State of Decay 2 is the next installment in the open-world
zombie apocalyptic survival fantasy series from the Seattle-based developer,
Undead Labs. Released on the Xbox 360 in 2013, State of Decay immersed fans
into its permadeath zombie experience where each character had their own unique
stories, personalities and traits, as well as a worry of limited resources and
the fear of eventual death. It was a surprise hit for Microsoft Studios ahead
of the release of their new Xbox One console later that year, but it had
players hooked with its unique approach to survival in a post-apocalyptic
Nearly five years after the release of State of Decay comes
sequel, set 18 months since the dead has risen and civilization collapsed –
and 15 months after the events of the first game. It’s not long until you learn
that even the military couldn’t stop the zombie hordes, and now it’s up to you
to once again gather survivors and build a community with your friends in this post-apocalyptic
world where every decision is crucial and comes with its own lasting
consequences – some will be temporary, whilst others are permanent.
In State of Decay 2, you literally define what it means to
survive in this open-world filled with hostile zombies, human enemies, and valuable
resources. These resources are necessary to keep each member in the community
alive. Whether its food, water, medicine, fuel, or armaments, these are all
critical for maintaining your community and keeping a positive and stable
attitude among each member. Without resources, the community will become
frustrated, with some members potentially leaving, and others refusing to carry
out their assigned tasks. At the end of the day, this is a group of humans,
frustrated by the current way of life, and their actions can vary by
State of Decay 2 is the first entry in the franchise to
launch on Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. It also takes advantage of Microsoft’s
Xbox Play Anywhere initiative, which allows you to buy the game once from the Microsoft
Store digitally and enjoy it on both platforms at no additional cost with
cross-play and save profile synchronization. That note about cross-play is an
important one to keep in mind, because State of Decay 2 introduces the
highly-requested ability to enjoy the game in co-op with up to three other
friends as you explore an open-world filled with hostile enemies, the undead
hordes, and of course, those ever so precious resources. You’ll no longer need
to fend off the vicious zombie apocalypse alone.
The first time you log into State of Decay 2, you’ll be asked
to choose your first duo of survivors. Each of these have a different backstory
as you experience the formation of your community. You’ll have the decision on
where your group chooses to locate and set up base. Indeed, before you even
reach the first snippet of gameplay, you’ll be making critical decisions that
will impact your State of Decay 2 experience. This is a game that’s curated by
you, the player, and it’s all powered by several dynamic systems the team at
Undead Labs have crafted for their zombie-apocalypse fantasy game.
After checking out the selection of different characters and
their backstories, I decided to opt for the two recent lovebirds – Manual and
Kris, as they were called in my game. Their relationship formed through the
zombie apocalypse when they met in the woodlands, and this immediately caught
my interest as I was curious to see how it would develop throughout the game.
Obviously, one wrong move on my behalf could lead to the death of either of
these characters – or even both if I wasn’t careful. Regardless, I was looking
forward to seeing how it would all play out.
State of Decay 2 opens at an almost deserted military base
for its tutorial introduction. Soldiers have fled, the entire zone has become
overridden by zombies. As you navigate the base in the hope of finding some
human life, your partner – which was Kris in my scenario, will become attacked
and bitten by a deadly zombie carrying Blood Plague, which means she will
eventually transform into one of them overtime, but the more immediate effects
include fever and overall body weakness.
Zombies with Blood Plague are a new addition to State of
Decay 2 and stand out from the rest of the undead pack with their glowing red
eyes, and if you’re bitten by one, you’ll notice a gauge on the side of your
screen begin to fill. Eventually, you’ll encounter a remaining soldier at the
base, who soon leads you to a doctor with a cure. However, she doesn’t have the
necessary samples to make up a solution, which means you’ll need to hunt down
several of these Blood Plague-infested zombies and collect sufficient samples
to create that cure.
State of Decay 2 takes everything fans loved about the first
game and greatly expands on it, featuring a huge roster of unique characters
with their own backstories and motivations. There’s also three new maps in the
form of Meagher Valley, Cascade Hills, Drucker County – each of which is the
size of the original game’s Turnbull Valley. This allows you the ability to set
up multiple communities and save profiles, so if one location isn’t treating
you well, you can switch to another.
Once your group takes a vehicle and you choose where to
establish your first base, you’ll drive towards that location as the game
begins to truly unravel. I decided to choose Meagher Valley to setup my base as
it sounded like the most interesting of the three locations. As we arrived at
the valley, our vehicle had broken down and ran out of fuel. This meant we were
on-foot and had to scout various houses to decide where to establish our base.
Upon finding a suitable location, it must be cleared out of zombies as work
begins to transform it into a living, thriving everyday community.
The easiest way to become accustomed to your surroundings
and the buildings around you is to visit the Survey Points sprinkled throughout
each location, which are helpfully labelled with binoculars on the map. As you
climb these Survey Points and zoom in on the question marks, the game will
reveal what each locale offers in terms of potential resources or outpost
effects if you were to add it as another base location for your ever-expanding
Each outpost you claim offers effects such as better ammo or
an improved medicine supply, and since you can only have a select number of
outposts at once, you’ll need to decide which ones best suit your play-style. Your
overall base serves as the hub for your crew of survivors, some of whom provide
side missions that can help build up your community’s resources, find other
survivors to add to the group, or meet other squads of survivalists that you
can trade with – or if you’re inclined too, even murder and steal from. These
are your decisions to make, and the consequences of those are yours to live
with. Decide wisely, as each decision is also permanent.
One such scenario saw our camp’s medicine stolen when
everything was going well – and morale took a toll for the worst. I had the
choice to either leave it or attempt to recover those meds, and I opted for the
latter. They were stolen by the ‘Scavengers,’ according to someone who had
witnessed it, but things soon turned hostile as they attacked us when we
confronted them about the incident. It was a sudden move, as initially it
appeared they wanted to cooperate with us. Due to this, we lost two of our best
survivors. I should’ve heeded the advice from another of our members about letting
it go. When your survivors die, you do genuinely miss them – as if it were a
protagonist in a game that had been killed. It’s the reality of this
perma-simulation, where there’s just no going back. Period.
Finding, securing and building up bases and outposts is one
of the most important aspects of State of Decay 2. But for a thriving
community, you’ll need to scrounge for every bullet and scrap of food you can
find. It takes time before your base is well-stocked with weapons, food,
medical supplies and backup, and initially, food and medicinal cures will be
your priority as you keep your fellow survivors alive. As you’re scavenging for
these supplies, you’ll often be promoted with various missions and tasks that
require you to meet or save survivors from other groups or find rucksacks full
You’ll also need to improve the skills of your survivors to
make them more productive, whether it’s in medicine, gardening, cooking, electronics,
computing or even fighting, these are all important aspects to making a smart,
talented group of survivors in State of Decay 2 who can fight for themselves
and make life a little less ‘doom and gloom’ and a bit more how it was before
the zombie apocalypse. Reaching that stage isn’t an easy task, however. The
best place to start is by building up your base. A medical facility to create
cures and bandages was the priority for mine before later crafting a rain
collector to provide a source of clean, fresh water.
Additional beds were also made so we could invite more survivors
to our group, because ‘the more, the merrier,’ as they say. However, this isn’t
always the case in State of Decay 2. As you add more survivors to camp, tensions
can begin to rise. Disagreements over the certain clothes of one character or
the decisions of another. They can become frustrated over a lack of resources and
threaten to leave. One of the scenarios I encountered saw Kris desiring to find
a record player for all the vinyl she had collected – but unfortunately, she couldn’t
track one down.
Survivors can go from being happy and content to becoming depressed
and miserable fast. Adding more survivors to your group can also increase the
chances of infections hitting your base from the plague or even the injury and death
of certain survivors, which all contributes to an overall decrease in morale. It’s
important to be picky about your survivors and choose those with the skills and
traits you desire. If certain survivors are constantly arguing, this could lead
to all kinds of issues, so exiling them from the group might be best. At the
end of the day, this is a simulation involving people, so there’s no real ‘impossible’
scenario in State of Decay 2. Anything can happen, and everyone’s experiences
will be somewhat different to each other.
Vehicles are also to be found in State of Decay 2 and they
play a more surprising role than you may have anticipated. There isn’t a whole
lot of them located around each map, so it’s important to keep them at your
base and to prevent them from becoming damaged. Each base has a variety of
parking zones, which makes storing vehicles possible. You can also repair,
modify and even upgrade them should you have the necessary tools, but cars also
require fuel – which can be found in different facilities around the map,
typically in garages and old sheds, as well as auto-shops and of course, gas
stations, based on my experience. Stocking up on fuel is essential as vehicles
burn through it rapidly fast.
There’s a variety of uses to having vehicles in State of Decay
2. Firstly, the boot can be used to store objects you don’t have enough space
in your backpack or pockets to hold. The smartest strategy here is to keep
larger items in your boot, such as rucksacks full of resources you find when
scavenging, as well as fuel and backpacks full of various items that you’ve
either sourced or traded with another survivor to obtain. Vehicles can also
splatter through zombies, and you or your passenger can even open the doors and
have them splatter through the guts of the undead – covering your vehicle in a
fresh coat of red blood. There’s also headlights, which sounds obvious, but toggling
these at night time when its pitch black can often be essential when on an expedition.
One of my favourite cars has to the ‘Road Racer’ based on a Mazda
MX-5 – it’s fast, versatile, and does a brilliant job of smashing through
zombies. I’ve even seen some players build up a vast car collection at their
base full of unique and useful vehicles, including jeeps, off-road trucks,
vintage classics, and muscle cars! That’s a smart approach, as it always means
your base will have a backup vehicle should anything happen to your main one. In
terms of handling, they get the job done. They’re floaty and can easily flip-over,
so don’t expect them to be precise on the road, especially if you’re driving
fast with the undead horde, various blockages and other flipped over vehicles often
in your way. There’s nothing worse than having a vehicle full of life-saving
resources and useful items explode on the way back to your base.
Additionally, it’s crucial to store vehicles at your base so
you always have them whenever its necessary. Whether you want to scavenge
multiple rucksacks in one outing, or even stockpile on backpacks full of
weapons and resources when engaging in a hostile fight with other survivors or
taking down a wave of zombies and bosses at an infested zone. It’s also important
to destroy Plague Hearts whenever you come across them, as they lead to even
more Plague Zombies. Stockpiling on explosives and high-powered weapons full of
ammunition is a necessity when it comes to effectively destroying them.
As well as plague-infested zombies, State of Decay 2 also has
numerous other new enemy-types over its predecessor, including the Feral – an
extremely fast-moving zombie than can be tough to land hits on and take down.
In fact, shooting them can be next to impossible, so it’s better to try and
take them down with melee weapons – or in my case, to simply step on it and drive
as far away as I can.
There’s also the Juggernauts, which are hulking, bloated zombies
that are tough to kill. Whilst they’re easy to shoot – you’ll need a lot of
ammunition. You’ll also need to pray your only handgun you brought with you doesn’t
jam in the middle of a fight with him – like mine did, otherwise you might get
flattened. Thankfully, I was able to land a few more hits with a melee weapon before
using my trusty Road Racer vehicle to ram into him a couple times to finish the
Whichever way you take on a Juggernaut, it’ll need to be
smart, and it’s best to have plenty of bullets ready to land into his guts.
Otherwise, he might just grab you, chomping down on your neck before tearing
you in half as bloods and guts cover your screen. It wouldn’t be a good way to
end, so that’s why being well-equipped when travelling is essential. Luckily,
most zombies in the game are of the standard type and will only come after you
if you come close to them or make noise. When they’re alone, you can easily
sneak up and drive a knife through their skull – or you can knock them off,
finishing them with a brutal smash against their head.
Hordes of zombies can be more challenging, but if you have a
vehicle, blasting through them all at once is always a fun experience – and a
good way of covering your screen in blood without it being the guts of your survivors.
Screamers are a real pain though – their boozing roar can attract waves of the
undead towards you. This can be a nuisance when trying to clear out an infestation,
which is where they’re usually located. There’s also Bloater zombies that can
release infectious, toxic gases around you after their death – draining your
heath and stamina, so it’s best to say far from those.
Killing zombies and bosses in State of Decay 2 will often
reward you with influence – the key currency and resource used for managing
your community. Completing various missions and side tasks will also reward you
with influence, and it’s shared among all your survivors. Influence can be used
to acquire new outposts and can also be traded with fellow survivors from other
groups for items you desire, such as weapons, rucksacks and resources. Getting
rid of some of your unwanted junk can be a great way to earn influence, especially
if it’s a luxury good that’s highly sought-after, such as hand sanitizer or
even cheap bottles of vodka.
There’s plenty of luxurious and expensive goods like this in
State of Decay 2, and these can often occupy your group of survivors and keep the
overall morale high. For example, if you manage to find a generator to produce electricity,
you can even setup a games console based on the Original Xbox. If this is a main
worry though, then that means your base must be in excellent condition with
resources plentiful, considering survival is the priority here.
Once you’ve reached a stage in State of Decay 2 where your survivors
can fend for themselves and the resources are in good supply, then it’s time to
begin considering the skills of your survivors. Eventually, you’ll have to nominate
a leader of the group, and this should be the person with the best talents. Be
it someone with a high level of stamina, excellent aiming and plenty of strength
to keep your group of survivors protected from the undead horde or dangerous
thieves, or even someone with the wits and brains who can help produce electricity,
setup gardening and new medical facilities, and even get some computers facilitated
that could be used to hack into drones. It’s up to you, the player, in terms of
the areas you wish to focus on and the types of advancements you want to make
for your base and its facilities.
With each character having their own unique combination of
skills and traits, this impacts how you’re able to use them, and it’s important
to capitalise on the strengths of each whenever you can. Each character has
four primary skills that dictate how they can interact with the environment:
Cardio, Wits, Fighting and Shooting. Cardio determines how far you can run
before you’re fatigued, while Wits determines your stealth abilities, enemy
detection range and container searching speed.
Fighting and Shooting are exactly what you’d expect them to
be. The former dictates your level of health and ability with bladed, blunt weapons,
whilst the latter is tied to how good your overall aim is. Each of these skills
can be levelled up to seven stars as you play, simply by using them. The more
enemies you fight, the better your fighting skills gets. Once you’ve maxed out
a given skill, you earn the ability to specialize in it to earn increased
Many characters also have a fifth skill, some of which also
offer big benefits. For example, a mechanic’s specialization of engineering allows
you to craft silencers for ranged weapons and build upgrades for your vehicle,
whilst the gardening skill allows a survivor to plant seeds to grow and lead to
an ongoing replenishment of food supplies. Creating a constant stream of food,
water, ammo, fuel, and medical items will be crucial to your survival in State
of Decay 2. There’s also a shared community locker that offers everything your
group of survivors has collected, including weapons, ammo, bandages, snacks and
food, educational books to learn and improve skills, and other useful items.
As for your own inventory, this is where you carry whatever you
wish to bring when scavenging – and backpacks allow you to bring even more
essentials with you. It’s important to balance skills lethality, durability and
speed for the items you bring. There’s nothing worse than a gun jamming or a
baseball bat falling apart whilst in the middle of combat. A combination of
food, melee weapons, guns and ammo are essential – leaving room to grab more
items on the way. Fuel is also very important should you be bringing a vehicle
Balancing your inventory and supplies is also something to
consider when joining a friend’s game and choosing which survivor you’d like to
bring with you. Permadeath still applies here, so it’s important that you bring
the right survivor with the best tools for the job. You can level-up your survivor
and gather items when in another player’s game to bring back to your community,
but the main layer of progression will be tied to their base and their
storyline. You’ll also be tethered to the host, but you’re still offered a fair
amount of freedom, so this shouldn’t be too much of a worry for most players.
It just means you can’t do separate excursions, however.
You will earn influence points when in a friend’s game by successfully
completing activities, and you’ll also be able to drop items for others to pick
up, use and keep. You can also access your supplies and gear when in another
session with a friend, via their bases and outposts. Achievements are also
unlockable, and State of Decay 2’s set are mostly linear and easy to unlock
through simple progression. Co-op play will also reward you with special
rewards the longer you remain in another player’s game, so there’s many incentives
to enjoying State of Decay 2 online with friends.
Up to four players can be in a session at once, but unfortunately,
State of Decay 2 doesn’t use dedicated servers. It instead relies on peer-to-peer
hosting, which can be atrocious without the best internet connection. This can
result in frequent lag spikes, disconnects, as well as other weird glitches and
bugs when playing with friends. It can also take a toll on framerate and the overall
performance of the game. Why Undead Labs didn’t opt to use Microsoft’s Azure cloud
services in this game to power the co-op servers is beyond me, but here’s
hoping dedicated servers are added in the future.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only issue with State of Decay
2. The visuals aren’t too impressive for an Xbox One X Enhanced title either.
It runs in native 4K resolution with HDR, which results in some diverse and
incredible lighting effects, but the texture quality isn’t the best – nor are
the character models. The draw distance is also weak and pop-in is noticeable –
with blurry, low-quality assets made obvious when looking up ahead. There’s
even a weird screen-tear effect that occurs when driving fast at night time, whilst
framerate drops are frequent – even when you’re just chilling at your own base,
walking around and engaging with other survivors.
These are the types of issues you’d typically come to expect
from an early access title, but State of Decay 2 isn’t that at all. It’s a full
retail release available both physically and digitally, and whilst these issues
are unfortunate, they’re usually bearable for the most part, and I’m confident
Undead Labs will address them overtime based on fan-feedback. There’s also
other oddities, such as zombies falling from the sky in front of you, as well
as doors that appear open but are instead shut.
If you can forgive these issues, then you’ll have a lot of fun
with State of Decay 2. Its gripping, addictive gameplay saw me pour countless hours
across multiple nights over the past week into building up my base whilst also
trying to protect my survivors by gathering resources for the community. Some
reviews for State of Decay 2 have mostly focused on bugs, whilst others have
spoken about the experiences they’ve had in this zombie survival apocalypse. The
biggest issue with State of Decay 2 for me comes down to the co-op experience –
if this is addressed, the rest can be forgiven for the most part.
State of Decay on the Xbox 360 wasn’t without its issues, but
for its sequel, all fans wanted was that same experience with the addition of
online co-op, albeit more polished. One that would allow them to be able to
create their own base of survivors in a zombie-apocalypse simulation when friends. When it works, that’s exactly what State of Decay 2 delivers, but when the bugs
and server issues begin to hit, it can severely spoil that experience. There’s
nothing worse than your friends lagging all over the place when trying to fight
off a Juggernaut amongst a wave of the undead horde.
State of Decay 2 has delivered hours of fun for me, but in a
way, I feel like I’m only getting started. I need to establish more survivalist
groups, explore all the maps in detail, and build up an ever-expanding foundation
of resources for all my survivors. I also want to try and get a car collection
displayed outside my base – all modified, ready and waiting to obliterate
through the undead horde, before later trying to take over a Police Station
north of our base as an outpost, which has tons of useful facilities whilst
offering a more spacious environment for our community. Then perhaps establish
some computer whizzes to tap into the potential of taking over drones to use to
All of that will take even more hours to accomplish, and for
a game that’s being sold at $30, it makes you realize that you’re getting quite
a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to State of Decay 2. There’s so much simulated
depth to this game that many players will miss out on if they don’t dedicate
the time to it, and that’s a shame. State of Decay 2 might not have the quality
or polish of a full-fledged finished game, but at the end of the day, it’s
State of Decay, and there’s enough content here to please both newcomers and diehard
The adrenaline-rush of scavenging through locations to find items
combined with the fear of being suddenly attacked is immense. State of Decay 2
sets the atmosphere perfectly with its masterful use of music to set the tone and
drive tension through the player. There’s nothing quite like it – especially at
night time when you can oftentimes barely see a thing. Then there’s also the
choice factor. When scavenging through loot-filled areas, you can choose to
speed up the process, but at the risk of causing noise and luring zombies
towards you. It’s this worry, fear and tension that makes State of Decay 2 so
special, and in some circumstances, even unmissable – especially if you’re a zombie
State of Decay 2 also has satisfying combat mechanics that
can lead to either your survival or permanent death. It’s important to make the
best use of what you have in the current situation, and its dynamic gameplay
elements means anything could happen. However, it’s lack of overall polish and
attention-to-detail detracts from the overall experience, but this isn’t
unfixable. It’s on the Undead Labs team to continue updating, optimizing and
polishing the overall experience to make it the true sequel that State of Decay
fans deserve. I’ve enjoyed my time with the game, but there’s work to be done before
it becomes the ultimate must have for every zombie game fan out there – but
even now, it’s close.
State of Decay 2 has two different bundles available – the
Edition and the $50 Ultimate
Edition. The latter comes bundled with two upcoming downloadable content
packages, which features the Independence Pack and Daybreak Pack, as well as a downloadable
copy of the original game in the form of the State of Decay: Year One Survival
Edition on Xbox One.
The Independence Pack will introduce new patriotic-themed
vehicles, weapons and gear, whilst the Daybreak Pack introduces an all-new map
with new siege facilities, missions and a variety of events, including the
challenging new ‘Horde’ mode. It’s good value if you’re a State of Decay fan or
even a newcomer to the series, but if you’re concerned about the issues that
fans and reviewers have expressed, then it’s worth holding off on it for now –
especially if you’re mainly aiming to enjoy co-op with friends.
If you have an Xbox Game
Pass subscription – which is only $10 per month, you can enjoy State of
Decay 2 at no additional cost, and in my mind, it fits the bill perfectly for
it. With Xbox Game Pass, it’s worth downloading it and giving it a go, because who
knows, maybe in the future you can upgrade to the Ultimate Edition to add those
downloadable add-ons to your game experience.
Xbox Game Pass is a great way to discover State of Decay 2,
and I think it’ll find a new audience whilst also providing current fans
another way of enjoying the game before dropping their hard-earned cash on it.
State of Decay 2 has a lot of potential, and that potential can still be
unlocked. It’s addictive, fun and harsh – it’s also full of depth with unique simulation-driven
gameplay mechanics, and for that alone, it makes it well-worth checking out.
Alan is the co-founder and co-owner of FullThrottle Media. As someone who enjoys spending all his free time playing video games, he delivers the latest in news stories, reviews, and feature articles to the website, as well as videos on his YouTube channel and livestreams over on Mixer.