State of Decay 2 is out, and I know, I know, it’s not an MMO, but it does have online multiplayer in a shared world, as long as someone’s hosting. And I’ve been thoroughly sucked in.
Here’s the thing: It’s survival, it’s got a bit of a story, and you can immediately deal with griefers in the post-apocalypse and never have to see them again. I had great experiences with friends and foes alike, and I think some of you might feel the same if you give it a whirl.
Some of you may remember we recently talked about depictions of war in games at GDC, and I brought up a little game called This War of Mine. It’s a single player game, but feels like Oregon Trail for war: The setting, action, and gameplay are all things we’ve read or heard about from civilians who lived during wars when law and order weren’t exactly a thing. I got a generous amount of time to play it thanks to a free weekend shortly after the convention, and it was both enlightening and hugely depressing.
State of Decay 2 is similar, but with multiplayer. You control a group of survivors and manage their mental health, quirks, personal quests, and place in your society while also trying to secure basics, like food, water, medicine, and weapons to protect you from hostile neighbors and zombies. So, yeah, the zombie part’s clearly fantasy, as is the ability to dry loot an NPC faction’s house right in front of them with impunity, but other than that, I’m fairly immersed in the game world.
Each character has his or her own background. I don’t just mean, “Oh, there’s a good spectrum of people with different skin tones and sexual identities.” I mean there’s the depressed life coach who’s also a gamer, the adrenaline junkie who’s got his head on straight but lacks stamina, the bad-ass chick who talks to plants. These are people I feel like I know, and it’s probably for the best I can’t name them since I’ve gotten one of my first characters killed already in a violent encounter I couldn’t talk my way out of.
I’m the heroic pack rat type, and this game is soul crushing in the best way possible: I can’t help everyone, I’ve gotten people killed, and I struggle to choose what to bring and what to leave behind. Sometimes that thing you have a lot of and leave behind suddenly gets stolen while you’re away from the base, or you find a bunch of surplus bags (think parcels in ArcheAge) of that thing that was super rare before. Filling a car with supplies, switching through characters to divide loot, and doing your best to make it back alive is deeply satisfying, even if I can’t create my own character.
Playing with others
All of this makes a good single player game, so what does multiplayer add? The game’s already very inspired by modern zombie media. People call the zombies “zeds,” “Muertos,” and other names you’ve probably heard in the past decade or so beyond just “zombie.” Your own NPCs will abandon you mid-fight, either to return home because you nearly got them killed or because they’ve lost faith in you and your group.
And people can do the same, if only for a minute. It’s just enough to make things tense, but because you have the option to kick people out of your game, it’s brief enough to add excitement without totally screwing you over.
For example, one guy kept rushing through the various containers. Normally, slowly rummaging is safe, but speeding up the countdown risks making extra noise and attracting zombies. That, I could handle well enough with my NPC support and one other person. Then, while we were out, that guy blasted the horn to attract zombies on us and sped away in our car full of stuff. He didn’t make it far down the road before I kicked him. In my mind, he didn’t see a zombie in the backseat. Gameplay-wise, it was a bit of a hiccup we easily rectified.
As in Monster Hunter World, you can send up a flare and ask people to join you whenever you want, but with far fewer restrictions. I’ve heard there’s a tether to keep other players near you, but I’ve yet to see it work. You’re able to limit your invitations to friends only, but I don’t know anyone else using the PC Xbox Live option, so I’ve experienced the community. As always, it’s a mixed bag, but again, the kick ability is easy to access and responsive.
Sadly, basic communication is not. No one has been on voice chat yet when I’ve been on (and remember, my mic is always open on this platform since it’s clearly designed for console). There’s no typing ability. Instead, I have to mark waypoints and navigate through emotes in hopes that it gets my point across. Noting danger and crouching into stealth mode did communicate my desire to sneak past a zombie horde for one guy, but another took it as, “Lemme shoot my gun and Rambo this!” He was not kicked, but he did get himself killed while we ran to the car, leading him to quit.
While playing in someone else’s game means you don’t get to progress your own story, you do get loot and influence points for your characters, along with other character development (using guns increases the gun skill, going scavenging containers increases wit, etc.).
You also get loot you can bring back. Each player is assigned a color when he or she joins, and containers around the world are divided amongst you, the host, and anyone else who joins, up to four people max. To note, you don’t get access to your base or other characters, and you can’t easily transport those supply sacks/parcels. In fact, I noticed one of the parcels I picked up changed a bit when I returned to my own game.
Supposedly you get points for sticking around and doing stuff with the host, but none my encounters lasted that long as a volunteer (playing in other peoples’ games). Most people invited me when they were exploring, and that was fine. I’d usually stick around and help them scavenge, or I’d bring some of my gas to help keep their car fueled while I’d scavenge for food (long story).
Most people seemed appreciative, except for one time when my character spawned in someone’s wall. I couldn’t move, and for some reason, the “I’m stuck!” option becomes disabled when you visit someone else’s game. The guy finally ran away to do something else, but I never ported over to him, so I just ended up having to quit. I did have a host get upset that I was actually trying to look for loot, leading him to blast his car horn and ditch me, but I saw that move coming from a mile away and simply left, being glad that I hadn’t filled up his low gas tank yet.
Undead Labs’ State of Decay 2 certainly feels more geared towards PvE players who don’t want direct PvP in their survival games. Conan Exiles provides a flexible, open-ended system the same players could enjoy, but SOD2 is more story driven, has clearer goals, and offers much more tension when played alone. There’s no godmode temptation, so when combined with the other directed gameplay elements, I feel confident suggesting the game to people who come from a themepark background but want to explore a sandbox experience.
Again, don’t expect that just because there are rails, that’s all there is to it. You can’t take every mission. You can’t invest in one character. You can’t grab everything and skip along the way. You do need to make choices, and going off-road will reward you (unless we’re talking literally and you hit a big rock, in which cases you’re going to need the mechanic skill and some tools to fix your car). Having other people around is fun, but don’t expect to be getting phat loot. People are there for the experience, not the pixels, and that can be good or bad.
But State of Decay 2 has an experience you aren’t likely to find in a lot of games. It’s frustrating and depressing, but in a way that makes you want to see your band of misfits survive and thrive. To be able to jump into someone else’s game and help her achieve the same, or call in people to ensure your own group doesn’t permanently lose someone, is easy to appreciate for MMO players. Yes, opening your game to potential griefers can suck, but the ability to immediately kick them means you might get a quick story out of the encounter and remove them before they do too much damage. If you’re looking for a small scale, PvE survival experience with more control over who you multiplayer with, State of Decay 2 is great gaming experience that’s hard to find elsewhere, especially in the multiplayer realm.