State of Decay 2 release date: Hands-on with Undead Labs’ ambitious zombie survival adventure as beta sign-ups open

State of Decay 2 has a difficult situation on its hands. It’s been nearly six years since State of Decay released on Xbox 360, and nearly three since its re-release on Xbox One under the revamped Year-One Survival Edition name. In that time the gaming landscape has shifted. People are less concerned with staving off zombie outbreaks for their survival kicks and instead want to take on other players in massive battle royale-style skirmishes.

PUBG, Fortnite and upcoming Mavericks may well be taking the survival genre down a different path but the team at Undead Labs believe State of Decay 2 can weather the storm with little issue. State of Decay 2 is more than simply another exercise in survival, it’s a story-driven tale of building humanity back up from the brink.

That may sound ambitious – and it definitely is – my hands-on time with both State of Decay 2’s single-player and co-op modes showed that Undead Labs has gone above and beyond in trying to realise a world that’s truly been ravaged by zombies.

You can sign up for the closed beta of State of Decay 2 on PC over at the game’s official website. Be aware that, as a closed beta, places will fill quickly – as they have done on Xbox One. You will need an Xbox Live account to participate regardless of your platform.

READ NEXT: The best Xbox One games money can buy

State of Decay 2 hands-on: Release date

Let’s get the most important and burning question out of the way first. If you’re wondering just when you’ll be able to get your hands on State of Decay 2, it’s 22 May. As this is a Microsoft-published title, you’ll be able to snap it up on both Windows 10 and Xbox One on the same date. They’ll even allow you to play with friends across both versions too, which is nice.

State of Decay 2 hands-on: Story

If you’re wondering what State of Decay 2 is about, and if you’ll have to have played State of Decay to know what’s going on, you don’t need to worry about left out of the loop. We already know that the events in State of Decay 2 take place around a year and a half after the first game, but things are a lot less linear than before.

“This is a story about humans dealing with an apocalyptic world”, Richard Foge, Undead Labs’ design director, explains to me during my hands-on session. “We picked these folks up in-process, there’s not a bunch of stuff you need to know about the first game here. There isn’t a story continuation or specific elements or anything that means those who didn’t play the first game will be missing out on.”

“A lot of the stuff in the first game was pretty straightforward zombie apocalypse survival tropes. The things we’re building [for State of Decay 2] move beyond that, they’re unique to our take on the zombie apocalypse.”


Art director Doug Williams agrees and, after almost revealing something juicy about State of Decay’s original cast of characters simply states that “Anybody jumping in now wouldn’t have a hard time. It’s almost a brand-new story and there’s nothing here that’ll throw newcomers off.”

Interestingly, Undead Labs don’t want to create a prescriptive story. The entire ethos behind State of Decay as a series is to create a comprehensive simulation of a zombie survival tale, forcing a player to adhere to some narrative the team has dreamt up goes against Foge’s core beliefs of what it is the team is actually building.

READ NEXT: Red Dead Redemption 2 could be Rockstar’s finest game yet

Foge explains that one quote that really drove this philosophy comes from US WWII general George Patton, who said: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”. For Undead Labs, that was the right approach.

“We tell you what to do, but we don’t tell you how to do it,” Foge adds. “It’s your decisions that drive what happens [in State of Decay 2].

“I want people to be in a world where the medium of video games allows them to have intent, agency. I want you and I to be storytellers together. We’ll set up the world, you tell us the stories that come from it.”


State of Decay 2 hands-on: Single-player campaign

So, if the story is designed to be an individual tale crafted by the player instead of the development team, what is the focus of State of Decay 2’s single player mode? In all honesty, it’s hard to quantify it so simply and clearly.

State of Decay 2 may well be a survival game, but it’s not of the same ilk as past gaming fads as DayZ, Rust or H1Z1. Instead, it takes the focus of survival and places it into a community aspect. Your job isn’t to get one person, or a small group of people, through the toughness of this post-apocalyptic wasteland – you need to help humanity rebuild.

This takes shape as leading a set of survivors, jumping between various people to help build a settlement and make life more bearable. You’ll grow your settlement into multiple small outcrops, helping manage a central base with support facilities as you recruit more members into your community.

Each character will have their own personal quest to undertake, which helps direct the general overarching story of State of Decay 2. However, there real single-player story and gameplay comes from managing your base. In a completely uncomplimentary way, you can think of State of Decay 2 as a survival management game, you’ll spend your time out scavenging and securing resources for your community, all while looking for opportunities to expand via recruiting new members or snapping up outposts that help supply your settlements with power, water or scarce resources like food or lumber.


Oh, and for those who know the horrors of offline updates, they’ve been scrubbed out in State of Decay 2. Now everything is built during gameplay, meaning you won’t simply be waiting around for a new facility nor worrying if your survivors will still be there when you switch your Xbox on in the morning.

READ NEXT: Is Borderlands 3 really a thing?

State of Decay 2 hands-on: Co-op multiplayer

The first State of Decay was a completely solo affair but, for State of Decay 2, Undead Labs has now introduced four-player cooperative play.

“We didn’t need to do too much research to know that people really wanted co-op,” Foge explained to me when asked about the new multiplayer features of State of Decay 2. Gameplay works in a similar way to the co-op mode of Far Cry 5, three players can jump into another player’s campaign and work as a team of four to complete objectives and gather resources to help build up a community together.

“We wanted to make sure that it felt that you were contributing to something. We could have created something that was purely instance-based, where everyone supports each other, but it felt a lot better to be helping someone build up their base.”

As all resources in State of Decay are finite, having extra hands around to help you pick up and ferry them back to base safely – and in bulk – is a definite asset to have. In my time with its co-op mode, it was clear there was a benefit to having more players around to lend a helping hand. Unfortunately, due to the nature of a hands-on session, not everyone wants to play ball, so if you do get separated from the host, there’s a bounding area that’ll warp you back towards them.

Those hoping for a Destiny-like approach to multiplayer will be sorely disappointed, but there’s good reason why Undead Labs went down the route it did.

“There were a lot of factors that led to [peer-to-peer co-op play]. Had we gone down a server-based model we’d have to have ongoing live service with it, and that would also limit the potential for those who’d rather play offline. If you want to play completely on your own, [our multiplayer model] lets you do that.”

Once a multiplayer session is over, all progress made in the host’s game remains back in single-player. Those who joined a friend’s game don’t leave empty handed though. During co-op play, the assisting members accrue points that – upon leaving a session – turn into in-game rewards for use in your own single-player campaign.

Thankfully, these in-game rewards aren’t reserved exclusively for co-op players either. “We don’t want people to feel like they’re getting stuck just because they’ve decided they don’t want to play with others.”


READ NEXT: Everything you need to know about Microsoft’s hallucinogenic We Happy Few

State of Decay 2 hands-on: maps

State of Decay 2 still takes place across the same northwestern US area as Trumbull County in its predecessor but, this time around each area is absolutely huge. It’s slated as being around three times the size as the original, but now it’s spread across multiple maps. Once you’ve built up a settlement, and completed the relevant area story arc, you’ll then find yourself venturing into another area – possibly with a handful of your current survivors – to set up shop in an entirely new territory with new challenges.

Each territory also offers up varied gameplay styles and environments to explore too. In my first half of hands-on time I was building a base out of a house on a hill overlooking a river in a grassy section on the edge of a woodland. Later in the day, I switched to another community living in the heart of a long-abandoned sleepy town complete with amenities and a dying high street. Its surroundings were largely desolate with swamps and other pockets of settlers in small former villages out of town.

Those who played State of Decay will also appreciate that State of Decay 2 now has destructible fences – much to the joy of Williams. “If you played the first game, fences were an actual nightmare,” he says, exasperated. “You’d drive into a yard and there’d be a fence and you’d just think ‘screw you’. But now, seeing what happens with the bigger fences when a Juggernaut is chasing you, is just so cool.”


State of Decay 2 hands-on: Characters, traits and player progression

Arguably, the most interesting aspect of State of Decay 2 is how it handles its innumerable cast of characters and player progression. In fact, if SEO wasn’t such a master, this section would have been right at the top of our hands-on hub.

In State of Decay, there were roughly around 150 different characters to encounter and play as. In State of Decay 2 that number has no real limit to it. Characters are still created via an algorithm that juggles physical traits and character traits to magic up new survivors, but in State of Decay 2 that’s been refined and ramped up.

“[Characters] are all composed dynamically as we have a base of names, cultural backgrounds and appearances that all get put together based on rules and structures we’ve defined,” Foge explains. “We’re trying to create cohesive, believable individual people for these survivors, so we’ve designed a system that reacts to their traits.”

READ NEXT: The problem with Detroit: Become Human’s handling of domestic abuse

This new system means that, whenever a character is given a certain trait, it’ll blacklist or whitelist other likely traits, characteristics and even aesthetic features that should and shouldn’t work together. “If someone’s a marathon runner, they’re not going to be cursed with hardcore asthma problems. If they have a bad knee, they’re not going to be great at cardio.”


These aren’t superficial traits either, they’ll have a tangible impact on gameplay and progression. “In the previous game, we had bonuses that gave you more XP or penalised your XP earning abilities. Now we’ve expanded to having effects regarding interactions with your base, with group morale.”

Understanding how State of Decay 2’s character systems work means community management goes beyond simply keeping your base safe and stocked up. As you look to create a society that’s sustainable, you’ll need to find people that work well with each other and have members that can pull their own weight.

“Everyone has something cool about them, and some have things that are bad,” Foge continues. “Just in real life, you’ll find people who are mostly jerks but have a couple of good things about them. Conversely, you’ll find people who are mostly nice, but there’s just that one thing about them that really bothers you.”

If you leave these traits unchecked and don’t install a leader into your base that’s capable of helping dissipate such issues, you could have a problem on your hands. “You can see all the interactions [around character’s impact on others] on the base screen. You’ll discover that somebody’s upset because Johnny snores or because Joseph likes to start fights. You’ll see the conflicts that arise in your community and you’ll have to find ways to deal with them.

While you can’t really improve some character traits – such as that damned snoring – you can improve attributes. Interestingly, State of Decay 2 does this through the simple act of playing. If you have someone who’s particularly gifted at cardio-related tasks, having them run long distances or wail on zombies with melee weapons regularly enough will eventually let them “level up” that skill. From here, you’ll be able to drill down and specialise in a certain way of playing. If you want to level that attribute up, you simply need to keep doing that action you’ve decided they should specialise in.


READ NEXT: The best Xbox One X games

With a cast of characters that verges on the edge of impossibly large, a simple and straightforward levelling system is a godsend. Not only are there more than enough aspects to juggle in State of Decay 2, it’s clear that something as deep as its character management system needs to be clean, clear and concise if Undead Labs want any chance of people investing time in curating their survivors.

State of Decay 2 hands-on: First impressions

After a lengthy period of time with State of Decay 2, it’s clear to see that even my five-hour session is but a slither of a game that’s absolutely gigantic in both scope and scale. It puts State of Decay to shame with its ambitions and, from what I’ve seen, it appears to be hitting most of what it sets out to do with great success.

The real test, however, will be when it ends up in the hands of players come 22 May. Having been dropped in around six or seven hours into a game session, I can certainly say I spent the first hour or so mindlessly running around killing zombies. However, everyone else’s first experience will be different. Once the tutorial ends and people are left to just get into the big open maps and play, anything could happen.

It really is quite possible that State of Decay 2 is just a bit too big, aimless and impossibly complex. Thankfully, even when all you’re doing is running around smashing a zombie in the face with a pole, dismembering them with a katana or ploughing into them in a sports car, State of Decay 2 is great fun.

Just don’t go in expecting to find your run of the mill survival game, because State of Decay 2 is so much more than that.

You can sign up for the closed beta of State of Decay 2 on PC over at the game’s official website. Be aware that, as a closed beta, places will fill quickly – as they have done on Xbox One. You will need an Xbox Live account to participate regardless of your platform.

Disclaimer: Some pages on this site may include an affiliate link. This does not effect our editorial in any way.

Todays Highlights
How to See Google Search History
how to download photos from google photos