This review is of the State of Decay 2 "Juggernaut Edition." The base game was released in May 2018. It had two expansion DLCs, called Daybreak and Heartland, plus an asset pack (vehicles, weapons, etc.) called Independence. It may have had some other asset packs, but honestly, I don't know and don't care, because I never purchase asset packs. Anyway, the Juggernaut Edition, released in March 2020, is a title update that adds Daybreak, Heartland, and Independence to the base game, along with new content in its own right, including a new map.
State of Decay is a zombie apocalypse survival game. You begin with a community of 3 or 4 survivors in a starter base. You play by leaving your base to scavenge for supplies and go on missions. Each survivor has four core skills - cardio, wits, fighting, and shooting. The player is always in control of one survivor, and while that survivor is being controlled, his or her skills will improve. When they reach a certain level of proficiency, their skills branch into a specialization. For example, the cardio skill can branch into backpacking, which allows them to carry more, or marathon, which allows them to run longer.
Each survivor also has a fifth skill slot. Some survivors already have their fifth skill specified, and some do not, so you can teach them whatever skill you acquire the right skill book for. There are many fifth skills, including medicine, gardening, mechanics, computers, cooking, and so on. Most of the fifth skills pertain to the operation of your base. For example, having a gardener will allow you to grow more of your own food. Many, but not all, of the fifth skills can also become more specialized once a certain proficiency level is reached.
You change which survivor is currently being controlled by going to your base or one of your outposts. You will have to do this regularly, because survivors get fatigued and injured while on the job, and while some of this can be mitigated with healing items and in other ways, there's no substitute for letting them recuperate at the base while you're playing as another survivor.
You can also have a second survivor go along as a follower. Followers will help you somewhat in fights with zombies and hostiles, but their AI isn't so great in that respect - when there's five zombies, you will kill four in the time it takes your follower to kill one. But, plus side, they double the amount of stuff you can carry back to your base.
As you play, you will recruit more survivors to build up your community. You will need to do this for three reasons: to get the full gamut of skills you need for a self-sustaining base, to meet the minimum requirements to move into one of the larger bases (the game cannot be completed from your starter base), and to replace survivors who get killed. Death is permanent, you see, and it is always just around the corner.
Unlike with a lot of games of this genre, or any genre, your State of Decay game can go at any time from "Hey, this is going real well!" to "OMG, I just lost two of my best and most crucial guys! I'm finished!" Something as simple as busting down a locked door can draw one zombie's attention, and the noise you make killing it will draw a crowd of zombies, and before you know it, everything has snowballed out of control, while you're being horded, blood plagued, screamered, bloatered, feraled, and juggernauted mercilessly by dozens of zombies and freaks who came out of nowhere. It is this tension - the need to be prepared for things to turn sideways and ruin all your plans without notice - that is, for me, the great appeal of this game.
Even normal difficulty can be challenging, but in case it isn't, you can crank up the difficulty with Dread or Nightmare difficulties. In these difficulties, zombies are more numerous and resources are more scarce. I play exclusively in Nightmare now, and I love it because it because I never know, when I leave the base, whether that survivor is going to make it home. I mean, they usually do, but they die often enough for me to feel like every excursion I survive is a small victory.
I guess I should mention that even the base isn't safe. Regular zombies don't spawn around it, but hordes and freaks will freely wander into your "safe zone," and on a regular basis, the zombies will gather and launch an all-out assault on your base. (The game calls these frontal assaults "sieges" for unknown reasons.) Your survivors can be killed in these attacks just as easily as when they're outside the base.
There are four maps to choose from. The new map that comes with the Juggernaut Edition update, Providence Ridge, is my favorite. Each map has several bases of different sizes and types. Each base is a little different than the others, and they can all be customized. Bases have a certain amount of indoor, outdoor, and large slots, which can be used for various purposes. For example, a garden must be outdoors, while a hydroponics garden can be indoors or outdoors, and a farm must be in a large slot. I wish there were more building slots for even greater customization. There are two facilities that are required in every base - storage and a command center - and four that are pretty much essential: garden/hydroponics/farm, workshop, infirmary, and beds. Once you've taken care of these needs, you usually have only one or two slots free to do optional things.
Your survivors' arsenal of weapons includes bladed melee for better dismemberment, blunt melee for better knockdown, heavy melee for maximum stamina depletion (seriously, don't use them), small-caliber pistols and rifles for less noise, larger firearms for more juggernaut-killing power, close combat weapons (e.g. ice pick) for stealthy kills, crossbows for silent ranged kills, thrown incendiaries, thrown and placed explosives, and heavier weapons such as grenade launchers. I typically go for stealth, so I stick with close combat, crossbows, and suppressed .22s as much as possible, but if you like to rain down all your wrath on the zombies with maximum, attention-drawing carnage, you have that option.
STORY / CAMPAIGN
The object of the game is to keep your community alive through the zombie apocalypse and destroy all of the plague hearts that are infesting your neighborhood. To beat the game and "win," you must also choose a leader among your survivors and fulfill certain missions pertaining to that survivor's leadership trait. Each survivor has either the builder, trader, warlord, or sheriff trait. This means there are four different endings to the game. Once you beat the game, you can start a new game and receive a boon based on the endings you've completed. For example, if you beat the game as a builder, you can play your next game with all of your bases having free water and electricity.
Besides destroying the plague hearts and completing the leader missions, all of the other missions - and there are many - are optional, are disconnected from each other, and consist mostly of unique dialogue that occurs while you do the regular things you would be doing anyway. For example, there is a "Chief Jackson" mission that involves going on three different scavenging runs, visiting ordinary locations on the map that you can visit any time. You never see or talk to this Chief Jackson, and the only thing that makes it a mission, as opposed to you just doing some scavenging, is that your character will mutter a bit about Chief Jackson while doing it. There are certain missions that will help you make alliances with other enclaves on your map. Completing these missions is the closest thing State of Decay 2 has to a story, and it's not enough. On the whole, playing State of Decay 2 after you've destroyed your first plague heart and moved into your second base feels a lot like being in a post-campaign "continue" mode from then on.
State of Decay 2 does allow some "create your own story" play. Each survivor is a unique person. You can change their clothing, but not their appearance or traits. As mentioned above, most have their fifth skill already set, and while it may be specialized, it cannot be changed. Each survivor has a short backstory/personality profile that makes their contribution to your community slightly different. Some have positive traits, such as faster skill improvement, some have negative traits, such as laziness, and some have a mixture. Occasionally, I have to expel survivors from my community because they aren't worth the trouble. For example, a computer person is a pretty important skill to have, but if your computer tech is not only prone to causing fights but is also a packrat, meaning they take up two sleeping spaces, you'll probably be better off throwing him out and finding another tech. The uniqueness of the survivors gives you the ability to become invested in your people and build a story around them, if you like to do that.
Also, whenever you start a new a game, up to three survivors from any communities you completed games with can be used to begin your new game, bringing all of their skills and traits with them. This neat feature adds even more do-it-yourself storytelling potential.
State of Decay 2 has come a long way since the original 2018 release. Most of the annoying bugs and game-breaking glitches, such as disappearing followers, wonky gates, ladders of death, and broken missions, have been fixed. It is still possible to get stuck in the environment, both on foot (which is the game's fault) or in a vehicle (which is usually the driver's fault), but there is a command to get unstuck, and it works, provided you don't get killed while issuing the command and waiting for it to execute. I run into a lot fewer bugs these days than two years ago, and I feel that the game works as intended now, whereas I used to complain a lot about the bugs. That being said, the game still does freeze occasionally, and it's pretty annoying when it freezes during a mission, because it can prevent that mission from ever being offered again.
OTHER MODES / MULTIPLAYER
The Daybreak add-on is a base defense mode. You and some AI and/or human players try to survive seven increasingly difficult waves of zombie attacks on your position. There's no base-building or character-building in this mode, and the scavenging element is extremely scaled down. It's mostly just about standing your ground and killing zombies as they come at you. I seem to be in the minority, but I think Daybreak is pretty fun. The more you play Daybreak, and the better you do, the more "prestige points" you earn, which you can use in regular SOD2 to buy special weapons, base upgrades, and survivors for your community.
The Heartland add-on takes place in Trumbull Valley, a remastered version of the map from the original State of Decay game released for Xbox 360. This mode is different in that it has a precast set of survivors and one very large base. Heartland was promoted as the story content that SOD2 players were clamoring for, but it barely has any more story than normal SOD2. It's fun to play through once, but that's it.
All three modes - regular, Daybreak, and Heartland - support co-op multiplayer. I enjoyed playing co-op in Daybreak, but I never tried it in the other modes, so I can't review it.
State of Decay 2 has become sort of notorious for grindy achievements. As I write this, the TA ratio including all DLC is 6.199, and it isn't because the game is hard. To unlock all of the achievements without using cloud save tricks, you will have to complete three games in Dread difficulty, one game in Nightmare difficulty, kill 10,000 zombies, keep a community alive for 100 days, survive 343 waves of Daybreak (49 games!), play a minimum of 2 Heartland games, and that's not all. I get a kick out of the game, and consider it a lot of fun, so the grindiness is OK for me. I'm just saying, if you're going for completion, clear your calendar. The only difficult achievements are in Daybreak, if you're trying to solo them all. With one good co-op partner, they are much easier. It is possible to earn all of the achievements in single player, with the exception of one that requires you to join or host a multiplayer game.
State of Decay 2 combines many of the usual elements of zombie-themed survival games, such as base building, scavenging, and an endless supply of enemies to maim and kill in a variety of gruesome ways. The mood that is essential to zombie survival games - that the world has gone to hell and everyone's life is hanging on by a thread - is emphasized not just in the game's environments and dialogue, but also in the fact that your survivors truly are, at every moment, perilously close to permadeath, even when in the relative safety of their base. The Juggernaut title update adds a great and much-needed fourth map, some previously paid DLC content, and a lot of bug and overall fixes. If you're looking for a good story, you won't find it, but you will find a game that's loads of fun to play.
I rated this game 3 stars before the Juggernaut Edition came out, but now I give it...