Although State of Decay 2 was released back in 2018, the game has received continuous meaty updates that have greatly expanded upon, tweaked, and improved the game. With update 33, Heart Attack, I felt it was time to revisit State of Decay 2 with a properly updated review.
You can find a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel!
State of Decay 2 is a survival game about communities in a zombie apocalypse. One of the more unique aspects of the game is the fact that while you play from a third-person perspective, you also control a whole community of survivors, switching between them as needed. Survivors are randomly generated and have a wide variety of traits and skills, and each one can be leveled through certain skill branches.
Individual survivors can also permanently die, or get frustrated and leave the community. However, if you do well, you can eventually choose to complete a community’s story, adding them to a pool of legacy characters that you can recruit in future playthroughs.
|Gideon’s Bias||State of Decay 2 Information|
|Review Copy Used: No||Publisher: Xbox Game Studios|
|Hours Played: Hundreds||Type: Full Release|
|Reviewed on: Xbox Series X||Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Series X and S|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Third Person Open World Survival|
|Mode Played: Nightmare and Lethal (The two highest)||Price: $29.99|
Choosing your own Apocalypse
One of State of Decay 2s most defining updates was Choose your own Apocalypse. It added a variety of difficulty sliders that allows you to adjust the game’s difficulty to your liking, and it’s highly modular. I exclusively play on Nightmare and Lethal. This is important information because if you were to play on standard or green, you and I would be playing very different games. A lot of this review would be inaccurate for you.
State of Decay 2 originally launched without difficulty settings. It was incredibly easy back then, I even ran tests to prove it back in the day. I hadn’t been a reviewer at the time, but I was an aggressive critic. Too aggressive to be frank, and I nearly got banned from the game’s official discord. That ban would have been justified.
Anyway, Undead Labs won me over when they added Nightmare mode and it led me to sink hundreds of hours into the game. To me, State of Decay 2 is at its best when you struggle. And when your successes are snatched from the desperate jaws of annihilation. When experienced that way, setbacks and failures aren’t losses but strands woven into the fabric of your communities story. Not all endings will be happy, but the journey to reach that end will feel uniquely yours.
The essence of this review is written from the perspective of the game being challenging on higher difficulty settings. Keep that in mind as I dive into the specific gameplay mechanisms that hold it all together.
Part of the game’s charm stems from the fact that many of the game’s systems are simple on the surface. Yet there’s a great deal of depth hidden underneath that isn’t visible until the game pressures you with the threat of failure. That’s why it shines on higher difficulties.
The melee combat system is a good example of this. It looks pretty basic. You have an attack button, a dodge button, and a kick button. If a zombie is stunned, on the ground, or you approach them from behind, you can execute them with a single button press. Each action consumes some stamina, and when it runs out, you move and attack slower.
At a glance, it looks like a simple button masher, and you know what? You can take down a couple of smaller zombie packs by just blindly mashing the attack button. But you won’t come out unscathed. You might also be tempted to hit the execute button whenever the prompt appears, but that would also be a mistake. The slow execution animations consume a lot of stamina, and leave you open to be attacked.
Every attack a zombie lands on you hurts and can cause injuries that will require expensive medkits or downtime to fix. Not only that, the red blood plague zombies slowly infect you when they hit you. If you happen to get grabbed and bitten, it adds a ton of progress toward that infection. A survivor fully infected with blood plague has only minutes to live unless you can craft a cure in time.
The real key to the game’s combat is crowd control. You want to be deliberate with your strikes to interrupt zombie attacks or temporarily stun others. You want to kick away a couple for some breathing room and dodge out to create distance when it gets too heavy. All while executing zombies at opportune times, rather than the instant the option appears.
Zombies can even be grabbed from behind, then you can throw them forward to the ground. It seems utterly useless at first. Why bother doing that when you can simply stab and kill the zombie when you grab it? The answer is once again crowd control. By throwing a zombie into a horde, you can knock several of them down like bowling pins, giving you precious time to gain control of the fight.
The exact nature of how you fight changes with the weapons you wield. A heavy sledgehammer with high knock-down capability feels different to use than a deadly bladed machete that dismembers zombies. As survivors gain experience they can unlock advanced combat moves, such as leap attacks, sweeps, and slams that all amplify your options in battle. Mix in some guns and gadgets such as molotovs and grenades, and you have a whole lot more at your disposal than simple button mashing. All while maintaining a simple and easy-to-learn baseline combat system.
You have a lot of agency in how you want to grow and lead your community. There are no individual hunger meters, but your community as a whole consumes food daily to survive. You will also need medicine to heal, materials to build with as well as ammo and fuel. Keeping your community alive and happy is a challenge, but with many paths, you can follow to try and manage it.
Scavenging is always important as you scour the open world for resources and items. You can also take on quests that can earn you allies out in the world. Allied enclaves offer you passive bonuses, and the ability to trade for goods. You can also recruit new survivors from them although the remaining members of that enclave will then leave.
Having many allies can be beneficial, but difficult to maintain, as they will periodically need help from you to stay happy. At the same time, trade is a lucrative way to get needed resources and gear. It’s up to you to balance your communities time. Individual survivors get injured and tired, requiring you to leave them at home while you control other ones. Time can be a precious resource in State of Decay 2
State of Decay 2 has several maps. Every map has several base locations, each of which has uniquely built-in features in addition to free spaces where you can build facilities of your choice.
Sometimes you may need a garden to grow food. Other times you may opt for a generator, automotive workshop, or other facilities based on your situation. Each one serves a purpose, and you can never have everything you could want at the same time. Difficult decisions have to be made. You can also claim some buildings as outposts for some passive resource income and other boons based on the type of outpost.
You can choose to play out a single community for an extended period of time, moving to a new map when you exhaust the resources from your current one. Alternatively, you can follow one of four leader questlines to complete the game with that community forging a legacy pool you can pull from in future games.
The nature of the open world in State of Decay 2 offers you a lot of agency in what you want to do at any given moment. Everything is affected by your current situation and personal goals. You choose which quests or allies to pursue, which bases to claim, what outposts to build, where to scavenge, and, how to deal with the ongoing Plague Heart threat.
Plague Hearts are basically zombie nests that prevent you from claiming areas around them and are usually swarming with dangerous plague zombies. Destroying them frees up the zone and gives you some nice loot. However, with Update 33, Plague Hearts were altered to become actual antagonists to your community.
Now the zombies have a functional hive mind. Plague Hearts start dormant but can be awakened if you aren’t careful while in plague territory. Once a Plague Heart is awake, they actively wage war against your community.
They will send out hordes in real time to infest buildings and form siege infestations around your base, eventually using those forward bases to attack your home. This gives the zombies a stronger personality than a mindless threat to your survival. They become an actual adversary attempting to claim territory away from you, and it feels great.
You can clear out infestations, or even catch the hordes before they reach their destination. You can also use resources to lay temporary minefields along outposts as a barrier between an active Plague Heart and your base to buy you some breathing room.
It does a great job of further expanding the decision space further. Plague Hearts aren’t just an inconvenience, but a real threat. You have a lot of incentive to be cautious near them when they are dormant, and reasons to fight them once they wake up. It’s a lot of fun to factor in your war against the Plague Hearts against your existing survival needs and it adds a new dimension to the gameplay, giving the zombies a personality of their own.
Dynamic and Never Dull
State of Decay 2 does something right with its open world that many games, even survival games, get completely wrong. It features a dynamic, dangerous, and unpredictable world. In a lot of open-world games, the world is a pretty picture that you see when you travel from point A to Point B and nothing more. In a lot of survival games, gathering resources is a simple time-sink, and that’s it.
For example. If a game were to have set areas where enemies spawn, and you need to mine some rocks, but no enemies spawn where you mine the rocks. Every expedition to gather rocks is predictable with no threat. You aren’t overcoming a challenge, you’re just hitting a button and watching rocks fill your inventory for 20 minutes.
In State of Decay 2, every single time you leave your base, there is a very real possibility that your survivor may not make it back. The buildings on each map are in set locations, but everything else is procedural. You never know when you’re going to come across a pack of ferals ready to pounce, or when a screamer may sneak up on you from behind and call a horde.
Even driving can be intense. Vehicles get damaged easily. You can’t always avoid wrecking as you dodge zombies, or when a sneaky bloater explodes on your car forcing you to bail out. I’ve run out of gas only to have a feral rip the door from my car, yank me out, and rip me to shreds. I’ve had good scavenge runs, only to make a bad move and have to run for my life. Sometimes even jumping off a bridge to save myself.
There is no safe resource grinding, there are no long uninteresting treks across the map. Every moment spent out in the world is spent in danger, and that makes the game engaging to play. Every resource you bring home and every quest you complete is earned. Each decision you make, about where to go and what to do carries an inherent risk that you have to weigh against the potential reward.
State of Decay 2 earned its place as one of my favorite games years ago. As the updates continued, it further cemented itself there. I always say the best stories a game can tell, are the ones you generate yourself. Every community, whether you succeed or fail, generates those stories. From dramatic suspense where you rush to cure an infected survivor to the blockbuster action moments of bailing out of an exploding car amid a swarm of hungry zombies. It’s all there.
That doesn’t mean the game is perfect. The AI for survivors needs an overhaul. Bringing along an AI companion is useful in theory. They can provide backup in combat and extra carry weight. But they often get themselves killed or infected in ways that feel unfair. Just recently I brought one to help me fight a hostile enclave. They are usually gun-ho and constantly choose to use guns, even if you don’t want them to. So naturally the AI chose this moment to use his sledgehammer and not his shotgun against the gun-toting enclave we were attacking, he, of course, died.
There’s also a side mode called Daybreak where you fight hordes of zombies in a wave-based defense mode. The problem is, this mode is pretty dull, but it unlocks special gear for the regular mode. It’s a massive grind to unlock it all. Then the gear in question is incredibly overpowered to the point that it can trivialize the game, even on Nightmare.
Minor complaints aside, State of Decay 2 is still one of the very best survival games I’ve played. Update 33 further entombs its legacy with an excellent revamped Plague Heart system. Open World games could learn a lot from its dynamic world. Each trek is fraught with danger rather than an exercise in holding down the left thumbstick until you arrive. It has a bit of a cult following, but State of Decay 2 is still a highly underrated game. It is worth another look thanks to years of ongoing updates and improvements. I’m giving it my Golden Shield award.
- The gameplay is simple on the surface but contains a lot of depth
- Highly modular difficulty settings
- Great survival gameplay
- A dynamic and dangerous open world
- High replay value
- Years of updates have greatly improved the game
- The AI for companions is pretty bad at times
- The wave-based mode called Daybreak is really grindy and dull but unlocks overpowered gear for the main game.