Zombie games feel almost a dime-a-dozen over the last decade. Whether you’re talking Valve’s methodical co-op shooter franchise Left 4 Dead or Capcom’s over-the-top gore-fest Dead Rising, the full spectrum feels covered. When it launched in 2013, State of Decay stood out for allowing players to manage a community while telling unique narratives through the procedural community they look after. State of Decay 2 looks to not only expand on the formula, but apply myriad lessons learned to deliver a much better experience.
Much like the first game, State of Decay 2 puts you in charge of a community struggling to survive the zombie apocalypse. You’re given one main objective: lead your colony to a state of stability and prosperity. How you achieve that long-term goal is up to you. Community members come to you with things they want to accomplish. These tasks range from colony-altering missions like clearing a new safe house, to simple morale boosters like helping one of your community members track down his old bandmates to recover the “greatest song ever written.”
Between those requests, you must work to meet their basic needs. A large part of the overarching gameplay loop is scavenging for supplies. The more people in your community, the faster you chew through resources; I’d often get back with a rucksack of food only to notice we’re running low on medicine or fuel.
You have multiple characters within your community that you can swap to. Each character has his or her own set of stats and attributes, which can be improved by using those skills more. For instance, if you want to improve someone’s gun handling, have them shoot more. Want to improve their stamina? Sprint with that character.
The controls are improved over the first game, with more solid gunplay and more intuitive melee combat. The finicky movement of the first game is also fixed. Even with these upgrades, permadeath mechanics loom, meaning one wrong move could cost you a cherished community member.
I witness this firsthand when a massive Juggernaut zombie stops the truck I’m driving dead in its tracks. I flee on foot, but it charges my character and tears her apart, ending the supply run in tragedy. Back at the base, characters reflect on their time with the now-deceased person. Morale is low, so I try to improve it by fulfilling requests of the remaining survivors.
Thanks to an improved base screen, I have much more insight into how to fix morale in my base. I notice two characters want a watchtower, while another wants a garden. I build both of those, which improves our defense and food production, as well as our group’s happiness.
Once I strike a nice balance, I set out to destroy nearby Plague Hearts, a new threat in State of Decay 2. These giant, stationary vessels take up residence in buildings and mutate nearby zombies. Clearing these nests makes the area safer, but your cohorts can contract blood plague, so you need to be cautious.
As I recruit more members into my community, one longtime colonist suggests we find a bigger home. After checking out a couple duds, we find the perfect combination of space and defense atop a hill. Using the intuitive base upgrade screen, I tweak it to accommodate our needs: destroy the unneeded barracks, set up a fighting gym, build an upgraded infirmary and a new garden. Morale skyrockets as everyone acclimates to their new home. Unfortunately, my new location is across the map, so we must begin clearing out nests and scouting for supplies all over again.
State of Decay 2 also adds cooperative play for up to four people. I played alongside a couple of fellow survivors as we cleared out nearby infestations and took down Plague Hearts. While you can enlist an NPC follower from your community in single-player mode, co-op gives you one major bonus: the ability to bring multiple vehicles to scavenge the region. A little extra trunk space goes a long way when your community has multiple needs. Plus, it always helps to have actual humans watching your back, especially when there’s no friendly fire to worry about.
Co-op players are tethered, but they can venture in different directions to an extent. However, each building has unique crates for each player, so it makes sense to stick together. While you’re ultimately contributing to the host’s community during the session, non-host players can bring items back to their games.
With improved controls, added co-op play, and better user-interface offerings, State of Decay 2 keeps the great concept of the first game while improving nearly every aspect around it. While some technical hiccups presented themselves in this pre-release build, State of Decay 2 already feels more stable than its predecessor at launch. I look forward to seeing the full extent of Undead Labs’ realized vision on May 22.
To see State of Decay 2 in action, check out our episode of New Gameplay Today.