State of Decay 2 Hands-On Preview

Hands-on impressions after nearly 10 hours with the final game

Around a week ago, Microsoft provided Super Jump with a review code for the upcoming State of Decay 2, an Xbox One/Windows exclusive due for release on May 22nd. This is arguably the second big Xbox exclusive game of 2018, following Sea of Thieves, which was released in March.

State of Decay 2 is a follow-up to the original State of Decay, which launched on Xbox 360 back in 2013. It might be worth pointing out that this new game isn’t really a sequel in the way we traditionally think about sequels (that is, a story which continues on from the first title). Rather, it’s best to think about State of Decay 2 as an entirely new thing that exists without reference to the first game. It’s almost as though the developers, Undead Labs, are starting from scratch.

I am planning to write a full review, which will contain a lot more detail about the experience. But for now, I thought I’d share my top Yay and Boo moments based on playing almost ten hours of the game so far. One caveat I must mention right away, too, is that I haven’t yet played an online cooperative session — so this preview is strictly related to the “offline” experience as it stands now.

Yay

Let’s start with the good stuff — the elements that are looking great, and that improve on the original 2013 release.

Offline progression is gone

Hallelujah! This was one of my biggest complaints about the original State of Decay. You’d spend all this time scrounging for resources, building up your outpost, and helping survivors…only to turn the game off, return a few days later, and find most of your community dead and the remainder on life support. Yuck. It just didn’t work; it was a system that, although conceptually cool, punished players who couldn’t spend every waking moment nurturing their community.

The feature is thankfully gone in State of Decay 2. You can save your game at any time, although if you quit mid-mission, you’ll essentially reset that mission. No big deal.

Because of this change, I’m feeling a lot less frustrated, and a lot more invested in the longer-term strategic planning around my community’s survival and development.

Plague Hearts and Plague Zombies

This is one of my favourite new additions to State of Decay 2. As you play the game, Plague Hearts will spawn in different locations around the map. Each Plague Heart is almost like a kind of boss — they take a lot of effort to destroy, and as you destroy each one, the next one becomes more resistant to your attacks.

Meet the Plague Zombie. Isn’t she lovely?

The Plague Hearts themselves don’t really do much on their own, but if you go anywhere near them — and especially if you attack them — you’ll be set upon by an enormous wave of Plague Zombies.

Plague Zombies are another great addition. They look like regular zombies, except they are covered in glistening blood. State of Decay 2 leverages these new enemies to upend a traditional zombie trope; in this game, regular zombies can bite you and you won’t turn into one — you’ll simply take damage. However, if a Plague Zombie bites you, you’ll take a lot of immediate damage and you’re highly likely to become infected by “the plague” (I’m not sure if the chance is 100% or not, but it seems very close).

Being infected by the plague won’t kill you immediately; but the disease will progress over time, until the victim succumbs and turns. Luckily, the game provides a pathway for you to manage — and treat — plague victims to cure them, provided you act quickly enough. This added layer of threat (and “disease management”) is an awesome addition to the game.

Human enclaves

My memory of the original State of Decay is a bit foggy here; I knew that you could find various survivors out in the world to assist (and recruit). But State of Decay 2 seems to take the concept a lot further.

For one thing, various groups of survivors (enclaves) will appear in the world at different places and times. Often, they’ll require your assistance — if you ignore them for too long, they might leave the area. But in some cases, they will actually become hostile to you and will exist as a threat to your community.

Some enclaves are all about trading, but many of them actually trigger specific mission paths. For instance, one group might be interested in getting your help setting up a still, so that they can brew their own alcohol (gotta do something to pass the time in the apocalypse, right?) Others will want your help to secure the area around their enclave, or they might have a beef with a different enclave (in one case, I had to go on a multi-stage mission to help an enclave who had their medicines stolen by another group).

In many cases, you have options around how you want to approach different communities. Do you wave the white flag of peace and take the risk of an ambush? Or do you go in all guns blazing, and risk killing innocent people who simply want your help?

State of Decay 2 muddies the waters by not always making enclave motives clear. Also, remember that human beings don’t always tell the truth. Being manipulated by other survivors is a very real possibility.

Community management

It’s true that you had to manage your community in the original State of Decay by ensuring that there was plenty of food, shelter, medicine, defence, etc…

Keep your wits about you, it’s a dangerous world out there…

State of Decay 2 is no different, but it does attempt to deepen the experience in various ways. For one thing, you can progressively clear out and “conquer” locations across the map. Setting up outposts outside your main community hub is important for numerous reasons, the most important of which being that you’ll want to establish a growing supply chain of critical items (food, medicines, materials, and ammunition) to keep your core base functioning. Your base consumes a set number of these items each day (although this may increase if you undertake certain activities that temporarily increase consumption). This basic principle means that base management is relatively straightforward; it’s fairly easy to track and understand what you’re consuming versus what you’re collecting or generating. This, in turns, helps you to decide where to focus your energy when you’re out in the field.

As well, each community member is fleshed out in quite a lot of detail. Each person has their own personality and profile, as well as their own motivations. It’s important to pay attention to community members’ desires and motivations, or else fights might break out at home (and, in the worst cases, people may pack up and leave).

Cover of night

This is a small but important point: night time feels threatening. In State of Decay 2, you’ll dread the approach of each night. This is because the world goes almost entirely pitch black. Even your torch becomes laughably useless when you’re surrounded by the fog of night.

This is especially awesome if you’re on a mission, far from home…and night falls. It’s disorienting and terrifying. Who knows what you’ll run into.

That house might look warm and friendly, but someone (or something) else might be inhabiting it now.

Boo

It’s not all rosy in State of Decay 2, from what I’ve played so far. There are a few glaring issues that will hopefully be addressed, but which you should watch out for if you’re looking forward to this game. At the very least, these issues may help to temper your expectations a little.

Jank, everywhere

One of the things that most annoyed me about the original State of Decay was that it had a tendency to be fairly buggy at times. I remember really bizarre stuff happening, like cars getting stuck in the wall at my home base, community members randomly appearing high up in the sky and then falling to earth, and even cases where I was in the middle of a tense battle and my buddy wouldn’t — couldn’t? — get in the car, causing a mission to completely break.

As frustrating as these things were, I chalked them up to the first game being an indie title that was likely very ambitious given its probable budget.

State of Decay 2 ought to see an improvement in this area, I’d have thought. This is in large part because Microsoft has been heavily promoting the game as a major 2018 exclusive — this is especially important, given just how desperately the Xbox One platform needs great exclusives at the moment.

So, much as I hate to say it, I’m genuinely disappointed by the bugginess and general jankiness I’ve seen in State of Decay 2.

It’s actually hard to tell if this game is less janky than the original.

In terms of issues I’ve seen so far, here is a small sampling:

  • NCP allies randomly leaving my side during a mission (running all the way home on their own) and then randomly re-appearing at my side out of nowhere.
  • Lots of clipping issues that result in getting stuck (either my character or a vehicle). There’s even a menu option in the game to “unstick” yourself — it strikes me as very odd that the designers have built in an “unstick yourself” feature. It feels like a workaround; why not implement a tighter collision system in the first place?
  • Inconsistent climbability. This relates to the previous point and it’s especially a pain if you choose to start your game on at the mesa location, because you’ll often want to hike your way up a rocky outcrop to reach home (without going “the long way”). Unfortunately, you can walk and jump over some rocks…but not others, regardless of height or angle. Honestly, it’s maddening, and you’ll find yourself fighting with the environment on a number of occasions.
  • Zombies randomly appearing high in the sky (sometimes casually walking around) and then suddenly crashing to earth. I have to admit, I did start to sing “It’s raining zombies, hallelujah…” in my head…

Movement in general feels better than the first game, although that’s not saying much. Vehicle control is pretty solid, thankfully, and the shooting mechanics generally feel good.

There’s just an overriding sense of a lack of polish, which is a shame, because so much of State of Decay 2 seems like an improvement over the original game.

Management chaos

This is a complaint that might temper as I spend more time with the game. But one thing I’m finding a little frustrating is that, even without the persistent “always on” world, the game still seems to throw a lot of competing challenges at you at once in a way that can feel cluttered rather than genuinely tense. I understand that in this post-apocalyptic setting, you’re in the position of having to prioritise activities and make tough choices. Do I help an upset community member who wants to leave, clear out an infestation which is threatening the whole community, work with an enclave that needs my help right now, or answer all of the other urgent calls for help that I just received?

Perhaps Undead Labs are trying to overwhelm the player in a way that does force those tough choices. But in my experience, this tends to mean that I’ve had little time to really think strategically or to plan out how I want my community to develop — as time has gone on, I’ve spent more and more of my energy putting out spot fires everywhere. It’s awesome to have moments of panic and a sudden flurry of activity, but when it’s constant, it can feel a little difficult to consider the consequences of your decisions.

I’m keen to see how this plays out as I spend more time with the game and prepare for a full review.

Opaqueness

One complaint numerous people had about the original State of Decay was that its systems were occasionally a little opaque — it wasn’t always easy to see the connection between the player’s actions and consequences in the world, especially when it came to developing your community.

In some ways, this problem is both better and worse in State of Decay 2.

On the one hand, the game provides some handy quick reference guides on game systems that you can flip through to get your bearings. And the implementation of a “core” set of resources that are consumed by your community is genuinely helpful.

But when you dive in, you may find that it’s hard to understand the pros and cons of different approaches. For example, you can build a base-wide power generator (which takes up a build “square” on your base)…or you can individually power specific parts of the base with small generators that need to be re-fuelled. Maybe I’m just dense, but there are no immediately clear advantages over one approach or the other (except that the large generator obviously takes up a spot you could use for some other facility).

There seem to be a ton of little things like that — little nuances to how each facility operates that tend to be somewhat unclear. This contributed to some of my frustrations around deciding what to do next. In the end, I’ve so far spent most of my time chasing core resources and making sure the base isn’t over-consuming — I’ve had almost no time for much else.

Again, I’m very willing to admit that there’s still a lot I need to learn about the game; perhaps some of these gripes aren’t really warranted. But at this stage — and without the benefit of any strategy guides — I do occasionally feel like I’m spinning my wheels in the mud, so to speak.

This article was written by Super Jump Editor in Chief, James Burns. Please check out his work and follow him on Medium.

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