Disclaimer: I bought the game, I've spent countless hours at it at launch, and that's why this review is only now going up.

A Second Zombie Apocalypse

Actually, that's not technically correct when you're talking about State of Decay 2. It's really a neat follow-on from the first game's zombie apocalypse, and in a time when people are suffering a lot from zombie fatigue, it's hard to find a game that stands out in the shambling hordes of the undead.

State of Decay 2 does so in several ways, but you really have to sink your teeth into the game to get the best out of it. The game isn't a casual zombie shooter or a survival game where you can just go in guns blazing (unless you're obscenely lucky). It's a thoughtful community focussed story game, where survival comes from your management of your in-game resources, and that includes: people.

Yeah, I said people. In an industry where there are tons of nameless, faceless, personality lacking Non Player Characters who just wander around aimlessly in RPGs and the like, it's great to see that a swathe of the game's attention to detail has been lavished on the people of State of Decay 2. Your survivors, be they your own recruits or the many Enclaves of folk who are just trying to keep alive against the ever-present threat of zombie brain-chowdown.

The State of State of Decay 2

OK. I know some of you may well have a terminal downer on this game, namely because it was marketed as an Xbox One exclusive and hyped up to be pretty damn impressive. Then when it came out, it didn't really land as well as the developers had hoped. However, put aside that smug expression if you're wearing it, because Undead Labs have been patching the game and it's now in a pretty good state, heh, get it?

If you're curious, then you can find out about the latest patch and more here: https://www.stateofdecay.com/patch-1-2-highlighted-changes/

Living Day to Day

The game's tutorial is a good place to start, it will show you the basics, get you prepped to take your first steps into the game and introduce you to the people you'll be playing as and with. These aren't just generic folk either, they're hand-crafted and selected individuals that have their own backstories, their own connections, likes, wants, and needs. These are PEOPLE, with varied skillsets and they can be the key to survival in the game. The people you choose to work with can be the difference between life, and death.

Death in State of Decay 2 doesn't speak in capitals; he speaks in brutal finality that introduces you to the game's concept of: Permanent demise.

Once you're done with that tutorial though, you are thrust into a world that doesn't hold your hand. Sure, you'll get objectives and a mission marker to go clear out a home that would make a good starting base for you and your fellow survivors depending on who you take in. There's a story, but it's not spoon-fed to you, and that's fine, in these days of mass-media consumption, fast-food, take-outs, and desire to get everything quicker - it's nice to see a game that lets you learn about the world at your own pace and tell your own micro-stories within the overall narrative that's on offer.

Home Run

OK, so you're now safe (ish) and sound in a new set of digs and you're wondering what to do next. Well, that's up to you. There's a huge map (three of them) at your disposal and a bunch of game systems waiting for you to just go out and interact with them. Your people aren't going to sit idle, neither is the game world, everything is in motion and it's how you interact with it on a daily basis that determines just what you'll be seeing and doing.

So let's examine my first few hours with State of Decay 2.

My rag-tag band of survivors were camped out close to some toilets, our car was out of gas, and since gas is a new thing in State of Decay 2, we weren't going to get the bugger moving until we found some. Of course, this was priority #2; #1 was finding a home for my folks before night came crawling in. We were on the clock, since I'd opted for a tutorial start, one of my survivors had been bitten by a blood plague carrying zombie - another new feature to State of Decay 2.

If I didn't work fast, she would end up turning and we'd have to euthanize her.

Whilst the doc and the patient remained at the car, me and the soldier went on ahead to secure the marked house.

It wasn't a very safe structure, but it was the first base of ops, one of many that you can eventually own in the game. It didn't take us long to get there, along the way, we mostly snuck around the shambing undead and where possible we eliminated one or two with stealth.

Sneaking isn't just an option in State of Decay 2, it's needed.

As you learn by doing in the game, I knew that my stealth skill would be going up eventually if I kept on sneaking, so I kept to the shadows, moved slowly and only struck when I could see a clear area around the target. Simply by being near a soldier, I was thinking like her.

We cleared the house without too much of a problem, even managing to take down a blood zombie and one of the special screamer undead on the way. There are several types of special undead in SoD 2 and they each have their own particular nasty way of making your life harder than it should be if you blunder in blindly.

Once the house was secure, I claimed it and then I was able to relax for a few seconds.

We needed to build up the community though, the base, and ensure that we could stabilize and treat the blood plague victim. My in-character girlfriend, who seemed to be constantly at odds with my character - a no-nonsense woman who had so far managed to hold her own vs. the undead she'd taken on.

Like I said before, SoD 2's biggest strength is in its characters, and they're not typical of traditional video game characters either.

First job then, take my character out into the wild and find a spot to survey the town from. I could then use that to plan my forays and better strategize just how many resources I might be able to get and use. There were lots of things my people wanted. Food, ammo, meds, materials, fuel, you name it: they wanted it.

So I wandered out, killed some more zombies, failed to sneak a group of them but kept my character alive with dodges and careful stamina management. Combat in SoD 2 is very much based on keeping an eye on your stamina meter and ensuring you have enough in reserve to get out of trouble if you get too reckless. I wasn't, and I was able to get the character to the survey point.

A few minutes later I had all the info I needed, and I knew where I was going. Materials to build the infirmary...

This is how State of Decay 2 plays out; it plays out how you want it to. I could have ignored my doctor's need for materials and spent a few in-game hours just looting nearby buildings, sneaking, killing zombies and bringing back rucksacks of good old stuff.

Or I could have found fuel, nicked it, took it back to the car and brought that back to base.

The best way to learn the game is by doing, just like the character levelling system, and the base building - there's a help guide, but you're going to get the best out of SoD 2 just by playing it and not giving up if things go wrong. It's not over until your last survivor is toast.

Get far enough as one of your survivors and you can promote them to a Community Leader, which brings benefits and extra bonuses.

In your day to day community survival, you need to set goals. Be it securing a site for an outpost, as long as you have enough Influence (the currency by which you do anything in SoD 2 - earned from helping folks and solving problems) you can do this. Outposts give you static bonuses per day based on what kind of resource the outpost provides. For example: Food, medicines, and materials to name a few.

As you play you'll get infestations that are dangerous if they're left unchecked, so you should destroy those as soon as you see them. They'll have an effect on morale if left too long. Blood plague hearts are breeding grounds for the blood zombies, and they can have a nice bonus if you can destroy one. Beware; they are hard things to take down.

They'll give you plague samples that can help you cure your infected folks if they get the plague.

There's a lot to manage in the game, and your survivors aren't superhuman. They can tire and they'll need rest, so you can switch them out at base camp or an outpost if they get overly tired whilst on mission. Leave them too long and they'll lose stamina and be unable to defend themselves properly if attacked.

You'll also be able to level up your survivors skills, by doing. Gaining enough stars in one allows you to unlock a specialisation - this gives you passive bonuses and new skills. Allowing you to sneak more effectively, break doors open without bashing them, and kill zombies like a badass martial arts ninja baseball master.

There's a lot more to the game, but I want you to find all that out for yourselves.

Living Eating World

State of Decay 2 doesn't sit idle whilst you do things, the world is always on the move, other survivors have missions, your own people will get mad and angry if their morale is too low and they don't have the things they need. It's a lot to juggle, but the GUI for the community and the base helps make that headache less of a pain. You can fairly quickly get into a stride with your community, of which you can have 3 slots to try out different character combinations and survivor groups.

This includes a random set of people who you can play as after the tutorial, just quit the game and start a new one, pick your random folks at will until you like what you see and go! Random generated surviors with their own pros and cons, skills, and traits are on offer with each re-roll.

Hint: Fishing is a great skill to have, takes a while to get on rerolling characters, but it provides food per day!

The emergent world doesn't just stop at your door either; there are other survivors, enclaves of humans out there who might need a hand. They may be friendly to you if you help them, and the more you do so, you'll get rewards. Some might also be fond of tricking you, waiting until you get to a location and ambushing you with the intent to kill your characters and take their stuff.

Then you have the various events, side quests, emergent moments and zombies to deal with. Ah the zombies, each one is different and the special ones are the best (worst) things you're going to deal with.

Screamers: they'll wail if they see you and summon their buddies, which can turn a simple stealth run for some meds into a nightmare.

Bloaters: pop goes the gasbag, and if you hit one with a car, prepare for a world of gassy hurt that means you'll need to bail out.

Juggernaut: Big, angry, zombie-style hulk that will smash anything in his way. Don't attack with a car, ever, because these things can stop a truck dead. Also, if you get too close, prepare to be torn limb from limb.

There are others, but I'm going to let you deal with those on your own time.

Narrative Emergent World

As part of this living world there's a narrative that unfolds as you play, snippets of lore from radio messages, communications with other survivors and notes found around the map. This lore is important and it fills in the greater backstory for the game, it's a bold move and one that totally works in the context of the State of Decay 2 universe.

The writers involved really know their stuff, and they bring to life the situations and characters a lot better than dozens of cut-scenes could.

It's one of my favourite things about the game, and I am always eager to learn more lore when I play. I live for the next radio message or titbit about the state of the world. That's the mark of a good engaging narrative as well as characters that you actively care about.

Unreal World

With the switch to the latest Unreal engine for the game, there have been some issues, the last few patches have ironed out the game from launch and there's not really much to be said about the various problems that cropped up in the game now that they're effectively gone, or at least reduced. The game looks nice, the animations had a pass recently that smoothed things out a lot in terms of human running and jogging, things appear more natural.

The bottom line here, is that I could ramble on all day how nice things look on an Xbox One X. So I'm not going to do that, so let's just say that it looks good, runs smoothly now and I've seen very little pop-in or graphical artefacts.

Night is also truly dark, and you'll be hard pressed to go out at night if you want to see your hand in front of your face, even with a flashlight.

The sounds are spot on and the music is suitably atmospheric, seriously creepy at times and action-packed at others.

Getting By with Friends

New to the series for the latest outing is 4 player co-op, and it's a welcome, interesting addition to the game. You and 3 friends can join in on a game, with the host in control of all the base aspects of SoD 2, quests, missions, and other things. The guests can bring their own community characters over and level them up, get loot, get gear and help the host survive. Whilst doing so, they can also earn in-game rewards for their own session so that when they get back depending on how long they play - they can reap some neat stuff.

There is a tether as well, but it's pretty generous and honestly, considering what's out there? You should be together as much as possible for when that big guy trucks up and wants to break you like Bane did to Batman.

At launch there were some issues, but with the new patch, the cooperative side of the game is getting better and better. Bottom line: it's a lot of fun!

The Walking Dead

I often feel like State of Decay 2 does a better job of emulating the Walking Dead in terms of zombie genre games, than the Walking Dead game appears to be doing. I am really interested in the characters, their lives, their struggles and that's thanks to the expertly crafted, non-spoon fed narrative that flows through the game. State of Decay 2 is a game that you need to play to get the full picture, one that you need to actually sit down and think about.

I recommend it without a shadow of a doubt. There are still a few bugs here and there, but nothing yet that's been game breaking or immersion destroying for me.

That's all I really look for in a game.

Final note: The game doesn't progress whilst you're offline, so you don't have the issue you did with the first game, you won't suddenly come back to find that Joe's been eaten by a zombie Philipa and your HQ is in a shambles. A big plus!