First impressions of State of Decay 2: Frolicking fun with friends and zombies

    
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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.

Managing decay

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.

PvE survival

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.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?

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kelvar

Just to be really clear, so people can set their expectations while playing coop…

When you’re in a host’s game you are basically a hired gun. You’ll not be able to participate in any of the community building, structures, use any of the facilities (except the storage), or contribute in any meaningful way except as a silent bodyguard (you cannot speak to the survivors either).

So if you had to plan to go at this game with a friend and build a community together (as we had)… you can’t.

It was pretty disappointing, we’ve played for an hour or so and shelved the game. Too bad we couldn’t buy from Steam, else we’d have asked for a refund.

(Of course none of this speaks to the huge amount of bugs, but those’ll be fixed in time, this is a gameplay choice that we cannot overcome).

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kelvar

Also, for what it’s worth – I complained to Microsoft and they gave me a refund (despite the no refund policies). When they asked why I told them about the game breaking bugs I encountered in single and multiplayer.

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Peregrine Falcon

So State of Decay – 2 – is out. Meanwhile, DayZ, which started this entire genre, is still in ‘early access alpha’. How silly is that?

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Space Captain

I’ve been playing this today. It’s janky, buggy and doesn’t really explain half the systems properly but the core gameplay loop is super compelling. The permadeath system is crushing and exciting at the same time. I’ve only played 3-4 hours so far but I’m definitely enjoying myself.

hurbster
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hurbster

Eurogamer really hated this, I’m conflicted now.

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Aaron Biegalski

The moment it releases on Steam, I’m in! Zero interest it getting it from Windows Store.

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Caley Kastigen

I also really want to play this game but as has been said a lot from streams and youtube, the game is horrifically buggy. UL seem to have some QA issues since lets be honest even the 1st one was buggy too. What I think I’m gonna do is grab a 14 day free trial for Gamepass and try it out for free if I like it enough even with the bugs I’ll buy if it gets supremely frustrating i’ll wait for the fixes.

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nobleeinherjar

I really want to play this game, but I’m going to wait until it gets a few patches. And even then, I might wait to see if it gets something like the first game’s YOSE release. Hopefully, between now and that possible future, the game will release on Steam or GOG, too. I don’t want anything to do with the Windows Store.

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Sorenthaz

From what I’ve seen/heard SoD2 seems to be a game probably worth giving a bit of a wait until they sort out bugs and the initial hurdles of a small dev studio attempting to do multiplayer when they haven’t done it before.

Definitely looks good and could be fun, but would rather wait til they iron the kinks out. Also it -might- release on Steam sometime in the later future.

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Greaterdivinity

Still need to play the first one, but looking forward to this release. I just hope that they can get a handle on all the bugs/issues that apparently plague it right now.

It’s frustrating that Microsoft hasn’t been able to land any solid “wins” with their first party releases lately. Both this and Sea of Thieves are promising titles, but neither really sat well with critics and Sea of Thieves got a mixed response from fans too. Microsoft really needs to stop up their game on the first/second party front, and unless Crackdown 3 has made massive leaps forward from the past 4 years of showings it’s looking like that may be another critical miss. They really need some hits, especially in the face of Sony pumping out incredible exclusive after incredible exclusive : /

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Dug From The Earth

My biggest issue with these Microsoft exclusive games… is the Windows Store.

Its super awful.

Not just from a “I dont like the color blue” perspective, but from a “it often doesnt function” perspective. Tons of people couldnt even download Sea of Thieves when it was released. State of Decay 2 wont even let me by it. It click to preorder and nothing happens. Trying to group with friends in multi games is like having to build a key out of legos and an easy bake oven just to drive a car.

I know a lot of people dont buy simply based on that alone.

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NeoWolf

To be fair had Microsoft not been paying most of the bills for this second game I don’t think it would have been a Microsoft Store exclusive it would have likely been on steam and gog etc.. like the first one. But Microsoft have never played well with others :)

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BalsBigBrother

It may well end up on steam at some point or at least the faq on the website seems to indicate that.

What about Steam?
Stay tuned – we’ll have more to share in the future.

My feeling is that it will stay a microsoft store exclusive for six months or so and that may include any planned dlc. Then undead labs will release Game of the Year bundle that will end up on all the usual store platforms such as steam / gog to give the franchise another lease of life (hehe)

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Greaterdivinity

I can’t recall if Microsoft bought Undead Labs (I don’t think so?), but if they didn’t then I wouldn’t be surprised if they essentially rolled out the same way that Quantum Break did. W10 exclusive for a while then off to Steam with a slightly different version (IIRC W10 had DX12 support, Steam didn’t).

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NeoWolf

I don’t think they bought them?? I think it was simply a publishing deal for the second game, exclusivity was likely part of it.

As an interesting aside I remember when I backed the first game Undead labs had stated their plan for a second game was an MMO… clearly that plan changed hehe SoD2 looks fun though I preordered it and have been watching @CohhCarnage stream it on twitch for the last few days.

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Greaterdivinity

Yeah, they announced a while back that they scrapped the MMO version of the game entirely, IIRC. So we’ll get more single/multiplayer State of Decay games instead I suppose. I’m alright with that, but I do wish they would still release an MMO version at some point.

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Sorenthaz

As long as I get the super hero roaming shenanigans back in Crackdown 3, I’ll be content with it. It’s very hard to screw something like that up.

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Greaterdivinity

I was hype for that for a while, but at this point given how long it’s been delayed and how underwhelming its showing was last E3 (Terry Crews bit in the trailer was by far the most hype), my hopes aren’t high.

I’d been really hoping that it would be out by now and be a fucking incredible showcase of a great game and their Azure cloud tech (which continues to thus far be nothing more than a massive broken promise as it’s largely only been used for dedicated server hosting functions).