State of Decay 2: How Multiple Play-Throughs Work

I finally finished my first campaign of State of Decay 2. I was kind of confused about the whole ‘meta’ aspects of the game so now that I know a little more, I thought I’d scribble it down so in two weeks when I forget I can refresh my memory. This isn’t a review of SoD2, but I’ll just say it’s a zombie apocalypse game that gives off a pretty strong Walking Dead vibe in that your goal is more about building a community than exterminating zombies, because the zombies are just endless. The game has action-based combat mixed with menu-driven base building. You have various materials (medicine, food, ammo, etc) that you have to maintain a stockpile of, while providing your group of survivors with beds and amenities that keep their morale up. That’s the 10,000 foot view anyway.

Fairly early in the game you’ll assign a leader. There are 4 classes of leader. I played a Builder. There’s also Warrior, Sherriff and… one I’ve forgotten. You get a specific benefit depending on the type of leader you choose.

Then you spend a bunch of hours fighting zombies, building your base, probably moving your base to a new location, making friends, recruiting friends, making enemies, probably killing enemies, and in particular destroying Plague Hearts which are these big nasty masses of flesh that pollute the area around them and produce zombies that carry a plague. Along the way your survivors level up various skills like Medicine, Farming, Mechanics and so forth.

Once you eliminate all the Plague Hearts on the map, the endgame starts. You’ll have a few more missions to do and then the campaign ends. There’s not a huge narrative drive through all of this. I played on the ‘normal’ difficulty and through the course of the game I lost one survivor. Two technically but the 2nd one I sacrificed in an attempt to get an achievement. Long story, not worth re-telling. Point being, I didn’t find it to be a particularly hard game, or maybe I was lucky.

So game over. Now what? First, you can keep up to 50 survivors in a kind of ‘people bank’ that persists between games (your band in any one game is 8-10 people so this is a lot of guys and gals to save for later). Second you get a “Boon” based on the type of leader you beat the game as. Third, the “save” you just completed goes Poof. There’s no going back to it.

When you start a new campaign you can choose up to 3 of your saved survivors to act as your starting crew on a new map. You can also take up to two Boons. Since I played as a Leader I have a boon that gives my base electricity and water, which seems like a huge benefit that would make the game even easier (setting those up in Campaign #1 took quite some time). The idea, I guess, is to play a campaign as a different kind of leader in order to earn a different Boon at the end that campaign. Eventually if you’re a super fan you’ll play all 4 leader types and have 4 boons to choose from in Campaign #5.

When the new campaign starts, your characters will have the same inventory they had when you put them in cold storage, which is good to know since, just prior to finishing your old campaign, you could load them down with high value items to make the next start even easier. Sadly I didn’t know about this. They also retain all their skills. The stockpile of goods you had in your prior campaign does not come forward with you. The fictional conceit is that a few of you left your old ‘town’ and set out to start a new one, so all you have is what you could carry in your backpacks.

And that’s about all I know so far. All the above applies to the basic “Campaign” game. There’s also now a mode called Heartland which I believe is a more narrative-driven experience, and one called Daybreak which, I think, is a kind of horde mode primarily meant for multiplayer.

Oh, and worth noting that if you don’t want a Campaign to end, you can travel to a fresh map and keep playing. This is important because resources don’t respawn on a map so eventually you could completely exhaust a map you’re playing on. New maps have a new set of Plague Hearts and of course all new resources to collect. I’m not sure why you’d do this but some people do. I saw on reddit someone say they were on day 121 or something in their game. I think I was on day 15 or 20 when I finished my game (I wasn’t really paying attention and now that save is gone so I can’t check).

I enjoyed State of Decay 2 but I don’t think I’m ready to dive right back into a 2nd game just now. Maybe at some point down the road though. Perhaps I’ll nudge up the difficulty some the next time around. I was kind of expecting a narrative-driven game but what I got instead was more akin of something like Civilization, only (mostly) action based. The developers intend you to play it over and over and they’ve added some nice systems to make that interesting for you.

A State of Decay 2 Story

I love stories. I always have. I love to read fiction, I love to watch TV, I REALLY love sitting around a dinner table or at a bar, trading stories with people (I have dim memories of doing this decades ago). And of course I love stories in games.

There are games that have a story baked in. Narrative-driven games, as I (and I think most people) call them. Then there are games with the kind of emergent gameplay that wind up telling a story through player interaction. I think I’m saying all that right; I’m no game developer.

Anyway to set up this story I have to tell you a little about State of Decay 2. It takes place in a zombie apocalypse. There is no official ‘fast travel’ (though I think you can cheese your way around that a bit). You have a group of survivors you play as, one at a time. Some zombies carry a ‘blood plague’ and when they hit you, you get a dose of the blood plague virus. Get enough of these and now you have the blood plague, which left uncured, turns you into a zombie. There is a literal timer that ticks down to zombification. There is permadeath and finally, your band of merry zombie slayers has a leader who (I presume) is more important than the rest of the group. If I sound a little iffy about some of these points it is because I’m still in my first game and I don’t know how everything works.

Whew. Let’s begin.

* * *

So our leader Mary was trying to take out an infestation far, far from home base. She and one of her minions had driven across the map in an SUV. Things went badly. The pair were swarmed by blood plague zombies. Mary called for a retreat and they ran, but in the confusion they’d forgotten where they parked. A running battle ensued. Mary was soon out of ammo for her sidearm. Then her baseball bat broke. All she had left was 3 crossbow bolts. The crossbow was a slow weapon. Perfect for sniping but not much use in a running battle.

They finally made it to the car, but by then both had the blood plague. Their only hope was getting back to base as soon as possible. And just to add to the fun, it was getting dark.

Mary jumped behind the wheel and took off, driving as quickly as she dared. She came around a bend and tried to squeeze the SUV between a wrecked truck and a guardrail and BAM, they didn’t make it. The SUV wedged itself in. Mary tried to back away but the wheels just started spinning. The SUV engine was drawing zombies.

Their luck had not completely run out, though, as nearby was a van that looked like it might start. They abandoned the SUV and ran for the van, fighting a few zombies and taking a few more wounds. Mary was slowing down, but they reached the van. It started, but only just. It was nearly out of gas.

They drove on into the night, Mary being much more cautious now. She was trying to conserve fuel but base camp was still a long way away when the van sputtered a final time and coasted to a stop, the tank dry.

Back on foot, they stumbled through the night. Mary used her final crossbow bolts to clear a path. When those ran out they had to rely on stealth. She was on death’s door, not just from the plague but from the many wounds she’d received. It was a long, frightening walk, but they finally stumbled into camp where other survivors immediately helped them to the infirmary to get the plague treated and wounds attended to.

They survived to fight another day.

* * *

It might not read that well, honestly, but playing through this was such a tense and enjoyable experience. In game mechanic terms, we tried to take out a Blood Heart which drew in a ton of zombies. She was taking too much damage so we ran, but I didn’t have time to open the map to see where I had parked. Mary really did run out of ammo and her melee weapon did break. She ran out of healing items and her HP was blinking red at maybe 5% full. It was just a sliver of health.

The SUV did jam tight between a wreck and a guardrail which might be a bug. When I got the van I tried to push the SUV free but the ‘wreck’ was part of the terrain: completely immobile. Vehicles have Hit Points and the van, too, was almost at zero. I actually had a repair kit, so we took time to repair it and found it was almost out of gas. We didn’t make it back. Working vehicles are fairly rare in SOD2 and we didn’t come across another one.

The rest was pretty much as described. At low health your character starts to limp and hobble along. It was really dark out and I could see the glowing eyes of zombies all around us. It took a LONG time to walk back since we had to crouch and sneak around swarms of zombies, but the “Blood Plague” timer is more generous than I realized and truthfully it had only ticked down to maybe 50% by the time we got back to base.

The biggest loss was the SUV, but we do have a couple of trucks. I’m not sure what would have happened if Base Leader Mary had died.

All in all, it was really fun. I’m a terrible blogger so I didn’t take any screenshots… I was too intent on not dying!