State of Decay 2 Review: Zombie survival with a side of Farmville
When I first heard about State of Decay 2 I was skeptical. Zombie Survival wasn’t that played out? After the early 2010’s deluge of zombie themed games, and the current deluge of survival type games, I’ll be the first to admit I am burned out on both genre’s. Could one that just seemed to be a cookie cutter combination of the two, while throwing in some basic base management, really be the game that got me playing survival games again? Yes, yes it turned out it could. Not only did I enjoy playing the strategy and survival elements of State of Decay 2, but I enjoyed State of Decay 2 ‘s mid game and the drudgery of resource collecting that came with it. That mid game part that I usually so despise in survival games like ARK. I think the end game could still use a little work, but for $30 this is a must buy from Undead Labs and Microsoft.
Starting off in State of Decay 2 is the only time I felt the game was slow. The tutorial, which took about 30 minutes to complete, asked me to first pick two characters, then lead them through an opening sequence where I was made to understand that this was a post-apocalyptic world, full of zombies, and that I would have to survive in it. I chose the lesbian couple (of course) who had been on and off again dating, but honestly this didn’t seem too much effect the world I was in beyond some useful starting skills. After I got through the tutorial State of Decay 2 dropped me right in the deep end. I chose my first base and right away I had an infected survivor with blood plague, so I would need to go and get some materials to make a cure, as well as build the facilities to manufacture it in my base. This first sequence of events passed in a blur, build, shoot, bring resources, combine, all going so fast I almost lost track. Thankfully the game slowed down a good bit after that first scripted sequence, and I got time to settle in to the major mechanics.
Basic gameplay in State of Decay 2 consists of 3 major elements. Gathering resources, maintaining and building your base, and doing missions. There are multiple types of missions, but that’s more semantics than gameplay, in the end that’s what the games major mechanics boil down to. Each mechanic serves a purpose of course, and the game never feels slow after that first prologue, as there is always something to do. Everything you do, from killing plague hearts, to searching for areas, to even just killing the basic zombies, will net you influence. Influence is the currency of the game; you use it to purchase everything from physical outposts to items from traders. During the first half of the game I was always trying to get more influence. Later on I would have plenty to spare, but its safe to say most players will need to be skimpy to start off with. Influence can also be traded to other factions on the map for much needed rare items, but only after you do their missions to increase your reputation with that faction. This can be a huge help when building your base early on.
The game offer you three starting map locations. Each map has several home bases. At the start of the game you are given three choices of starting locations, which you chose determines what map you end up playing on. None of the maps have advantages over others, but they do have different sizes, and layouts. This is nice because it allows for a level of replaybility that’s rarely seen in the $30 game bracket. Each map has hundreds of explorable points of interest. Each of these can either be explored by going to them, or by climbing one of games many survey points. Climbing these rewards you by showing you what resources are at each site.
After choosing your map and survivor you and your first two survivor mates are dropped in to the open world. I usually rail against open worlds, but in this case, it’s the only way this game can work. Just building a base with resources, ala ARK or Minecraft, simply wouldn’t be enough for a game like this. Instead it mixes in the open world, full of zombies and things to explore and collect. Survival elements are present, but they are far less important than in games like ARK. Instead you will spend most of your time out on the map hunting down resources.
Exploring and collecting are the two largest draws in this game, and also the largest time sink. No matter how big or small your settlement ends up being (and believe me they do vary in size) you’re always going to need to be gathering resources. To do this, your player character and up to two followers walk around the maps raiding various outposts to collect resources. The game has five major resources. Food, building materials, medical supplies, bullets, and fuel. Each of these can be obtained by searching through various containers in game, and picking up items that fall in to these categories. Most of the time you will find small items, like 3 bullets or some packets of oatmeal. Resources are by no means scarce, but space to carry them is. It’s an interesting approach, the map is rich with resources, but if you want to carry them back you will need to make many trips over increasing distances with your limited inventory space. There are also larger caches of supplies that come in a rucksack, but you have only one dedicated inventory space for that, and so can only carry one at time. This is a survival game, so carrying more or heavier items will also cause your character to tire out and take a penalty to how much stamina they have. Stamina is the only resource that most of your characters need to worry about because when it runs out, fighting and running get much harder.
When I say limited inventory I really mean limited. The largest backpack in game holds just 8 items. You also get a bonus two item slots that are called “pockets” bringing your max total to 10. Most items take up one slot, and some, like parts and bullets will stack. Most don’t stack though so be ready to spend a lot of time foraging around for what you need. Which brings us to the games most needed item, cars. The game features a variety of cars, some of which are larger, or have cooler features, and all of which are up-gradable. All of which have one thing in common, they have trunks. In this trunk you can place ruck sacks, of which you can normally only carry one. The larger vehicles can carry up to 5 rucksacks at a time. Since each rucksack will contain at least 5 of the resource its for, this can be a huge game changer. Carrying back two rucksacks of food for your small colony can be the difference between having your survivors healthy and fed and starving and dead. This goes for fuel, parts, and bullets as well. Because even when you aren’t at your base, your survivors will be using resources.
Other than gathering resources the game will have you doing missions for various factions, and clearing out large masses of zombies (called packs) and plague hearts. The zombie “virus” in this game makes two types of zombies, your normal boring ones, and the more aggressive “Plague” zombies. The plague zombies get a re-color to a blood red sheen, and if your attacked and bitten by one your infection meter goes up. If you end up with a full infection meter your survivor will need to go back to base and get cured at your hopefully up and running medical facilities. This blood plague is just one the games many status effects, which also include fatigue, and hunger. Its an interesting twist on the survival genre, and while its not as in depth as say ARK when it comes to bodily needs, those things do effect gameplay. Fatigue for example will make it so your survivor doesn’t have as much stamina to work with, if you run out of bullets and your base is attacked your survivors will be forced to fight with hand to hand weapons, increasing the infection rates of those survivors.
Combat is pretty basic, each survivor can carry two weapons, one ranged and one melee, each is also equipped with a knife as back up. Melee weapons range from edged swords, to blunt tire irons. There is a good variety and each has different stats. I usually preferred an edged weapon, as it would dismember any zombies that got too close. For longer range there are a bevy of pistols, shotguns, and even some very rare high-powered rifles. The more powerful guns are scarce, but common ones like .22 target pistols are fairly easily found on the map. You will want to pile up as many of these as you can because just like melee weapons, guns break. Luckily with the right teach in your base you can repair them.
That tech comes in the form of a base equipped with the right workshop. Bases in this game operate a bit like Farmville. Your home “base” has a number of slots, each slot you can place something in. Based on how many survivors you have and how much influence you have you can build more things and keep them “staffed”. Each of the things you build has a purpose of course, a farm can feed your survivors, making it easier to keep your food supply in the black, a medical area can create cure for the blood plague, a workshop can fix up broken things. Perhaps the most important resource the game doesn’t teach you about at all is sleep. You need to have enough beds for your survivors in your base, or they will face chronic fatigue. This mechanic took me over an hour to figure out and I wish they had put it in the tutorial, it’s a small nitpick but man was I annoyed when I figured it out finally.
And you will want all your survivors to be well rested, remember the debuff for being tired? Its only removed if you sleep, so make sure you keep a healthy rotation of survivors around. As I quickly learned, death in this game is permanent and there are only a limited number of survivors on the map that you can coral and bring back to your base. Each one also has unique skills, though you can teach many of them extra skills as well. All characters level independently, so like any good strategy game make sure you don’t just take one survivor out and leave the others to never level up. By the time you get about half of the map explored and looted, you should have a pretty large settlement with fully upgraded facilities up and running. I had around 8 survivors at this time, but I play conservatively, I have seen other with more than 10 in their colonies. The more you grow the more you can do in base at one time, but you also need the resources to support those survivors, and after you reach about 6 you won’t be able to just go out and get what you need anymore, especially as the resources on the map start to dwindle. Map resources never replenish, so once you loot an area that’s it.
Finally if you survive, and make it to end game, State of Decay 2 still has some things for you to do. Unfortunately, the map does not replenish its resources, so once you get them they are gone. Luckily (and helpfully) the map will gradually turn from red to grey as you explore and clear areas of their infestations. Groups of zombies and even stronger zombies like juggernauts and others will still spawn, but after you clear all the plague hearts from your map, the game gets a bit, boring. Almost all of the games objectives are based on either expanding your influence or doing specific tasks, and end game is no different. Thought I haven’t yet hit the “end” of the games upgrades, zombies, or quests, I can already feel it slowing down. I don’t necessary think this is a bad thing, since one of the games best features is its re-playability, but if you love that feeling of being massively powerful that often comes at the end of a survival RPG type game, you probably will be disappointed here. Enemies don’t scale, and most of the time except in the beginning of the game you wont ever feel “in danger” even though the game has permadeath I have yet to lose a survivor.
State of Decay 2 is a solid entry in to the survival genre. It mixes in RPG and rougelite elements, along with base management and some very light puzzling for an immensely enjoyable experience that’s just $30 or free with Xbox Game Pass. I can solidly recommend this game, especially for those who are fans of games like ARK, and other make your own story survival games. It has great re-playability, and the difficulty curve is light and easy to ascend. It’s a fun play alone or with friends, and will keep most players engaged for well over 40 hours on their first play through.