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State of Decay 2 Impressions

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This morning as I alluded to yesterday morning…  I am going to talk a bit about my experiences with State of Decay 2.  This game is officially released today, but has been out for anyone who pre-ordered the game since last Friday the 18th.  Now I had every intent of playing this game on the Xbox One, in part because I really did not want the Windows Store nonsense in my life.  This game has been funded in part by Microsoft and as a result they have made a bit of an exclusivity grab forcing it to be released on the Xbox One console and the Windows Store initially…  though I assume at some point in the future it will also be available on the more important storefront of PC gaming…  Steam.  When you buy the game however you are essentially purchasing two copies and can shift back and forth between console and PC through cloud saves.  This is a fact I am super glad about…  but I will get into that more closely in a few minutes.

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I preloaded State of Decay 2 on my Xbox One and last Friday night when I got home from work I fired it up hoping to lose myself in the zombie filled world.  This however was what I was greeted with…  a muddy mess.  Unfortunately a number of my attempts to save screenshots on the Xbox One failed but the game was filled with a number of glitches and extremely poor textures.  It honestly felt like maybe I was back playing a game on the Xbox 360 which was a bit shocking as I had already at this point seen footage recorded on the Xbox One X.  Therein lies the problem I feel…  that maybe Undead Labs was directed to really push that 4k gaming version on the more powerful console…  and as a result those of us with vanilla Xbox One consoles are going to have a sub par experience.  On top of the look…  there were issues where the HUD would just start flickering for no apparent reason and there was a moment when my health bar and map widget disappeared completely.  There was absolutely no way I could stomach playing the game in this state and I started to get extremely sad and frustrated.

Upon logging out that Friday night I opted to swallow my pride and install the Windows Store client…  which honestly is something I had hoped never to do.  Has I been able to make the  Xbox version work, I would have waited until I could play it on Steam before installing it on the PC…  and in truth if that option comes up along the line I might take it.  I love Undead Labs the company, but I hate this deal with Microsoft they have crafted because I am a Steam and PS4 guy…  not a Microsoft ecosystem guy.  Thankfully for my sake after installing the Windows client the game immediately downloaded my most current save file and I was up and running in windows in pretty short time picking up exactly where I left off on the console.  Now this might be a really great option for people who want to be able to shift back and forth between the two platforms.  For me both my consoles and my gaming PC are sitting side by side and I use the same monitor for both…  so it doesn’t really save me much.

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For point of reference… I am running State of Decay 2 in 4k resolution with the High default options and manage to get a pretty stable 60 fps on my GTX 980…  which honestly tells me on the Windows side at least this is a pretty optimized client.  I’ve scaled down the images to 1080p resolution for the purpose of posting on this blog so just some things to keep in mind as you read the post (and in truth I think the wordpress content network scales them down further).  State of Decay 2 is above all else a game about building a community and trying to make that community thrive.  You start the game with one of several pairs of survivors that each have some sort of a unique link between them…  some are partners, some siblings, some just good friends…  all trying to survive in a zombie infested world.  This takes place in the same ecosystem that the first game did and you occasionally hear remnants of the same network of survivors that existed in the original and “YOSE”.

Your first step upon completing the tutorial is of course to build your base…  or in this case just take something over that looks fortify-able.    The icon on the map that looks sorta like the Arc De Triomphe is what denotes a stronghold that you can choose to move your base into.  Also in the above screenshot you can see a number of meters along the top part of the screen denoting the stability of your base and the sort of resources you have gathered…  which left to right represent Food, Medicine, Ammunition, Building Materials and Fuel.  These become extremely important to making your base work as they serve both as a resource to augment the functionality of the base by building new facilities…  but also serve as resources that are constantly depleting through the actions your community members are taking.

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There is a constant push to go out into the wasteland and search for new resources to take home to your base.  Gone are the sea of vehicles that you can drive around in endlessly and those two now serve as a sacred resource you need to gather up and horde, each with a very limited fuel capacity and range.  The game now differentiates between resources you find for yourself and can store in the communal shared inventory…  and packs full of resources that you find and have to take back to base and place in the material storage.  Similar to the first game you can only carry one of these packs at a time, but with the advent of vehicles being a limited resource…  we instead get the ability to store resources in them to make hauling things back to base a little easier.  As you approach a vehicle you can open the trunk…  even if a vehicle doesn’t have a trunk like a truck.  From there you can store up multiple packs allowing you to drive around and ferry a large number of resources back to base in a single trip.

Additionally you have the ability to claim almost every building as an outpost.  In the above screenshot you can see in orange that Swine & Bovine serves as a food collection resource, meaning that if I were to claim it as an outpost it would start sending back food every day to my community.  Similarly I managed to find a power station that upon claiming gave my base power as a resource, allowing me to start unlocking all sorts of electrical perks.  The cool thing about outposts is that they stay claimed even if you decide to pick up base and move elsewhere when you outgrow your previous home.  Right now my goal is to try and claim outposts in the major quadrants of the map allowing access to always have a safe spot nearby that I can unload my packs or pick up additional resources if I need to.

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State of Decay 2 is a bit of an odd game because much like Destiny 2… if you told me it was simply a patch to the original game I would probably believe you.  Under the hood however I know it is a complete ground up rebuild of the game in a completely different engine, and that process has netted a much better version of the same game we have loved since the Xbox Live Arcade days.  The game is State of Decay but with all of the things about the first game polished a bit more.  Sure there are still some janky moments, but those are fewer and less severe and the end result at least on the Windows client is a very smooth and even experience.  The combat feels better and more purposeful, and while the zeds still occasionally get cheap shots in… it feels like you can control the flow of combat a bit better with dodges and kicks to intersperse into your rapid button mashing of melee attacks.

More than the melee however… the Gunplay feels so much better.  In the original State of Decay the best weapon seemed to be the shotgun… because everything else felt extremely inaccurate and I wound up needing to fire way more rounds than I would have wanted…  summoning an endless horde of the undead to attack me.  Gone are the random zombies that seem to warp into view from out of nowhere, and instead is a more strategic experience.  If you want to take down an infestation…  you can roam around the outside of the location picking off the stragglers to reduce the number of zeds that are going to come running the moment the action really starts.  This feels so much better as compared to SoD1 where just firing a gun would cause a string of roamers to simply spawn into the map.

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Weapons with suppressors like the one shown above slung to this characters pack also feel amazing, allowing you to pick off zombies at a distance.  What is awesome about this is they also serve as a bit of a distractionary measure because the gun fire doesn’t draw notice of the zeds…  but they are momentarily attracted to the sound of a body hitting the ground.  This offers some situations where you can pick off an entire horde a single shot at a time because they will keep swarming the location of where the last body fell, allowing you to line up the next shot.  There are also all manner of explosives this time around that really help when trying to take out the other big new thing in this game…  Plague Hearts.  One of the weird things about SoD1 is that your character could die, but you would never actually turn into a zombie.  Now in SoD2 there is something called the Blood Plague and the red eyed zombies from the first game…  now exhibit the infection with pustules on their body and seeping blood from their skin.

Getting hit by one of these increases a meter that you can see in the Swine & Bovine shot above, that effectively is the increase in the infection until you are ultimately overcome and turn into a mega zombie that your other characters can then take out.  The doctor that you find during the tutorial has a cure for the blood plague, but it involves killing plague zombies and collecting samples…  which in truth is something you are going to have to do pretty often in the game…  meaning you have a nearly endless supply of cure.  Scattered around the map are a number of Plague Heart locations where the plague is emanating from, and taking down one of these requires a ton of fire power… or sufficient explosives.  While you are attacking it the plague zombies are constantly swarming the location to protect it…  but fortunately upon killing it all plague zombies in the surrounding vicinity are killed.

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At this point I have moved from the small base I started to a fairly large hill side church that is pretty centrally located.  Similarly I have managed to upgrade a few of the vehicles that I found laying around in the wastes into proper zombie killing apocalypse machines that can now take the abuse of running things over.  I am pretty damned hooked on this game and I have a handful of survivors that I like quite a bit…  but I am in constant fear of being overrun and I spend a good deal of my time roaming around and taking out infestations to try my best to keep this from happening.  The larger your base gets the more often it gets attacked and as a result I find myself swapping characters regularly in an effort to build each of them up enough to where they are pretty skilled at defending the base when I am not there.

One of my nitpicks with the game however is that there really isn’t much that you can do to properly fortify your base from the zombies.  You will have these huge concrete walls with spikes on them… like you can see in the background of this shot…  but the gates are flimsy and can be beat down by a single zombie allowing them easy entrance into your base as soon as they get close.  I wish we had more options for doing things to actively fortify our bases, like digging moats or setting up spike traps to guard the entrances.  We are exhibiting the same bad ideas that Walking Dead did when they decided a chain link fence around a prison was good protection…  and ultimately found out the same thing that we are finding out with these garden gates on everything.  Like if I could fortify the gates and know that the only way in and out of the base was to hop the fence I would be completely okay with this.  In fact in my first location I did this purposefully to keep from having to open the gate and potentially let a straggler in with me.

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Ultimately Undead Labs has made a really worthy sequel to the first game.  It essentially fine tunes and improves upon so many of the things from the original, and provides enough new game play to make it enjoyable for me to roam around and experience everything again.  I’ve not really touched the multiplayer yet so I can’t really speak to it.  I know it runs on a guest/host type setup where you are dragging one of your community members into another players game and as the guest get very limited access to their resources.  One of the big things to think about when looking at this game is that it is not really a story drive experience.  Sure there is a tutorial that touches on some of the high points of the world and explains what the new plague zombies are…  but after that you are pretty much on your own to find your own reasons for playing.  Instead it is a big of a story engine in that a bunch of events are going to happen and how you deal with them… creates a personal narrative of how your group is interacting with this society.

You will meet other communities… some of which are friendly and willing to trade with you and others will just want to take what you have.   For example I have made friends with a group of moonshiners who taught me how to make a still…  which weirdly generates water for your base as a limited resource.  You are also constantly hearing calls for help out in the wastes that either lead to reputation with other communities or occasionally the ability to recruit new members to yours.  It is a really fun gameplay loop and last night I sat down around 7 and did not get back up until around 9:30…  and during all of that time I was finding just one more thing to do out in the wastes.  If you need a story to keep you focused however you might find the game play experience a bit of a grind.  Personally however I love this game and it is ultimately everything I wanted for them to give me in sequel form.

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