State of Decay 2 review: Brain dead apocalyptic survival

Credit: Microsoft Studios
Credit: Microsoft Studios /

State of Decay 2’s is supposed to showcase the challenges of surviving a zombie apocalypse in a community, but overcoming the game’s repetitive mechanics is the real test.

Title: State of Decay 2
Developer: Undead Labs
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: Xbox One, PC (version reviewed)
Release Date: May 22, 2018

We were out on a supply run when I got a radio call from one of the nearby groups of survivors. Apparently, a different group stole their medical supplies, and they were running low. Trying to do the right thing, I offered to recover the stolen supplies for them but only through peaceful means.

Unfortunately, my attempts to talk to the accused group peacefully went sour quickly, resulting in a loud firefight that attracted a horde of nearby zombies. I ended up losing one of my most valued community members trying to fight off both incoming zombies and the gun-wielding hostile humans. Just another day in State of Decay 2.

State of Decay 2 tries to bring a sliver of realism to its zombie survival gameplay, including permadeath. Your community is unique, and no two playthroughs work out the same way. In the end, it’s all about the choices you make to improve your community of survivors. You must utilize every members’ unique skillsets and identities to navigate an open world filled with both zombie and human enemies alike.

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If you are looking for some zombie hunting, State of Decay 2 is chock full of it. But if you are looking for a deep and compelling story to be handed to you on a silver platter, then you should look elsewhere. State of Decay 2 plays similar to a roguelite with a heavy focus on mechanics over the narrative. You are meant to make your own story.

To start off your community, you select a preset couple of characters with existing relationships such as longtime friends or bad-tempered siblings. The selection screen presents you with a backstory on each of them, which implies their relationship will have some effect on the game. But outside of just a few canned voice lines, their relationship ultimately doesn’t matter at all.

State of Decay 2
Credit: Microsoft Studios /

As you round up more survivors to fill out your community, you are given info about their personality traits and little tidbits about their past lives. You would think personal relationships amongst a community, especially in a survival setting, are pretty important. But for the most part, the personalities of your characters well by the wayside. Sure, maybe Samantha would be upset if you didn’t have a garden while Charlie would be worried if there your home base had no watchtower.

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However, group morale seems more reliant on just having enough supplies and utilizing everyone appropriately. I never felt any attachment to any of the characters’ personalities. When I lost that one group member in the aforementioned firefight, I was more worried about how I was going to recover the guns he was carrying than the fact he just died.

State of Decay 2 went all in on the survival and resource management aspect of its gameplay, leaving character growth and personality to cheesy one-liners and cringy complaints about the state of your base.

State of Decay 2
Credit: Microsoft Studios /

State of Decay 2 at its core is a resource management game. You have to manage food, medicine, building materials, scraps, ammo, and fuel. Different activities require different resources. You can build different facilities in your base, such as a garden to create food or an infirmary to heal your party from wounds.

These activities can also eat up certain resources, require prerequisites like power or water, or require special skills from your party members. Not to mention you can utilize outposts as extensions to your base to passively obtain materials. It’s a game of checks and balances, figuring the right combination to stabilize your community.

When you first start out, things can get pretty hectic. State of Decay 2 throws a lot at you from the getgo, between resource gathering, community quests, nearby zombie infestations, and other human groups nearby constantly buzzing you on the radio for help. I like that the game forces you to make tough decisions. You can’t reasonably help everyone and maintain your own community’s well being and morale. This includes the ability to exile or even kill an infected human.

State of Decay 2
Credit: Microsoft Studios /

Luckily, it’s relatively easy to cure the Blood Plague using the infirmary and recovered samples from Plague Zombies. These special zombies spawn from Plague Hearts, which are spread out across the map. Your primary goal is to destroy all of these blood covered masses of alien-like flesh to wipe the plague from your area.

I just couldn’t help but feel the combat turn stale by the tenth hour of smashing the attack button or driving zombies over again and again.

Killing these Plague Hearts is one of the more challenging tasks in the game, as they are tucked away in small corners of buildings, only take damage from guns or explosives, and summon waves upon waves of zombies to prevent you from destroying it. Once you get your hand on some explosives, these fights get exponentially easier, but they still provide some heart-pounding moments of anxiety.

Outside of these Plague Heart encounters, though, State of Decay 2‘s combat is pretty repetitive. You can equip a melee weapon and a gun, along with your always equipped dagger. Guns are loud, and ammo is hard to come by, so you will spend most of your time hacking away at zombies up close. This essentially equates to mashing the attack button over and over, and occasionally dodging to get in better position to continue hacking away.

The combat and gunplay are fluid, and the kill animations are bloody awesome and gruesome. Not to mention how amusing it is blowing over zombies with your car or clotheslining them with open car doors as you zoom by. I just couldn’t help but feel the combat turn stale by the tenth hour of smashing the attack button or driving zombies over again and again.

State of Decay 2
Credit: Microsoft Studios /

The repetitive combat is indicative of the game’s grindy nature as a whole. The various quests that pop up both within members of your community and neighboring communities do add some flavor, but many of them are pretty similar.

I can’t count the number of times I had to escort someone to a different building or clear a building to find some random item they lost. Even with the little variety they do add, you can only do so many of them before you need to refocus on gathering supplies and ensuring your own home base is intact.

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  • Perhaps the most variety in gameplay comes in the shape of your community leader’s special missions. Once you promote a member to the group leader position and clear out all of the map’s Plague Hearts, you can complete a series of quests specific to the type of leader you chose. For example, the Builder missions focus on strengthening up your base, while the Warlord missions are all about survival through combat and taking out other communities.

    There are only a handful of these special missions, though, and are essentially the State of Decay 2‘s end game content. Once you complete these missions, your playthrough is finished, and you can’t go back to it. As a reward, you are granted a passive boon that carries over to future communities. I struggled with finding the motivation to fully explore an entirely new playthrough with a whole new community though.

    State of Decay 2 boasts three maps, each the size of the map in the first game. However, when you start a community, you have to choose one of those maps to start your base on. As you progress, you have the option to explore the neighboring lands. But this essentially restarts your entire community from scratch since you are leaving your base and most of your gear behind.

    Each map is best explored in an individual playthrough. Each map is fairly large with a lot to explore though, so it will take some time to explore it all fully. It’s just a matter of how much of the same repetitive gameplay loop you want to put up with.

    State of Decay 2
    Credit: Microsoft Studios /

    Unfortunately, its graphics and performance don’t make up for State of Decay 2‘s shortcomings either. The vast number of glitches and bugs plaguing State of Decay 2 stood out to me. I had NPCs get stuck in the ground or walls, the sound completely cutting out, glitches opening doors, loot falling from the sky, and the dreaded hard game crashes. Crashes were particularly rough due to the game only saving at certain points.

    When the game was working, the most frustrating issue I ran into was the NPC’s inability to get into vehicles for some reason. If I ever had more than one follower on a mission with me, for whatever only one of them would get into a car with me, but magically show up at our final destination.

    In general, the A.I. pathing seemed buggy and inefficient, with characters frequently taking weird routes to meet me including climbing over two fences when a clear path was right next to them.

    State of Decay 2
    Credit: Microsoft Studios /

    State of Decay 2 does offer cooperative gameplay, a new addition from its predecessor. While I played almost entirely solo, I could definitely see the appeal of playing this game with friends, especially considering how useless the NPC followers felt at times.

    You can quickly drop in and out of other player’s games using your own community members, allowing you to gather resources for your community and your buddy’s community at the same time. I could see this being a much more enjoyable way to play the game, and help break up the monotony of grinding resources by yourself.

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    State of Decay 2 has its fair share of stressful and challenging moments, but they are few and far between in the long run. The $30 price point helps ease the pain a little, but it’s hard to fully recommend unless you are a big fan of the survival genre.

    6. <em>State of Decay 2</em>‘s survival mechanics and combat are enjoyable at first, but quickly grow stale after repeating the same actions over and over.  It has a few shining moments, but its execution is ultimately rather lackluster and shallow. The only true horror in this zombie survival game is its numerous technical issues.. Undead Labs. . State of Decay 2

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.