At this point in time, I have 64 hours invested in State of Decay 2. I have not played all of the maps or even tried all of the difficulties, or even completed a single community yet but from what I have gathered reading online and throughout my own play is basically all there is to the game (if you disagree, i don’t care).
On my first community, I reached basically the end of the mode right up to the last plague heart and have the best base on the map, set up to provide resources each day so it’s self sustaining, a bunch of rare and powerful weapons, every character maxed out–what I’m saying is there isn’t much more for me to do and that’s the problem.
I kind of want to keep this community exactly where it is and never progress, so it just feels relaxing every time i play and I don’t have to worry about scavenging or missing out on missions. Nonetheless, it feels like there’s basically nothing else to do anyways, so why can’t I bring myself to finish this campaign?
When you start the game, there is so much to learn and do, the game gives you a tutorial that covers almost nothing in terms of coming to understand the macro management parts of the game. For better or worse, that makes you feel like there’s a bigger world out there for you to figure out, and you will with time. As I got acquainted, I learned what vehicles were important to me, the importance of allies on the map, the tiers of weaponry provided, all this despite no real explanation in the game how these things work. As your knowledge gap between where you start and where you end up contracts you reach a point where you either finish the game whenever you want in one hour or drag it our indefinitely. That’s because there is basically no story elements in this game. Each character has side stories for you to do, about 3-4 each, but they’re pretty meaningless unless they grant you some item you didn’t have before, they don’t change anything for your play through aside from that, you complete it and you’re done. You reach this point of “Why do I bother?” All those things you did in the beginning, grinding for resources, building your community with valuable members, forging alliances with neighbors, guarding your territory from hostile communities, its much less fulfilling when you’ve done each things 50 times and now you don’t need to do them at all.
This is not The Walking Dead
I’ve got no idea what fascinates me so much about the zombie genre, but when The Walking Dead t.v. show came out I was thrilled to have such compelling story-telling, drama and character development occur in a modern-day landscape. When I played State of Decay Year One, there was an immediate sense of, “oh man, this is so close to being a Walking Dead clone!” and over time, you realize the game is much much much less than that. So when they announced a second one was on its way, I thought, “Alright, if that was the plain version I can’t wait to see what they do with more funding and stronger direction the second time round.”
Missions are so stale. Once you’ve done something once, you’ve done it a hundred times. It never gets harder, or more surprising, or more fun. There’s dozens of ways the game itself could throw some wrench in the mission formula, or a benefit, but you’ll be disappointed to expect much variety or consequence to your actions. Even enemy factions never really do anything to hurt you, you just might get shot at if you go over there, but not a one-hit kill, so you can pretty much avoid them easily or trespass whenever you want provided you’re not actively trying to die. It would be so interesting if the hostile factions were more of an element of chaos in this game, or foils to implement story-building elements into as what happens in The Walking Dead. An easy way to do this is just to have your actual home base come under some sort of threat if an enemy faction is angry enough, or perhaps if they’re left alone enough then that makes them overconfident? All they do is exist somewhere on the map until a member of your community or a random mission points out they’re alive and that you should kill them. Even exiling someone just exits that character from the entire map, instead of them creating a hostile or allied faction of their own and maybe generating new missions from that experience.
This is not Left4Dead
Since the main conflict in the game is not your community vs. enemy community, naturally you would think the main conflict is your community vs. the zombies. Well, not really. The zombies are there, they are obstacles to overcome but once you get a leg up either through your in-game advantages or the knowledge you’ve built from doing the same thing over again so nothing really surprises you, they really aren’t much of a factor. It’s hard to describe the exact error, but I think the fact zombie events are so telegraphed is a huge part of the problem. I never felt dread walking into any situation that meant conflict with zombies. There were times I was worried I might lose a character due to a combination of my not going out with the necessary precautions and a stubbornness not to retreat from a fight, no matter the odds. And for all that, I still came out victorious every. single. time. (I only lost two characters on my first run because it was the very first time I met a hostile faction and I was completely not aware of what they would do or even that they would become hostile).
When I first played Left4Dead, it became very very clear that the game does not care at all what you experienced just 60 seconds ago when you played this exact same part of the level and died. No, this time you’re gonna be fine! Or it’s gonna be worse. A lot worse. You literally never know, and you have no time to recalculate your choices because everything is happening so fast. Here, you have so much time to consider what you’re stepping into, because the map is so open to a fault, there are no linear areas that could trap you and there’s no attempt to give you dungeons/buildings which you would need to explore or fight through that limit your options for escape. They gave us a huge map with a bunch of homogeneous buildings littered with enemies that you can see 100 meters away.
So what is the game?
I am convinced that State of Decay 2 is a base management game. The base management aspect of the game is easily the most complex and rewarding part of the game when you figure it out. Balancing morale, resource income, facility options, mods, ally bonuses, community traits, labor, weapons, consumables, this is the game. It didn’t become more clear to me than when I acquired the best base on Providence Ridge, which allowed me to be fully self sustaining, which allowed me to clear all of my side missions off the map, including infestations, which allowed me to max out all of my character stats for all of my characters, which allowed me just do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted because the “game” was beaten. The whole impetus for your community to survive is the struggle to attain resources, once you figure out how to make the base work for you to do this on its own, because there is no story driving you to complete the map, you’ve basically hit the endgame.
This would be more fun and interesting if the choices weren’t so obvious. Your group has too many people? Find a bigger base. You have the biggest base but too many people? Exile a survivor (there’s no consequences anyways). You need one particular resource? Use the radio to find some for you, or build a facility to produce that resource, or claim an outpost that contributes those resources to your community. Eventually, its very easy to not only survive but sustain once you have the right size community. Each survivor contributing different key skills is nice, but not necessary to thrive.
The fun parts
That said, I’ve had a decently good time playing the game, getting to know my thin character stories, and figuring out how to survive and thrive. I’ll never forget the first time I encountered other hostile factions that blew up at me because I ticked them off during a negotiation. Making allies of other groups that contribute skills or resources is interesting and useful. There’s also these sick finishers that your survivors can use when you unlock them for heavy weapons and sharp weapons, but why they didn’t implement finishers for blunt weapons I will never understand. Helping friends is rewarding and a nice getaway from the problems of your own game, kind of puts a hold on using your resources while you pick up things in their session.
In the end
These fun moments aren’t enough to sustain the game experience. The pitfalls of continuing amount to too much of a known outcome. I had a fun time playing, and I will probably return, but the formula doesn’t lend itself to much more play. The bounty system is fun, makes things easier when you have reputation to buy your winnings with, but its not a core part of the game anyways, and kind of breaks the system by easing the difficulty of scavenging to survive. All in all, this game is a modest but poorly executed sequel to the first game, and delivers barely anything new to the franchise besides a great coop experience.