State of Decay 2 officially released yesterday, and while I’ve only logged a few hours of the game, I thought I would note down the things that have stood out to me (for better or worse) so far.

Gameplay

The biggest improvement over the first game everyone was expecting was for a much smoother gameplay experience. The first game is known for its noticeable ‘jankiness’. Character animations seem unnatural and disjointed, something which was very noticeable in combat.

So far what I’ve seen in State of Decay 2 is a big improvement. Things move much smoother now, although sometimes in combat, particularly when using melee weapons, your character may move in somewhat unexpected ways.

Although it is smooth, it still feels a little sluggish at times, when you’re hopping over small obstacles for example the smooth transition into the ‘climb’ animation takes a little longer than it did before. While aesthetically pleasing, I think in this case it should have been function over form.

But all in all I’m happy with how movement has improved and the overall ‘jankiness’ seems to be gone.

Visuals

It certainly looks much better than the first game, but this is not a AAA title, so do not expect AAA looks. The graphics are middle of the road, on the whole it looks good, and I’m glad to see plenty of detail in interior buildings. The outdoors are still very sparse though. Anything off of the main roads or pathways is very empty, but there isn’t much to do out there anyway so I can see why resources were focused on the buildings/towns.

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Building details both inside and out have been greatly improved

The improved graphics seem to come at a price however, at least on Xbox One, as there is noticeable motion blur when looking around quickly, and the draw distance seems quite low. Obviously your mileage will vary here on PC and Xbox One X, but I can’t help but feel a little let down in this respect. Hopefully a patch will help with the draw distance in the future.

Game Mechanics

Okay, this is where State of Decay made its mark. It’s unique approach to the zombie survival genre is being able to control a variety of survivors, ranking each one up and making your community as a whole more capable of surviving. The other unique selling point, is permadeath. Make a mistake with any of your survivors and they could end up dead, with no way of bringing them back.

This is still the core of State of Decay 2, but much more refined and improved upon. Now we can select leaders and hero’s for our group of survivors. Each characters skill can be upgraded in more unique ways, called specialising, granting handy perks.

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Death is permanent, so pick your battles wisely

Each character in your community is also given a backstory, and have traits that may be useful (or a hindrance) in your community. This all feels better realised than it was in the original game, where the backstories were little more than interesting tidbits. Here, a characters background effects what skills they can upgrade, how beneficial they will be to community morale, which perks will be available when they are upgraded.

The background text is actually useful and you will consider it when deciding which character you want to rank up. This really helps you feel immersed in the game world, and creates a certain intimacy with your community members. In the original game, I really had only one or two characters I would play as, but now I want to play as a variety of people.

Surviving

Now we get down to the nitty gritty, what this game is all about. Survival.

In order to survive, you have to find enough food, materials, guns and ammo for your community to make it through each day. Too little medical supplies on hand, and people won’t recover from illness or trauma. Not enough food? Morale will plummet. You can upgrade your base with defensive or practical items such as watchtowers, gardens, and workbenches to keep on top of things, but if you can’t keep your community well stocked, then the next zombie attack may be the last.

Zombies aren’t the only thing to worried about either, as it’s been made clear that other groups of survivors can become your allies and enemies in this game, and although I am yet to experience it, the threat of rival groups out there, has made me focus on acquiring a lot more weapons and ammo.

Scavenging the local buildings and towns will provide you with just enough resources to get by. You can convert some buildings into outposts, increasing the safe area, and proving a resource bonus. Everything is finite however, so once you’ve cleared a town, it stays empty. Thankfully there are 3 separate maps you can move to and from when one area runs out of resources. Each time you move, resources are reset.

The sequel has stuck with the scavenging to survive mechanic, which some would say is the most tedious part of the game, as you will frequently be travelling to and from your base hunting down supplies, but I would disagree. It’s when you realise you’re low on food and have to make a risky excursion to the nearest building you haven’t already picked clean, in the dead of night, with limited ammo, and low health, that you realise what makes this game so good. It’s utterly unforgiving.

Had I planned better, or maybe built a garden instead of an infirmry, or traded with another local community, I wouldn’t have to make this risky trip for food. But I didnt, and now I have to take my battered character out on another run. There’s no fuel left for the car, so I’ll have to make the trip by foot.

So as I venture out into the dark, my flashlight barely illuminating the ground at my feet, I’m reminded of why I love this game so much. If I mess up on this run, my main character is gone forever, and my community is in jeopardy. If I make it back with enough food, we just might make it another day…

-James

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