Welcome to Save State, where we are perpetually in a state of decay. Well, if that didn’t give it away, the game I randomly picked out of my Steam backlog to play over the last couple weeks was the sequel to a game I greatly enjoyed on the Xbox 360: State of Decay 2. The State of Decay titles are zombie survival simulators where you take control of a group of survivors as they try to live during a zombie apocalypse. You can share food and supplies with your neighbors in an attempt to recruit them, but death is always lurking around every corner.
The general idea of State of Decay 2 is that the game is one part zombie sandbox, one part life sim. You control your selected character and venture around the map looking for food, medicine, and other supplies to keep your survivors healthy and, well, alive. Adding more survivors to your camp means more people to help build and maintain facilities in your base like gardens or watchtowers, but it also means more mouths to feed. Your survivors are also gone for good if they happen to die, with no option to ever resurrect them. So if there’s one character you particularly like, you better be careful with them or else you might lose all you invested in them because of a stray feral zombie.
There’s a decent variety of weapons players can loot, from pistols that use 9mm ammunition, to powerful rifles that take .50 AP rounds. You’ll eventually hit a point where you can craft your own ammo, but .50 caliber rounds and the weapons that use them are balanced around the fact that their ammunition is expensive to craft, in spite of the fact that they one-shot most zombies effortlessly. There’s also a good variety of melee weapons players can use, with blunt weapons being excellent for knocking zombies down for you to coup de grace them, and bladed weapons having high chances to cut off zombie limbs or heads.
I skipped over the story mode in State of Decay 2 largely because this game fancies itself more of a sandbox. There’s little character interactions here or there with the bevy of quests you will be inundated by, but for the most part there’s no overarching story as you loot the map and destroy Plague Hearts and infestations that spawn tons of zombies. Each leader type in State of Decay 2 has a few primary quests they need to do, along with destroying each Plague Heart spawning plague zombies on the map, and clearing all of those will give you a final mission that lets you restart on a different map or continue playing on your current one.
The closest thing to a story mode in State of Decay 2 is the Heartland DLC (that comes bundled in with the game, now), which takes place in Trumbull Valley, the map from the first State of Decay. In Heartland there are zombies with an advanced form of blood plague that’s actually more deadly than in the main version, and you’ll have to contend with that while you complete a variety of missions to find some people with whom communications have dropped. Another DLC pack, Daybreak, is a zombie horde defense mode where you need to keep a technician alive until morning. Clearing runs of Daybreak will yield unlockable bonuses you can use in the main game of State of Decay 2, which is neat.
For the main version of State of Decay 2, each survivor has skills they come with- four core skills and an optional fifth skill. The core skills, like Cardio and Wits, will indicate how long your survivor can sprint or how quickly they search lootable containers. The optional skills are extremely valuable, and survivors who don’t have a fifth skill can be taught any one the player needs once they find facilities or textbooks that teach the skills you want. Having a character that knows how to make a garden can make a tremendous impact on your food supply as the days go on, for example, and skills like Medicine can be upgraded into Plague Pathology, which can help your survivors live through attacks by plague zombies.
There’s a variety of zombie types players will need to keep a look out for, too, in State of Decay 2. Plague zombies, for example, can attack and give your characters an infection that they have to cure before too much time has elapsed, or they die. Screamers call other zombies to their location, and are typically found in infested houses across the map. The big boys, Juggernauts, are zombie forces of nature that will require a ton of ammo to take down if you don’t have powerful rifles, and given that they’re pretty capable of annihilating you and your followers with relative ease, they’re a zombie you should only take on if you have a number of grenades and powerful weapons, otherwise they’ll kill anyone following you swiftly and without remorse.
You can have survivors from your group and others follow you in State of Decay 2, which can be very helpful for no other reason than giving you extra backpack slots to carry loot. However, the follower AI is very stupid. Extremely, dishearteningly, soul-crushingly stupid. They’re stupid to the extent that I fervently believe you should never take an AI follower with you on a mission that’s any higher than baby difficulty, because they’ll just get themselves killed.
The only characters I lost across four runs of the game on increasing difficulty settings were AI followers- not once did the character I was playing get murdered by anything. However, I’ve watched an AI follower suddenly stop any and all actions during a zombie attack for no reason whatsoever, and die. No shooting, no dodging, no moving, the AI just got stuck so they stood there while zombies attacked them and died. I saw another AI follower, while I was trying to destroy a Plague Heart in a country house, run and jump into a window while I was sneaking around the building to find which room the Plague Heart was in (throwing explosives through a window is a fantastic way to kill a Plague Heart without risking much injury). The AI follower was dead before I even registered that they had jumped inside the building for no reason, and of course the Plague Heart roared and summoned a large number of zombies to the location, which was super fun… though that’s Lethal difficulty level for you, I guess.
Outside of the AI follower characters being blissfully unaware and painfully stupid, State of Decay 2 is a lot of fun. It’s excellent for drop-in, drop-out multiplayer with friends, and the Daybreak mode can be a fantastic way to reinvigorate your enjoyment of it by playing something that’s a massive change of pace. Collecting goods, building your base just how you want it with gardens, training facilities, and workshops, and setting up outposts across the map is just a ton of fun, and once you clear a map, you get a bonus based on which leader you chose (like electricity and running water in your bases for free for the next run attempt), which makes you want to do another playthrough, too.
Players afraid of perma-death mechanics, or who just don’t like zombie titles, may want to stay away from State of Decay 2, but those who enjoy zombie sandbox games with base building mechanics will find a lot to enjoy in State of Decay 2. With that said, we can probably bring this entry of Save State to a close. Catch us again in two weeks, same bat time, same bat channel.
Developers: Undead Labs
Platforms: Steam, Xbox 360, Xbox One