State of Decay 2: A unique apocalyptic community builder
Have you ever had an itch to play a game that you didn’t know existed? For us, we’ve always wanted a well-executed combination between a settlement manager and an action survival game. State of Decay 2 is the answer to that wish, offering a unique and refreshing mix of different survival themes, including base-building, action RPG and third-person shooter combat, scavenging, crafting, and colony management.
This is an older game at this point, but with the (hopefully) quickly approaching release of State of Decay 3, many players are returning to its predecessor, and even more survival gamers new to the series are wondering if it’s for them. For that reason, this review will be taking readers on a deep dive into what the State of Decay 2 is and what it offers to survival gamers and players as a whole.
Story and concept
State of Decay 2 is set in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse set amongst several fictional regions of the central United States and follows the lives of numerous characters that become a part of the player’s community. This game doesn’t offer much in the way of a linear, guided story, focusing more on each player’s own unique story that unfolds as their community and characters develop.
There is, however, a more direct story mode with a premade cast of characters called Heartland. This campaign follows a pair of Network survivors searching for the source of the emerging Blood Plague and attempting to develop a vaccine to hopefully make the world just a bit more livable for other survivors. This game mode has a bit more fine detail in terms of what each character’s backstory can offer but is consequently more limited in what the player can create in terms of community.
Mostly, though, the story is whatever the player makes of it. Each campaign can result in meeting very different characters distinct to that region, and the interactions between them and the other survivors of the area are what really make the story interesting.
Fans of tense, interpersonal stories from media like The Walking Dead or story generators like RimWorld will probably enjoy the simple interactions between their survivors and the constant threat of losing them.
Players looking for a more fleshed-out narrative or well-constructed storyline aren’t going to find it here, and players should understand that ahead of time. The story is what the player makes of it, mostly, and the emotional involvement in the story will depend entirely on how much the player cares about their individual survivors.
That isn’t to say there isn’t overarching lore and worldbuilding to this game, however. There is a deep, mysterious, and quite fascinating narrative behind the outbreak, assuming the player is willing to dig in and piece it together.
The world around the player will develop as they do, telling the player about other survivors, remaining military organizations, and other interesting groups regularly being told through intercepted radio broadcasts and idle chatter.
The graphical prowess of State of Decay 2 is impressive, to say the least. Textures are detailed, lighting effects are immersive, and models are well-developed. The high-end graphical fidelity of the world players will be interacting with can be a bit demanding of your hardware, but as a result, it is comparable to modern AAA titles in its quality.
Character and enemy animations all look great, and different types of weapons offer completely different swinging, firing, and reloading animations. Additionally, weapon models don’t just disappear when not in use and can be seen slung over their character’s back or sitting in holsters. Enemies look scary, and special zombies called freaks are especially grotesque and threatening.
Though everything looks great, we can’t say we really felt that State of Decay 2 accomplished anything particularly original with its graphics. The environments are detailed and realistic, but all come across as rather bland.
Assets for many objects and locations are heavily reused, and though there are a few unique locations worth checking out, most scavenging sites feel like just that and nothing more. We never really felt the urge to explore the wide open world presented to us because most of what we found was just another house or store.
Perhaps it was simply the small size of detail objects or the general lack of individuality found in points of interest, but after a couple of hours, chances are you’ve seen most of what the world has to offer in terms of visuals. This isn’t unusual or unforgivable for modern open-world games, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked, as it does impact the experience.
Sound and atmosphere
The integration of sound into the gameplay of SoD2 is professional, artful, and well-considered. Though this game doesn’t do anything especially original, with its sound, we felt that the music and sound effects matched up with the visuals and greatly improved the overall gameplay experience.
The background music for this title is a combination of Southern-Rock and Country-style tracks. This music is dynamically tied to gameplay, staying low and slow during stealth and exploration but picking up to become more threatening when in combat. The music can reach a stressful crescendo during especially tough sieges or when the player is near death. The guitar-heavy combat themes brought back fond memories of other great shooters set in the U.S., like Far Cry 5.
The atmosphere in this title takes a backseat to gameplay, however, and despite the great music, the sound effects are the real selling point in terms of audio. The impacts of melee weapons are visceral and weighty. Getting bitten or scratched sounds violent and painful, and smashing a zombie’s head like a rotten pumpkin feels absolutely awesome.
Vehicle effects can sometimes sound a bit distant, but the gunplay in this title is just killer (no pun intended.) The feedback and report from each different gun are different enough to feel unique, and these sounds can even change when the gun is equipped with a suppressor or muzzle brake. All of this blends to make the feeling of popping zombie heads supremely satisfying.
The unique sounds of different zombie types also make listening to your surroundings a very important aspect of survival. Not only does this help players identify enemy types and proximity, but it can also instill a deep feeling of anxiety and dread when you hear the low snarl of that feral you’ve been trying to avoid or cause you to jump out of your skin when a juggernaut suddenly roars.
The voice acting is functional and serves its purpose well enough, but it is a bit awkward and may seem repetitive if you perform similar tasks for long periods.
Integrating different gameplay mechanics is where the State of Decay 2 shines. The core gameplay loop is likely what you expect and focuses centrally on searching for resources and gear to bring back to your base. That is just the tip of the iceberg, however, and there are many, many different systems that come into play when considering your base and your community of survivors.
The player’s ultimate goal is to claim mastery over their chosen region and create a legacy. This will require the player to destroy several nest-like growths called plague hearts and fulfill the goals of their specific leader type. To do this, players will need to scavenge, build up their base, deal with other survivor groups, and develop their community.
Out in the world, players will be engaging in third-person shooter combat and stealth. Back at their base, players will have to choose which facilities best suit their needs and can craft generators, living spaces, gardens, workshops, training facilities, and even recreational spaces. Each of these facilities will have different costs and potential benefits, allowing a ton of different actions such as crafting weapons, managing injuries, or even increasing morale.
In addition to keeping your survivors safe and fed, players will need to manage the wants and skills of their survivors. Each survivor will have different strengths and weaknesses, and players will need to carefully consider if a survivor is a good fit for their community before recruiting them. Some survivors are strong, boasting great health and carrying capacity.
Others will be specialists, allowing the player to construct new facilities or offering a wide range of bonuses. They’re still human, however, and most will also sport some defect or flaw that can range from eating more to being generally unlikeable.
Developing a thriving community from these intrepid survivors is the name of the game, and each member of the community will level up their skills as they perform tasks with them. Equipping survivors and specializing them for different needs is a big part of the challenge and part of the fun. Remember, though, this is the apocalypse, and death is final. One wrong move could lead to the death of one or all of your precious survivors.
All of the interconnected systems this game has to offer makes it addictive, fun, and challenging. It isn’t just a static map either, and the undead won’t let you get off easily. Wandering hordes may besiege your base, infestations will need to be culled, and plague hearts may actively try to hunt you down if you draw too much attention.
As awesome as all of these systems are, the one flaw that develops from having so much to do is the constant feeling of being rushed. This game is very busy, and just about everything has a relatively strict time limit.
If you don’t help your neighbors or allies in time whenever they ask, they’ll eventually just leave or become hostile. If you don’t clear out infestations or plague hearts in time, your community will be attacked and become depressed.
Forgot about that one really cool quest because you left to find food? Too late now. This constant busy feeling can be a serious drag sometimes, and often players may find themselves with no real say in what they are doing and simply reacting to the world.
State of Decay 2 is a game that thrives on replayability and even has mechanics specifically designed to reward returning players. The legacy that each successful campaign leaves behind provide a flat bonus to new communities, and players can even carry survivors from a previous game into a new region to start again, bringing their skills and equipment with them.
In addition, several regions have different base and quest opportunities. Survivor groups are randomized, and events might turn out wildly different each time you play.
What’s more, the difficulty systems are thoroughly customizable, allowing players to make one aspect of the game more difficult while easing the strain from other challenges. You can turn down the difficulty for a more easygoing run or crank it up to lethal for a truly nightmarish challenge.
The game also includes the heartland story mode and the daybreak tower-defense mode for players looking to mix it up from standard campaigns. And yes, these two modes do provide benefits that can be taken advantage of in future campaigns.
Final thoughts on State of Decay 2
The folks at Undead Labs have concocted a winning formula for an incredible zombie apocalypse survival experience. The unique combination of colony survival and third-person shooter gameplay is a refreshing change of pace for the survival genre and a wonderfully addicting and fun experience. It’s one we hope will continue to be built on in the future.
It seems that the devs are already on it, though. New updates are still coming out for the State of Decay 2, adding new systems and improving existing ones. With all of this new content, we have to wonder if the developers are testing out some new features we’ll see in another game (hopefully) very soon.