State of Decay 2 is the second major Xbox exclusive of the year and much like the lukewarm received Sea of Thieves, it is also available as apart of Xbox Game Pass. This means those who subscribe to the Xbox Game Pass program will get full access to SoD 2. It is currently an important time for the Xbox platform, after years of mixed messaging, bad messaging and lack of big, critically acclaimed exclusives, it is vital that Xbox One begins to deliver. Does State of Decay 2 provide the kick-start that the platform needs or is this generation decaying away for Microsoft?

The sequel to the open-world zombie survival game takes its name quite literally, it is State of Decay for a second time. It isn’t the same in terms of content but more in terms of its core design, gameplay and fundamentals. Much like its predecessor there is no overarching story, instead you choose a pair of characters that come with a backstory as to who they are and how they know each other.

Once characters are chosen and you finish the tutorial, you get thrown out into the world to fend for yourself. Any further narrative comes in the form of character profiles, this details their mood, traits, skills and standing with your group. You will come across a number of different faces who bring their own dynamic to your clan of desperate individuals.

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It would come as no surprise that story just isn’t the hook, gameplay mechanics was always what drew me to the original game and the very same has happened this time around. Survival is the underlying theme behind every feature created by the developers and every decision made by you. Upon beginning my harrowing adventure, the focus was immediately on setting a home site for my survivors. Your first is planned out for you but after that there is free reign on which location to set as your new home and each come with positive points and negative, meaning prioritising resources and facilities. It does a good job of finding that balance between freedom and restriction, whilst in some areas feeling too restrictive and in others far too lenient.

The home site is only one example of this, the restriction is in play due to the number of available facility slots be it large or small and the freedom is what you want to put in those slots. Special skills are restricted in the fact you can only choose one, but you are free to choose that skill out of many, like Gardening, Medicine, Craftsmanship, Mechanic and much more. The early game feels limiting but as you progress, larger sites are available, more people join your flock to the eventual point that you can make use of all specialised skills.

Resources are heavily limited through-out and I often felt it more of a chore to go further afield from my base to acquire them, particularly whilst going it alone. Not only that but getting into confrontations is consistently more dangerous when solo as opposed to being with friends, which is understandable, but it shouldn’t be to the point where playing on my own feels like a hindrance.

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Once resources are depleted in the entire map you are pretty much forced to start over on the next map, pick a home site and begin the rinse and repeat cycle. From what I have mentioned so far it would be relatively safe to assume that I dislike the game, but somehow that just isn’t the case. For all its shortcomings there is what feels like a real, gritty and enjoyable survival experience.

This absolutely shines brightest when playing in co-op with a friend, for atmosphere anyway, co-op brings a whole lot more of issues. Such as host tethering, other players cannot go outside of a certain distance away from the host player, a specific player loot system, meaning each person can only loot certain objects and a confusing homesite which seems to look different for every player. It also isn’t very well communicated what resources or items are looted for the benefit of the host or the person who looted said item. Instead, it was all guess work and figuring it out for myself. The co-op survival is exactly what was missing from the first game and now we have it, but unfortunately it just feels muddied by confusing design and riddled with albeit minor bugs and inconsistencies but bugs all the same.

Some bugs I have come across is the gate open close one in which a door appears open when in fact it is closed and forces you to open it before being able to pass through. Coming up against this problem when fighting a horde is brutal. Multiplayer lag has been a bit of an issue that I noticed when playing across platform with a friend, in a survival game in particular this sucks when it happens and can lead to loss of character, vehicle, loot, etc. My point being is that these bugs can drastically affect things, and to die when it isn’t your fault is unacceptable.

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Thankfully, the world is packed with things to do and constantly keeps you on the move and doing something that hopefully keeps death away for one more day. Building your community, scavenging resources, exploring the map, fighting the undead, fighting the living, helping the living, improving skills, building facilities for your homesite and completing missions are just some of the things available to get lost in. I found myself drawn in and hooked, in spite of my quarrels and qualms.

It isn’t going to set any bars when it comes to the visuals, a good looking game sure, maybe even a great looking game, but it isn’t something we haven’t witnessed before. It provides a pleasing view from a distance but get a little closer and you can see the lack of fine detail with textures looking low res thanks to quite apparent blurring. The level of polish just doesn’t quite feel up to scratch with not only other exclusive titles on differing platforms, but on the same platform too.

Sound is a highlight for me, thanks to audio design, an atmosphere is easily formed, one filled with absolute dread and sheer terror. The background music responds to various events happening throughout and are often a good indicator that something bad is about to happen, such as encountering special zombies. Sound effects compliment the music in producing tense moments and catch you off guard when you haven’t been paying attention, such was the case with my many tussles with a Feral, Juggernaut, Screamer or Bloater. All of which produce unique sound bites that instil this fear in me when I didn’t notice them approaching on my map. This often lead to “holy sh*t moments” in which I would run around screaming like a girl and trying to escape.

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Characters are voiced and go a long way in delivering an emotion that sometimes would otherwise not come across through just text. Much of the dialogue is unfortunately repeated dozens of times at least and it can get irritating later on when you have already heard everything there is to offer, only to be presented with the same re-used sentences to signal either an incoming horde, lack of a resource or someone decided that they won’t leave the community after all.

State of Decay 2 suffers from the fact it seems to just always get in its own way, by design or even bugs. It provides an open-world sandbox environment with interesting survival mechanics that make for an addictive gameplay loop, unfortunately the repetitive nature can get you stuck in a bit of a rut. Its sound design is great, the feel of risk is ever present and there is plenty to see and do in each of the large three maps. It has taken the same formula and replicated it almost entirely, with some new additions and more content, at times it certainly feels like State of Decay Version 2, as opposed to a brand-new sequel. I enjoyed my time but the rocky road prevented this from becoming something special.

OVERALL: 7.3/10 – GOOD

Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.

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