With one of their dice rolls out of the way for this year, Microsoft release the 2nd most anticipated game in their 2018 exclusive line-up. State of Decay 2 is a sequel of sorts to the outrageously popular State of Decay. A game that rocked XBLA late in the 360‘s lifecycle and breathed new life into the ageing superstar.

State of Decay 2
Biggest spoiler I could find – here is an Easter egg

This time around SoD is tasked with breathing ANY life into the Xbox One whilst simultaneously helping to shift Xbox Game Pass subscriptions. What we are left with an above-average game in a buggy state. When lined up with its predecessor in their respective years of release, SoD2 just doesn’t capture the imagination in the same way but is still worth playing.

The game features an atmosphere-destroying car-tank hybrid that Frank West would feel more comfortable in

Largely the Same Ol’ Story…

There are zombies again. Natch. The story aspect of State of Decay has been pared back from the original in favour of what Undead call a ‘dynamic story system’. This is just fancy talk for missions are tied to certain random characters and some will affect the game more than others.

The first line of a quasi-story

Players will still need to play politics with neighbouring factions; trading and co-oping objectives or fighting and using their turf as an outpost.

The acquisition of stragglers is mainly the same. Do one of a (thankfully) decent set of short side-missions. The common event of aiding a loose survivor in resurrecting their own base before immediately taking them into your own is somewhat funny. But eventually the pointlessness of that particular scenario gets annoying.

Players will be tasked with getting a cop car, Clearing out a house and listening to an architectural eulogy from a wholly interchangeable set of polys and shaders, Taking down a number of uninspiring ‘plague hearts’

Except for the Lack of Story

State of Decay 2 is not as engaging in narrative as the first game. First time around, certain events were destined to take place when you fulfilled an objective – classic story stuff. These eventually revealed a scary truth that undermined a player’s struggle and destroying all hope.

A wretched bunch…

This time around we are treated to far less soulful ‘personal goals’ which aren’t nearly as interesting as the game likes to think. Players will have to ride the rollercoaster of getting a cop car. Clearing out a house and listening to an architectural eulogy from a wholly interchangeable set of polys and shaders. Taking down a number of uninspiring ‘plague hearts’.

Still Grim

State of Decay 2 is a depressing look at how difficult it would be to last a few weeks in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland. Complicating matters more than the survival is having to do so while sheltering idiots, burdens, petty criminals and whingers. And yes, I can see the irony of me criticising others for any and all of those.

Morale can be affected by anything…

Players pick a base at the end of a reasonably thrilling cut-scene and tutorial sequence. They then make their way to their new home with their new friends and begin the chore-ish process of setting up a viable base. The tutorial doesn’t really end till players have set their housemates to installing the centre of one of many changes to the series.

Infirmaries are no longer optional. Each character has a ‘blood plague’ and the infirmary is the only place to stabilise or develop a medicine to treat the plague temporarily. Survivors now have an injury system. Each injury counts a separate issue and the infirmary can only treat a finite number of injuries.

That was reasonably tough with a new character

Players can add mods to each facility to buff certain aspects of the facility or the house at large. Stuff like more storage space or increased morale are worth holding out for so don’t install the first ones you find. Bases are still limited in how many slots they have but they now come with some repairs before you can move in properly.

Cars flipped and barrel-rolled at 3 km/h

Still Glitchy But Less So

The presence of a bug or hundred in the first State of Decay was somewhat forgivable given the indie nature of its development. SoD2 is only slightly less broken. There are no game-breakers peppered throughout but rather a scatter of nuisances.

The refugee shop only had two types of non-military tent

The HUD disappeared more than once. Zombies ended up trapped in rocks or beneath the ground preventing me from clearing an area. Cars flipped and barrel-rolled at 3 km/h. I was stuck halfway through a walking animation and floating motionless at walking speed until a zombie smacked me back to life.

There’s a lack of polish that permeates the experience and the cruel auto-save feature only magnifies any bug-related injustices. It’s hard to forgive it all that easily.

As it stands, ‘player 2, 3 and 4’ will just be less obedient but more effective versions of the AI that don’t have random missions every once in a while

Geographical Variety

State of Decay 2 makes a great decision to split its expanded map into three areas. While it might have been nice to ramble around all three at once, players get three fairly unique, ample and detailed worlds to start in. Each map feels like different parts of the same area, as if each play-through shunts you just a few miles away.

The hordes and the scarcity of petrol make the ample maps seem bigger

The map descriptions are a bit vague and don’t really offer anything to make a player think too hard about their choice. This was a wise decision as it keeps the opening’s swift pace up. Undead Labs deserve praise for setting the scene well and then allowing players to enter a game-play cycle that has mostly improved upon the feeling of constant logistical danger seen in State of Decay.

We should avoid elevators

Visually Set in 2016

The attention to detail seen around State of Decay 2 is laudable. Most of the details, however, are uninteractive and the world can feel a bit lifeless despite the living dead. The game overall is decent looking considering its price and genre but Unreal Engine 4 has looked better.

The PC specs seeemed mindbogglingly high when they were announced and playing the game on ‘Ultra’ hasn’t changed my mind. My PC could keep a solid 60fps+ but would have some horrendous judder. State of Decay 2 might be badly optimised for Radeon GPUs but my NVidia GTX 1080Ti-using friend said his fans were working overtime but had a little less frame-dropping. SoD2 will hopefully improve its overall performance on all GPUs.

On Xbox One X the game looks about as good as the PC on ultra. It does suffer from the same occasional frame-rate drops and fan noise bordering on protest.

The absolute ineptitude of the AI companions is not a new feature but stripping out what utility they had just seems cruel

Ekspanded Skillz

Character traits now play a far greater role in managing your line-up and cohabitants. Gone are the superfluous ‘Fan of SCART Cables’ and ‘Loves Green’, replaced with meatier characteristics. This writer had a kleptomaniac bum everyone out; as if their possessions meant more to them than their lives. I saw certain people respond differently to others, as if they had different sensibilities. This aspect adds many more complications than one would expect but it all adds a nice variable to the base-management system.

State of Decay 2
Picking up a hitch-hiker

Players will find that there are many more skills to learn and some are much easier to acquire. Each skill tree now comes with specific buffs and multipliers to lend some depth to the tree.

Having a random selection of predefined starting characters instead of a ‘main’ like Marcus probably helps stop the possibility of seeing three Marcus 2.0s floating around a co-op game

I found myself more willing to bring complete duffers out for an expedition in State of Decay 2, the ease of progression and the willingness of the devs to make almost   everything a trainable skill means it’s worthwhile to get everyone trained up in searching and melee. The game also feels a little easier; aside from stamina-management there isn’t much to stop a complete lamb from taking on the underwhelming ‘boss’ creatures.

Juggernauts hit hard but are laughably easy to dodge’n’smack or just hit with a car twice. Players will only lose their d00ds to carelessness or sheer ambivalence at losing a mouth to feed.

Even if you get the same starters in back-to-back games, it’s hard to feel anything when ‘Perennially exhausted White Woman’ or ‘Dr. Nerdy Black Guy’ perish

Together in the Apocalypse

The biggest change is the addition of four-player co-op to the series. Players can now radio for help or to offer help. The other players participate in your current game or vice-versa. It would have been nice to have a true co-op mode where players can start a game together and have a more equal footing in the game.

State of Decay 2
Surveying sites is a mechanic that suits the game but is nobody trapped in this town actually a local? Seriously, can nobody point me to a pharmacy?

As it stands, ‘player 2, 3 and 4’ will just be less obedient but more effective versions of the AI that don’t have random missions every once in a while. Unless you consider getting them to stay in your game to be a mission. There is no incentive to help others bar levelling up and the risk of permanently losing a character far outweighs this.

Where Nobody Knows Your Name

From the very beginning the shifts in style are visible – State of Decay 2 is very much intended to a multiplayer game. Having a random selection of predefined starting characters instead of a ‘main’ like Marcus probably helps stop the possibility of seeing four Marcus 2.0s floating around a co-op game. This has the side-effect of making it harder to give a solitary poo about your starters.

Forgettable. Expendable.

Even if you get the similar starters in back-to-back games, it’s hard to feel anything when ‘Perennially Exhausted White Man’ or ‘Dr. Nerdy Black Woman’ perish. You never really get to know anybody’s names.

Saving the world this time is a more rounded challenge with greater base-building and resource-management

More Multiplayer Coersion

Another odd quirk is how utterly useless your crew is. In State of Decay, players could ask their otherwise-burdensome AI compadres to come collect gear. Or stop you being munched on by a high zombie. It was risky to send them alone but that danger meant something. This time around you have to do it yourself or have a trusted RL friend help.

Sometimes your AI housemates earn their keep by bringing home spectacularly useless s**t. I assume they are good to sell as ‘influence’ but at 10-30 inf. a pop, they might as well just stay at home.

Some of the facilities are similarly nerfed. The car park spaces are now mainly just a means to turn your car into a gaudy tank-hybrid. It doesn’t fit the tone of the game and is something that Frank West would be more comfortable in.

Some of the design choices and changes feel like the game is pushing a player to go online. The absolute ineptitude of the AI companions is not a new feature but stripping out what utility they had just seems cruel.

Enough Reason to Live

State of Decay 2 fails to make its multiplayer aspect worth what it has lost in the transition. It isn’t easy to care for the random characters and the lost AI features are grating for those hoping to play solo after the apocalypse.

The shift in focus from a storied progression to a more open-ended survival adventure is also double-edged. Saving the world this time is a more rounded challenge with greater base-building and resource-management. But the lack of a real story to work through will take a lot of interest out of the game for many players in the long term.

Formats: Windows 10 (reviewed), Xbox One (sampled on Xbox One X)
Price: £24.99/€29.99
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Undead Labs
Release Date: 22/05/2018
Age Rating: PEGI 18+

Review code provided by publisher; State of Decay is a Play Anywhere title so players can play on both PC and Xbox One with the one digital copy