Review by universaltofu
So to first explain some things, I gave the game a 4/5 because that's usually how many containers you find in a house before triple checking every room for the last one, also because while I absolutely understand the general meta rating with the game's technical shortcomings, this is still a game that is compelling and layered enough to put a bunch of time into and enjoy yourself with. It isn't a hard value proposition to deny, if you got it for free on game pass that's cool, and at 30~ dollars it's fair, though getting it on sale for 20~ or lower should make it all the more enticing. It's not a rock solid great of all time, though it is satisfying, addicting, with no fatigue setting in. I haven't played the first State of Decay, so I'm lacking that context in how this game changes or improves things.
Getting into it, some things to expect from this game, and some things I'd like to see expanded upon or more fleshed out for the future. You start out the game with character selection, not a huge decision to make, just some background flavor since every other survivor you add to your ranks is random in a sense, they will have skills and traits to set them apart from each other, though this game isn't about character relationships or telling a big overarching zombie opera story, so who you choose at the beginning is more or less inconsequential. This game is about decision making, keeping your team of survivors happy at the base, plotting out what you need to do, where you need to go, what you need to bring with you, what you'll need to bring what you want back, and then whether or not at any point in going out and taking care of a mission you wind up trying to help out another character or check out one more place to loot only to find yourself far from home carrying too much stuff with only a pocket knife to defend yourself with since your gun jammed and your melee weapon broke. You need to be aware of what actions you do that make noise, as here the zombies are attracted to noise, so you can loot faster with the risk of drawing zombies, you power your base with a generator, you can drive around in cars, you can fire your gun, just do it knowing the risk at any given time or place. Of course the difficulty and challenge and punishment could all be more amped up and severe, the game overall is fairly easy, though that doesn't stop me from savoring the moment to moment risk analysis and getting into the setting and role playing element. What's more is getting into the base management and finding the people who have the skills and traits you want to better serve your style and goals for each map and each run. You'll start out with a house for a base, and as the game goes on and you recruit more survivors, you'll be able to move into a larger base with more space to build things and make use certain character skills.
The game is about building a legacy, so you start in one of three areas, and then you go about trying to eradicate plague hearts which are just big pulsing heart things scattered through the map that you destroy, though they are resilient and draw a lot of enemies when being damaged, so come prepared. Unfortunately the encounters with plague hearts aren't as dynamic as I would like, there isn't really any progression to them, some are in more precarious spots than others, though nothing significant changes about them as you proceed. Plague hearts are the primary goal of the map, though just as much you want to focus on your leader and their goals, there are four main types of people who can be elected to your leader position, and then once they are you can pursue their quest line, be it for a trader, or a sheriff, whichever you like. From there you have other groups of survivors to help or ignore, you have quest lines to follow of certain characters in your party as they come up, and you have the general goal of survival and keeping the base stocked up on various supplies (food, meds, ammo, materials, and fuel). The game does a great job at letting you know what to prioritize, if the base is unhappy for some reason, you'll see a short list of things you can do to improve moral, maybe there is an infestation nearby, or some facility the base could use, or some resource that needs replenishing. Once your goals are met, you can move on to the next map, bringing a handful of survivors with you to start over again with your skills retained and whatever items your chosen characters are holding. So you can keep going and clearing out each map over and over, continually refining your approach to things.
Speaking more on skills and traits, you have some universal stuff like cardio (how much your character can run around before tiring) or fighting, then you also have specialized things like carpentry, or mechanics, or gardening, and these can be useful for letting you craft certain things at your base. Then with traits you have stuff which influences morale passively and other things that are easier to see like a bigger health bar. There are books which can be used to teach a character a skill if they have space for it. As you run around and loot stuff, you'll level up the skills which grants more boosts to their effectiveness and with stuff like mechanics, it can be upgraded into auto-mechanics allowing you to build a facility in your base to craft upgrade mods for your cars which are otherwise pretty rare to come by. It is a cool system which I would love more of, with more flexibility. Like I would love to be able to make a character forget a skill, and teach them another one, I would love to see the skill tree continue on past where it goes currently since this a game that you could potentially replay dozens and dozens of times, there should be a bit more to play around with there.
Combat is simple, mostly just mashing the attack button with occasional finishers and contextual moves, though the crunchy sound you get from wailing on zombies makes it feel good. The shooting is nice, control wise feels comfortable, though gunplay isn't anything spectacular. They sound great. Sneaking, driving, looting, everything works. Menus are mostly decent with a little bit of a curve to learn some things that will make the goings easier like being able to directly send rucksacks full of resources from the trunk of your vehicle to the base when it's parked instead of taking each backpack up one at a time. You can have a member of your base follow your character to have an extra pair of hands around for carrying rucksacks when looting or backup for when taking out
There are plenty of little things that could be ironed out, you see a bunch of things in the background fill in as you move about, and sometimes things pop in as the game catches up to you moving. Some collision issues, always seems that partner characters need to do a dive roll fifteen feet past and through car before they casually jog back up to the passenger door and get in normally. If you get surrounded by a group of zombies it can be janky trying to get out of it, especially in tight spaces with little furniture about. The game looks alright though, and does a great job of letting night time be appropriately dark, letting the glowing eyes of zombies stand out.
There is the option to call for help from a human player, or in turn help out a human player in need. I haven't yet done too much with other players. There is dlc and some updates coming which are nice, thankfully not a glut of season pass, deluxe gold nutbar edition nonsense to wade through, just a modest amount of additions to check out if you are so inclined.
The maps are cool, can be a little intimidating at the start, though it doesn't take too long to get how things have been arranged and get a sense of what you will find. Even in seeing certain house or store layouts used repeatedly, everything is placed out quite intuitively so each map while same-y in a sense still feels distinct. There are radio towers and billboards to climb atop to look around and survey parts of the area, and the character you are using will tend to vocalize when they see a place that could serve as an outpost. Outposts are nice little bonuses that can pull in extra resources for the base, and also serve as a way to store and retrieve items from the cache when away from the base. It would be nice if you could also have a way to fast travel between outposts, though I can jive with the decision to not have that in order to maintain that risk of straying too far from base without a plan to get back.
So far I'm over thirty hours in, have about 80% of the achievements knocked out, looking to keep the established community going and see through the other legacy goals. Like I said upfront, I think the game is great, not an all time great, though one I'm thoroughly enjoying for now, and feel the hook of the game offsets the rough edges. The game isn't frustrating or a broken mess, it isn't overly obtuse or un-playable. Kill some zombies, manage a base, do some light role playing. It's free to check out if you have game pass, it is reasonably priced otherwise and should give you your money's worth on sale especially, it's a nice little exclusive for xbox and pc, and it delivers a great zombie experience with how you are pulled in every direction trying to appease your community of survivors and your own want to explore and loot while also not obnoxiously pushing dlc content.
Product Release: State of Decay 2 (US, 05/22/18)
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