People scream with horror outside. There are fires everywhere, from one household to the other. Amidst the chaos, cars swerve into each other, ignoring the rules of traffic completely. For some reason, there is a loud moaning noise getting closer, as you approach the front door. But it’s not someone that’s hurt. It’s some stranger, with flesh tucked between their teeth, dripping with blood. Wondering whether or not they are okay, you try to ask if they’re hurt or if they need medical help. As you open the door, the assailant lunges upon you, pinning you the floor. As you’re fighting off the unwanted visitor, they begin to try to bite at your face, you grab the nearest thing to you and push them away long enough for you to bash them in the head. You haven’t ever taken a life before, but it was either you or them. You dispatch this assailant with one final blow, but you are extremely tired. As you begin to take in what just happened, you see more shadowy figures approach you. That was day one and this is the world of State of Decay 2.
State of Decay 2 is the follow-up to the surprise sleeper hit that was released in 2013. It revolves around controlling a group of survivors, gathering resources and building relationships to survive against the overwhelming horde of the dead. In addition to looting for food, weapons, medicine and other supplies, you had to establish a base of operations, check on the mood of each community member, and balance the pace you attacked zombies or your stamina would deplete and you’d be zombie chow.
When you first boot up the game, you enter a prologue with 2 randomly generated characters of various backgrounds. You pick your characters, fight your way to the end of the area, and then the final decision rests upon you to choose what area to establish a base in. I chose the plateau area, based on elevation and a good defensible spot to fend off zeds in. The game offered two additional areas, valley and foothills. I personally like to take my time when playing open world games, exploring every side quest and gaining every weapon or upgrade possible before moving on to a different area. What I gathered from the two other areas were they are different areas geographically, but also offer opportunities for different resources to be gathered, new human enclaves, hostile or friendly, and a new assortment of vehicles to drive around in.
You take care control of one of several characters in the beginning. Each character has different stats, alluding to stamina, melee combat ability, and marksmanship for pistols or rifles. You level up these abilities over time by repeatedly using them. When you max out the level of the ability, you’re able to specialize in a specific skill and use it as a permanent trait to your character. For example, if your character starts with mid level stamina(between 3-4 stars out of 7), the more you sprint as you’re doing missions, the more likely you are to level them up with a permanent stamina bonus. This comes in handy when you’re fighting off a horde of zeds, along with special zeds that ruin your entire night and lessen the likelihood of survival.
In addition to the skill traits your character has, the sequel takes the formula established in the first game and expands upon utility aspect of the entire game. In the first game, you could find any car and drive it around endlessly, smashing zeds as they approached and clearing hordes in a couple of doughnut swipes. State of Decay 2 ups the ante by limiting the amount of gas each vehicle has, prompting the player to constantly forage for gas to fill the tank up in a simple button sequence prompt.
Another thing the sequel adds is the newest addition of the blood plague. In State of Decay 1, if a survivor of yours was taken down on a loot run mission, that was the end of it. State of Decay 2 provides another option of turmoil by introducing the blood plague. Blood plague is the infection transmitted from specialized “red eye” zombies and chances of contracting it are higher when fighting these zombies in a group. When this happens, a small thermometer meter will appear on your character, resulting in stat decreases until the cure is created or they get the necessary rest they need at your base’s infirmary.
The main way to eradicate the sources of the blood plague is to destroy the plague hearts. These objects are exactly how I describe them to be, an oozing, hideous, pulsating heart, that seems to be the source of these blood plague zombies. They can be dispatched with a good explosive or two or possibly a high-caliber machine gun. I’d advise any and all players before they set out to take down a plague heart, load up plenty of meds, snacks for stamina, at least two to three explosives, and plenty of ammo. The last thing you want to worry about while engaged in a blood plague horde is running out of ammo. Plan out your attack precisely and morale will improve, you’ll gain the game’s currency of “influence” and a temporary safe area from the zeds.
If worse comes to worse, your character will contract the infection. From what I gathered of the community and other notes, the way to heal your character of the infection, regardless of whether they have the full infection or partial exposure, is the build an infirmary, gather X amount of plague heart samples from red-eyed zombies, and create cures. After that, let the character rest and use someone else to do the workload.
Unfortunately, my first dance with a plague heart wasn’t successful. One of my characters, George Ma, was infected and a small thermometer popped up, showing the progress of the infection. I had learned that I either had to create a cure quickly, let him rest, or if the worst case that happened, I’d have to “send him out with a bang”. He was always one for a flashy exit.
As noted earlier as a source of currency, the role of influence plays a major role in State of Decay 2. You will use this to win over AI controlled human enclaves, when they dispatch you for a rescue mission , escort, or wanting a particular item during a loot run. This is also the main resource you will use to expand your base building upgrades, critical facilities that make food, storage, medicine and blood plague cure, and other essential things for survival. The easiest way to gain this is to clear out zombie hordes, which usually never exceed more than 5-6 in my early encounters, but the bigger the hordes destroyed, the more the influence. Just bring plenty of ammo.
The music and atmosphere go hand in hand when playing around in the sandbox of State of Decay 2. The game plays a sort of western, country like background track, as your exploring the area and foraging for supplies. This immediately shifts into something more upbeat as you’re engaged in combat with a horde of zeds.
Another thing that was updated from the previous game was durability of objects. Cars will still blow up, if rammed or battered into enough zombies or objects. In addition to that, melee weapons and guns will deteriorate over time. The solution to this is to build a workshop and loot enough crafting materials to make repairs to trusty weapons and vehicles. You can also upgrade some weapons with scopes, silencers, muzzles, and even outfit your vehicle to be more battle hardened, with more durability, bigger gas tank, and more storage for your ruck sacks of supplies.
In addition to the music, based on the settings you customized in the beginning, nighttime play is more suspenseful. In State of Decay 1, the area was well-lit, even at night, allowing you to see danger ahead of time and planning for the battle ahead. In State of Decay 2, the nighttime is pitch black, making you rely on your flashlights and quick wit to escape the hands of the dead. It puts more risk on the line as you now have to rely on the moonlight and factor in the areas you’re scouting when choosing whether or not the trip is worth it.
The special zombies you’ll face range from the screamer, who lets out a loud shriek, attracting more zombies to the area, all the way to the monstrous juggernaut, an ogreish zombie that just thrashes through humans like nothing, and if not taken down correctly, it will pick you up and literally tear you in half. Unfortunately, I have only had this happen to my character once in State of Decay 1, but I have yet to run into a juggernaut in State of Decay 2. When that time comes, I’ll be ready with lots of ammo.
The most memorable time I have had so far in State of Decay 2 is the addition of cooperative multiplayer. This works as a drop-in/drop out system, as the developers have mentioned earlier that they want the transition to be as fluid as possible, ensuring the best experience and keeping the momentum going.
While the game encourages you to team up with a friend on your friend’s list or use the matchmaking feature to randomly join another session, there is the ominous wild card factor of hostility. You can choose to support the host’s world, gathering supplies and gaining influence in their world for helping them out. Or you can choose to be a thorn in their side, looting all that they have, possibly betraying them. I haven’t encountered anyone yet that was hostile in my coop play through, but I was playing with a friend I knew from school. I have yet to take the plunge into matchmaking, but it’s nice to have that option when friends aren’t available.
There are a couple of things that hinge upon cooperative play in State of Decay 2. The first element is you can play up to four players in one play session, but there is a limit that you are tethered to the host. Fortunately, when I played with my friend, we had only minor spawning problems, but when it worked, it was a blast. He would play the driver, mowing over all and any zombies, topping them off with the fan-favorite door to the face.
As soon as we reached our destination, we would pile out and start to clear the area. My friend loved the strategy of causing as ruckus and as much aggro as possible,drawing out all the zeds in the area, allowing us to dispatch them quickly. He would usually drive in circles, honking the horn and smashing into as many zeds as possible. I would pick them off with a well placed machete swipe and shots to the head. When we were done, we’d gain more influence, we’d search the house for supplies, load up, then hit the road to the next area or ultimately back to base.
Of course, not every loot run went smoothly. There were times where our characters were severely tired and injured, but we kept soldiering on. It was tense because if I didn’t pay close attention, one wrong move and my character was done for. An example would be a time where we were sent to destroy a horde, but two special zombies, the screamers, which attracted more zombies around by screaming in the area, were deafening our ears, stunning us for a brief moment.
I fought my way through the horde with my machete, shifting my focus to the screamers. As soon as I found one, I immediately swiped it a couple of times. Next thing I know, it was down, and the area was clear. The battle had cost me almost all my stamina and I did notice my character was limping around a little, but thankfully he didn’t contract any blood plague.
For all the great things State of Decay 2 brought to the table in improvement, it did suffer from some minor problems. The first issue that I immediately noticed was network syncing. I can’t confirm whether or not it was my router or Internet service provider, but it did take several tries of me starting and restarting the game before I was finally able to do a complete couple of missions with a friend. Hopefully, the developers will gather data from all the players and work on ways on improving servers or providing more troubleshooting options to guarantee a smooth game play session.
The next thing that hampered the game’s success is minor glitching. There were instances where my friend would be walking then out of nowhere, he’d be stuck in the ground, doomed to eternally fall. What was also disappointing is if he didn’t resolve this issue by reloading the game, the system in the game would have caused his character to be permanently killed off, losing his resources and stats to his community. Luckily, he restarted and was back in the game immediately.
The last thing that was an issue in State of Decay 2 was the physics of the cars. There was an instance where I was driving away from a gaining horde, but I ran into some rocks, resulting in my vehicle being wedged between the boulders. I would maneuver my car to turn right or left, using the momentum to get myself off of the area. This eventually worked, but I do wish there was something that would alert the game when things like this happened. Or I wonder if the developers allowed it to immerse players in that realism of if you don’t think this would work in the real world, why would it work out in this game?
The solution to deal with the cars getting stuck between groups of rocks was either accelerate to one direction, or turn my thumb stick to the right or left until eventually it would rock itself back to the correct area.
Overall, State of Decay 2 ups the game after 5 years of development from its original release. Despite being riddled with minor glitches, syncing problems in multiplayer, and potential hostilities with players online, State of Decay 2 is what fans of the first one dreamed of wanting and more. I had a wonderful time playing this game with friends, exploring the world and bashing some zombies. I also see the potential longevity in this game, as after you complete the main story, there are 2 additional areas to explore and numerous randomly generated missions to keep your survivors busy and alive. The developers plan on supporting the game with additional content in the future, but never forcing players to partake in required micro transactions to progress in the game.
I’d recommend getting State of Decay 2 f you were a fan of the first game. Or if you’re completely new to the game and want to give it a shot, I’d advise you to get the standard edition of the game (which is priced at £25) and give it a try. I will admit, it does have a slight learning curve with resource management and character traits, but as soon as you get past the destruction of your first couple of hordes, you’ll be whispering, “who’s next?”
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.