary in all the right ways.

The newest threat to your group is the ability for survivors to become infected with the plague and if not treated, slowly turn into zombies. Plague zombies are covered in red blood and get hit by one of those too many times and you’ll become infected.

You then have to make the decision on their life. Keep them alive and stop them turning into zombies (but not actually curing them), but this keeps them confined to their sickbed and costs you medical supplies every day.
You can also exile them and leave them to face their fate alone, in the wild, or if you’re feeling particularly evil, you can euthanise them, aka execute them on the spot.

The best option is to develop a cure and heal them, which requires you to collect plague samples from dead plague zombies or plague hearts (the sources of the new plague infection) but this of course puts more of your survivors at risk of catching the infection themselves.

It’s an excellent new mechanic and while on the surface may seem simple or obvious in a zombie game, it adds a level of drama the previous game was missing.
Are you going to be the most helpful leader in the new world, helping everyone and sacrificing all you can to save your people, or do you become a bit of a dictator and at least banish if not execute anyone infected, for the greater good?

The main goal of the game apart from simply surviving is destroying all of the plague hearts and you’ll also get an overall goal depending on which character you promote to leader. For example, a Sherriff-type leader will want all NPC survivor groups to get along so you’ll be tasked with helping them solve disputes and the like, while a Warlord-type leader will want to dominate all other survivor groups, Negan style.

Plague hearts pop up in random houses (like infestations from the first game, which also return here) and are essentially wave-survival missions, but boil down to you throwing firecrackers or fireworks to distract the waves of zombies while you throw bombs or fire guns into the heart.

Unfortunately, there are more bugs and problems in the game than there are zombies, and they range from the just annoying to the game breaking.
Driving along you’re bound to see zombies spawning in the sky and falling to the group, that’s if the frame rate doesn’t drop to barely useable levels or your car doesn’t hit a pebble and flip miles into the sky.

I’ve had the entire HUD vanish randomly, my entire viewpoint turned almost completely sideways for no reason and certain sounds simply not playing. Even without these bugs, the AI is incredibly dumb. Zombies must have night vision goggles as they spot you without effort at night (meanwhile night-time is almost too dark here, it’s genuinely hard to play) and human AI is dreadful.

Survivors level up their skills the more you use them, and after a few hours of play most of your survivors will be competent enough, making them all fairly similar as time goes on.

You can bring one companion with you to watch your back/be your mule, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been attacked by a zombie while refuelling the car as my “friend” literally just stands beside me staring into space.

Survivor NPCs are lacking too, their “bases” are just shops, usually without doors or windows, and two or three of them just standing around one room. In my base I have a farm, sleeping rooms, a guard tower, even a gym, but they just stand in an empty room? It breaks the immersion pretty quickly.

The most glaring issue with the world is that nothing happens unless you’re involved, something I thought open-world games have learned by now is a bad thing. In GTA V, you can stand on a street corner and watch people pass you by, going about their business whether you get involved or not.

In State of Decay 2, your group of survivors do nothing while you’re out, hell they barely do anything while you’re back at base, they don’t even close the gates to keep zombies out, and then they ignore the zombies who are literally walking around your home.
It’s a pity because if the world at least felt alive (apart from the dead people) and active, it would go a long way to lessening the impact of the bugs.

State of Decay 2 is essentially State of Decay 1.5 with added multiplayer, although I couldn’t test the multiplayer for my review as the game isn’t released yet.
If you’re a fan of the original game, this may be enough to justify a purchase, bugs and everything, but newcomers won’t be impressed with a game releasing in this state in 2018 – did nobody learn from Mass Effect Andromeda?!

Of course, the game is only €30 which definitely helps, and you can always use Microsoft’s Game Pass to try it out for free, but perhaps it’s worth waiting for a few patches and less bugs before jumping in.

Luke Hoare Greene - @lhgluke