Oh my dear, poor Tarvinder. Unbeknownst to me she was heading straight for a situation that she was woefully underprepared for. It was always going to end in tears.
If I'd been paying due care and attention to the six members of my community I would have known that she was best suited as the group's scavenger. Her quick wits and high stamina meant her expertise lay in speedily and stealthily moving through old properties, gathering building materials and luxury items for trade. But no, I'd neglected to study her skill set and instead I was marching her blindly towards a Plague Heart. A Plague Heart and certain death.
I'd spent the first hour or so of my hands on time with State of Decay 2 rolling around the town of Cascade Hills with Neto, a broad shouldered, muscular, ex-shop teacher. I was playing on a save state taken from approximately eight hours into the game and Neto's combat stats were almost full. He'd earned hero status amongst the community and he was rocking all the best weapons in his backpack so I was having a wonderful time moving from house to house, battering zombies to death with a large Transmission Mace.
As someone who has played the previous State of Decay titles I was struck by how familiar it all felt. Granted I've not been back to the series since 2015's remastered Year One Survival Edition so my memories may have faded slightly but still, it seemed like almost every beat was identical. The focus here is once again on building and maintaining a healthy community. Find a base, populate the base, survey areas, scavenge for supplies, upgrade base, avoid zombies, run missions, rinse and repeat.
Even the enemy types - the standard zombies plus the four special 'Freak' types - were identical in look and feel. The bloaters explode in a shower of acidic bile, the screamers attract hordes to your location and so on and so on. If it hadn't been for the introduction of the blood plague mechanic it would have been very easy to convince myself that I was actually playing just another remaster of the original.
The blood plague is a contagious disease carried by special Plague Zombies who were the only new enemy type that I witnessed during my four hours with State of Decay 2. The Plague Zombies are faster and more aggressive than their standard, undead counterparts and their deep red, sore covered skin makes them easy to spot in amongst an approaching horde.
Get scratched or bitten by a Plague Zombie and a Plague Meter will appear above your mini map. Subsequent attacks will fill that meter until your survivor contracts the Blood Plague for themselves. Then, unless you have a cure to hand, it's only a matter of time before the infection overwhelms your survivor and they become a Plague Zombie themselves.
Now, Neto, he'd taken a few scratches and had the early signs of an infection. I had a couple of plague samples to hand (they'll occasionally be dropped by fallen Plague Zombies) but I didn't have the five I needed to craft a cure. As much as I wanted to continue on with Neto, even heroes need a rest once in a while and, thanks to my constant use, his stamina had taken a hit. The Plague Zombies were finding it easier to surround him now and the last thing I wanted was to have my community's heroic leader getting sick.
Rather reluctantly I decided to retire Neto to the infirmary and head out into the wildlands with a fresh survivor to take on a brand new mission - Destroy the Plague Heart at the Gully House in Paradise. This was a mission that would net me the precise amount of samples I would need to craft a cure, should my main man, Neto, need one in the future.
And so it was that Tarvinder and I came face to face with our first Plague Heart. Plague Hearts are a new addition to the State of Decay series. A huge, twisted lump of gore and bones that acts like a hub for Plague Zombies. The hearts take root in multiple buildings around the game's three open world maps and each one must be destroyed to clear these maps from the threat of the plague.
The Plague Hearts take a lot of punishment before they die, and they come complete with a defence mechanism or two. Deal damage to them and they'll belch out a burning gas and scream for reinforcements in the shape of multiple waves of Plague Zombies. Tarvinder, her backpack empty aside from a small pistol, didn't stand a chance. She fought valiantly for a while but in the end she was torn from the driver's seat of her car as she tried to beat a hasty retreat. The last thing she would have seen was a blur of crimson as a mob of Plague Zombies furiously tore into her flesh.
It's not just the undead that you need to worry about this time around. For the first time in the State of Decay series, you're going to be able to get into scraps with other human beings as well. Not all human communities, or enclaves as they're known in the game will be hostile and in fact, you're going to have to rely on a lot of them for trade. Any luxury items you've looted from buildings can be sold for influence which is the main currency in the game and with that you can buy supplies, food, ammunition - whatever the enclave has to trade basically.
Be careful not to enrage an enclave, though - I decided to threaten a bunch of friendlies, for science of course, and I found that angry human opponents can be relentlessly aggressive. They're also very intelligent, splitting up and moving to block off escape routes rather than attacking as a swarm like the undead.
One of my main concerns with State of Decay 2 centred around its 4-player co-op. It's an addition that fans of State of Decay have been clamouring for since the series' inception but instead of feeling like a game-changer, it can come across as underwhelming. My biggest issue was the fact that any guests to a co-op session are tethered to the host by an invisible string, a constant reminder of the game's limitations. Rather than being a true open-world experience, if you stray too far from the host, multiple warnings will flash up on screen before you're teleported back to the group.
At other times, networking bugs meant that it all struggled to keep up with the action, especially when all four of us were in the same vehicle. This produced headache inducing graphical glitches which caused a rapid flickering of the vehicle as it travelled down the road.
In fact I noticed a great deal of graphical bugs during my time with the game. The Xbox One X build I played had constant frame rate issues. The PC version ran smoother, but it too was plagued by minor glitches like zombies disappearing through floors or becoming lodged inside objects. Chances are veteran State of Decay players won't mind a bit of jank, given that the original and its accompanying DLC chapters were also very scruffy.
At its core this is very much the same game, with only a small sprinkling of original additions to distinguish it from those that came before. Don't get me wrong, the classic survival gameplay that made the first game such a cult hit is still present and if you're longing for a return to that, then you'll get it in spades. However, if you're looking for a vastly enhanced experience that pushes the State of Decay series to new heights, you may well come away disappointed.
For much more information about State of Decay 2 and over 17 minutes of brand new co-op and single player gameplay, check out my companion video at the top of this article.