State of Decay 2's Nightmare Zone is a Dream Come True

Opinion - Mark Delaney, 22 days ago
According to OpenCritic, my review of State of Decay 2 ties with two others for the highest scored review of the game, well above its aggregate score of 68. I've never shied from that though, and I still stand by it today. I think it's the best zombie game ever made, and that's why this week's Choose Your Own Apocalypse update is so exciting. It's made the game even better, and I think if you're a fan you'll very likely agree this is the best post-launch update the game has received to date. Nightmare Zone is, ironically, a dream come true.

State of Decay 2

If you haven't been following along with the game's development, the latest update adds two new difficulty levels for players old and new to choose from if the base difficulty isn't enough. Dread Zone can be thought of as New Game Plus mode. It offers a ton of changes designed to test the resolve of players who have settled into a comfort zone surviving in the game since its May 2018 launch. Higher building costs, lower morale, more zombies, greater damage, more dangerous human enemies, and a lot more make up the mode. On its own it may already sound quite daunting. I played some of Dread Zone and quickly appreciated these changes. I revel in the game's permadeath and everpresent threats and feel it's one of the main reasons why the series works so well. It's actually the extreme challenge of Nightmare Zone, the even higher difficulty, which I think is the best thing to ever happen to this series.

Nightmare Zone builds on what Dread Zone offers and takes things to even more intense levels. In Nightmare, hordes can be much larger and even comprised of many "freaks" like the fast-moving ferals that can keep pace with some vehicles. Just one of these can be pretty tough in normal difficulty. In Nightmare, a single feral can remove your face in seconds, and a pack of them is basically an insurmountable militia screaming, "turn around!" The preferred means of killing ferals — running them down with cars — is now much harder given the increased scarcity of working vehicles and gas. The same goes for plague hearts, which now feel immensely challenging because blood plague will kill you in just a few minutes. Survivors eat more food daily, leaving you to have to scavenge more in a world with far fewer resources. Injuries are more likely, demanding more time in the infirmary and more resources spent there too. Zombies draw hordes to noises faster, just like they do in the movies. In every respect, State of Decay 2 has never been so brutally, unforgivingly difficult, and that's a sign that Undead Labs knows their fans well.

I can keep going on and on about how special Nightmare Zone is for the growth of this game, but the shorter version is to just have you watch this clip of my time with it. For context, this is my character preparing to fight off a single feral. Like I said, in normal difficulty one feral can be pretty intimidating, but unless you're badly wounded on foot and out of supplies, you'll probably be fine. In Nightmare Zone, this one feral tore me apart in mere seconds, before I even had time to react and use one of my healing items I had on me. It was this very moment when I realized Nightmare Zone was the real deal. (Gore warning.)


I'm not a masochist, but I do love this game's attention to details especially when it comes to punishing you for screwing up. I often pitch the game to friends as "if you're living in The Walking Dead." It's a group of survivors fighting to make it day to day with threats abound, both undead and alive, dwindling resources, and an addictive emphasis on stealth and plans of attack. There are no guarantees in State of Decay, not when you're searching a gas station for gas or a restaurant for food scraps, and not when one of your survivors is trying to make it home for the day. Nightmare highlights these strong suits, the last one especially. In normal difficulty playthroughs hacking up zombies is often a fun part of the game and a way to farm kills for the 10,000 zombies killed achievement. In the Nightmare Zone, to actively seek out combat feels like the promise of swift death and the permanent loss of a character. Now the game is stealthier, more dire, and more enjoyable because of it all.

I concluded my review of State of Decay 2 by calling it "the most realistic" zombie game ever, which probably sounds strange. How could it be realistic if it's presenting a fantasy world where the dead can walk again? Maybe I should rephrase that. What I meant was it's the deepest, most systems-heavy, most detail-oriented zombie game ever, which today I find collectively synonymous with simply the best. I'm excited to find that thanks to the Nightmare Zone, State of Decay 2 is now even better.

This game was featured in our 7 Horror Games That Deserve Sequels (And 3 That Don't) article. Why not check it out to see what else made the cut?
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves most kinds of games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of gaming, he likes bicycling, binge-watching, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.