While it looks like a standard carbon copy of other zombie games, State of Decay 2 actually presents a tense, immersive apocalypse simulation. The combination of searching for new members, building a base, and scavenging for supplies places you in a suitably desperate mindset.
Scenarios in the main game often feel hopeless, and defeat is inevitable. However, you could always look over your playthrough and find where you went wrong. Maybe you should have built different structures or searched for more survivors. Regardless, there is always a point of failure to seek out and improve on next time. That addictive loop is State of Decay 2’s strongest aspect and a standout point in an otherwise by-the-numbers title.
State of Decay 2’s new horde-mode expansion, Daybreak, removes that strategy. Instead of building a safe haven in a zombie-laden setting, you’re stuck in a static environment, defending a wall from the horde.
As a soldier from the mysterious Red Talon clan, you’re protecting a technician as they repair a satellite relay. There’s only the team of you, three friends, and the wall standing in the way of failure.
This expansion features seven increasingly difficult waves to hold back, placing emphasis on combat. Unfortunately, combat is the least engrossing mechanic in State of Decay 2. Daybreak contains none of the last-ditch effort expeditions or survivor growth I praised the original game for back in May.
Your load-out consists of a melee weapon, whichever gun you prefer, and a grenade. However, ammo is scarce, so you're often mashing the melee button outside the wall. In fact, melee attacks are almost entirely what Daybreak consists of.
Much like the main game, guns are best used on the special zombies - the Bloater, the Feral, and the Juggernaut. These unique enemies should break up the monotonous melee, but aside from the Juggernaut, they only take seconds to eliminate.
Juggernauts are the only challenging enemy. When playing, my team’s “strategy” consisted of us standing in front of the wall until the big guy came. Then we adapted by loading all our bullets into him, repairing any wall damage, and returning to hand-to-hand.
Ammo and items come in between rounds via supply drops. However, it’s rare that you find anything interesting. Generally, you’ll nab a few extra bandaids and a few more bullets to load up - though the only useful items are more wall repair kits.
Waves one through six contain the same rotation of horde, Bloater, and occasional Feral. It isn’t until the last round where the mission becomes overbearing. Here, multiple Juggernauts charge the wall while zombies follow them. While this rush is difficult to fend off, the overall challenge feels cheap. You’re hardly provided any useful new ways to fight off the horde. Instead, you’re fighting boring bullet sponge after bullet sponge with… well, bullets. The expansion introduces new guns, but it doesn’t come with useful anti-horde tools like trip mines or any sort of traps. Sure, there are firebombs and grenades, but these are few and far between.
There aren’t even any new enemies to fight. The only new enemy variation comes in a Blood Plague version of the Juggernaut, and that’s a slight change. Blood Plague is a disease that survivors contract when coming in contact with red-eyed zombies. Get hit enough, you succumb to the Blood Plague and die.
The mode reminds me of Bioshock Infinite’s Clash in The Clouds. Players were not happy with a combat-focused mode, but at least Infinite’s battle mechanics had perks, amusing weapons, and varied locations. Daybreak has one map, tedious enemies, and every character plays the same.
However, playing through Daybreak can lead to community changes in your main game. Each action in the horde mode provides you with prestige points which unlock starting weapons in Daybreak or unique weapons in the main game. The expansion also comes with new Red Talon buildings for your communities, as well as a Red Talon survivor to recruit.
State of Decay 2 succeeds as a gritty apocalypse survival simulation. In the main game, zombie-fighting is a shallow layer on top of some engaging base-building mechanics. Yet, for some reason, the Daybreak expansion saw Undead Labs capitalizing on the least exciting aspect of their sequel without introducing any new layers. I can only hope that future content elaborates on the initial mechanics, maybe by adding some story driven content or a new location to explore.
State of Decay 2: Daybreak was reviewed on Xbox One using a code provided by Microsoft. It is also available on Windows 10 via Xbox Play Anywhere. The DLC is available now separately or as part of State of Decay 2 Ultimate Edition.