This review is a little bit different than my normal sort of review. State of Decay 2 released nearly a year ago, I never gave it a proper review at the time but it made the list of my top disappointments of 2018. The reason for that while I pretty much adore the concept and gameplay, as It nails the feel of living your own zombie apocalypse better than any other game. The lack of challenge was broken, badly. Keep in mind the game is a survival game that boasts permadeath as a core feature.
This isn’t my normal rant about wanting difficulty settings or a game being too easy for me. I mean it was busted at its core. I once took a video where I left a brand new unleveled survivor in a mob of four to six zombies, sat the controller down, and timed it. It took one minute and thirty seconds for the zombies to kill him. I played around 30 hours at launch and not only did I never lose a survivor. I never even came close.
On March 26th, 2019. Undead Labs released a free update titled “Choose your own apocalypse”. It added two new difficulty settings to the game, dread, and nightmare zone. I can not understate how awesome of a move that is from Undead Labs. The hardcore crowd tends to get pushed to the wayside a lot in favor of mass appeal. Since it has already been out for almost a year, they could have simply ignored that side of the market altogether.
Instead, they crafted two very in-depth difficulty settings for their hardcore fans. And it’s not just a simple bump, they went into detail on how to craft a challenging experience in a way that feels at home in the game’s setting. While it would have been nice to have it at launch, Undead Labs deserve praise for going through the trouble they did of creating this new experience. The old standard setting remains untouched for those who enjoyed it.
I chose to play on nightmare mode and I’m here to review the game on it, as it plays vastly different than it did for me at launch. State Of Decay 2 is a survival action game that puts you in control of an entire community of survivors. You play from the third person and can switch between community members and recruit new ones. If a survivor dies, they are gone for good. But as long as one member still stands, the game continues.
You don’t have a hunger meter like many survival games, instead, you need to acquire resources for your entire community that they consume every day and you can use resources yourself for various functions. There are three maps that each have several different bases you can acquire and customize with facilities. You can move to a new map if you run your current one dry.
The buildings are not random, but the loot is, though they still carry goods that logically make sense. Police stations may have guns, fast food joints may have food. You also deal with tons of random quests for other groups of survivors that you can choose to complete. Doing so could make you friends that convey bonuses to your group, such as jogging buddies that raises your stamina. They can also become trading partners or a pool of people you can take with you on your excursions.
It’s a risk-reward gig, however. Helping them means your wasting time and resources you could use for yourself. Some enclaves are hostile and you may have to fight the living in addition to the undead. If you feel your community’s story should come to a close, you have the options of taking on leader legacy goals.
At its climax, legacy goals end the game for that community, depending on the type of leader you choose, you get a specific legacy boon to carry over to future playthroughs and you can pick from your pool of legacy characters when starting a new game.
The main loop of the game will have you running around and acquiring resources and gear to help you survive. You can play in co-op or you can enlist the aid of a community member you aren’t controlling, or an allied enclave to join you. Their AI is decent but they can die in bad situations. The extra fighting power and carrying capacity can be very useful and worth the risk.
Each survivor is randomized with traits and skills and can level up different aspects of their abilities. Initially, combat starts pretty simply, but you can learn advanced moves later. This is State of Decay 2 in a nutshell and as I’ve said before, the game is solid. I think it is the best at what it tries to do on the market. It plays and controls well and its concepts are great. But for me, the new nightmare mode completes the package and skyrockets the game to my all-time favorite list.
In Nightmare, everything is tuned to be more brutal. Zombies deal more damage, hordes are bigger and more frequent. Morale is lower, loot is less plentiful. Blood Plague is deadly and freaks are more common.
The injury system really sells it. Normal zombies aren’t super threatening taken at face value, as long as they aren’t in large groups. But a single attack could inflict an injury on your survivor and it becomes a matter of wearing you down to death through attrition. Injuries lower your maximum health and you need medical treatment to get it back. The more injuries you take, the more likely you are to get killed in a bad situation.
When you combine this with the fact that hordes and freaks are more frequent, and noise carries farther. Things get dangerous very quickly, freaks are now everywhere. State of Decay features several types. Ferals are fast, tough and deal a lot of damage. Bloaters explode into toxic gas that can choke you. Screamers call nearly every zombie in the county after you and Juggernauts are huge, tanky and can rip you apart.
Juggernauts in Nightmare carry the blood plague, and blood plague zombies are more common. Each time you are struck by a plague-infected zombie, a meter increases. Once full, you have the blood plague and have a limited amount of time to craft a cure, or you die. In nightmare this timer is short. You can get a ton of samples from a plague heart. But they also are tougher in the new difficulty.
When you combine the threat of death with low morale and scarcer resources. The game really comes together and invokes the feeling of survival. Every decision matters. You need resources to keep your people afloat. You also need them to heal your injuries. Stealth and scouting, pointless in the standard mode become key tools in nightmare.
You need to plan carefully how you approach situations, utilize all the gear you acquire and be smart about it when you do. Guns are powerful but loud, suppressors and crossbows become even more valuable. Vehicles are an amazing tool. Not only do they help you get around the large maps. They can store resources allowing you to carry more home each run.
In nightmare they are less common and start out damaged. They also get beaten up faster. With resources being less common, you need to think hard if running down that horde is worth it, because both fuel and repair kits appear less often.
Traveling at night becomes terrifying as the reduced visibility means you can easily run into something nasty. Resist the urge to turn up your screens brightness, it’s tense but so much fun. Every death I’ve had has told a small story, and it’s a big deal because prior to the update I never had any.
I was controlling poor Darius when my car ran out of gas at night right beside a horde and a feral I couldn’t see in the darkness. They ripped the door off pulled him out and I never stood a chance. I was controlling Joe with Keiko following me. We had just helped out some neighbors and were coming home with resources but ran into a pack of ferals. Joe barely survived with severe injuries, Keiko did not.
A siege at the base attracted the attention of a blood plague horde. I controlled Christo but everyone was there to defend. Angie caught the blood plague during the fight. Once you have the plague, additional attacks shorten the timer. When the siege ended she had five seconds left. She turned on the spot.
The story and struggles continue after each death. With the new update, State of Decay 2 can take its place on the throne as rightful king of zombie apocalypse simulations. It’s still rough in spots, but they rarely take away from the enjoyment of the game. The choose your own apocalypse update went above and beyond the call of duty.
They could have slapped some extra damage and health on the zombies and called it a day. Instead, they went into detail and tweaked every system in a way that plays each system off one another in beautiful, blood plague filled harmony.
- Smooth controls
- Unique community-based survival and great mechanics
- Randomized survivors are unique and can grow
- Living your own story feels more satisfying than a written one in this setting
- Legacy goals and boons are a fun and great idea.
- Online co-op
- New dread and nightmare zone difficulty make the game feel like a true zombie apocalypse
- Three maps with several base locations
- Great Risk and reward gameplay.
- A little rough around the edges graphically.
- Multiplayer can glitch out at times.
- I encountered a couple bugs though nothing game-breaking.