What makes a good sequel? Some say that it should fix the problems of its predecessor and expands on the positives, with more meaningful improvements; others will say that it should attempt to do something new and exciting in the same universe. There are many ways to make a sequel and be successful, at least as many as ways to make a sequel that is a failure/disappointment in comparison to its predecessor; State of Decay 2 is both a good sequel and a disappointing one, a formula to be exemplified and followed, as well as act as a warning to other potential sequels. Before starting to explain what I mean, let me make one thing absolutely clear: State of Decay 2 is a good game. It has severe technical issues, which (given the incredible, financial success it has been thus far) will most likely be ironed out in the coming months, and it is certainly NOT a game for everyone; besides the weird multiplayer decisions made, it still requires a very particular and niche way of playing to enjoy, and does not “dumb down” the core gameplay loop or the intricacies that made the original State of Decay such a hit in the first place, while expanding on them in meaningful ways. State of Decay 2 is better at introducing its complexities-new and old- and is a vastly improved experience, compared to the original; the new systems, stories and world are created with the unique blend of genres that State of Decay is known for at the foreground. Every decision and every improvement is made with that particular style in mind, and the game is better because of it.
Thus, what State of Decay 2 is, does not make it disappointing, it’s what I saw in State of Decay 1 and what I-actually- wanted from its sequel, which is not here, that makes the sequel disappointing: Ambition, aiming for the stars and not settling with anything less, even if the goal is seemingly impossible.
To properly articulate my thoughts on the game, I have to start from the beginning; the release of State of Decay in 2013. What struck me most about the first game was its ‘state of Decay’ in terms of technical performance (I’m sorry I couldn’t resist) and its self-destructive tendencies to create something so ambitious and grand, it reminded me of the AA games of yesteryears that aimed for the stars, only to crush into the sea. It was a game that blended action-adventure combat, with a zombie-survival setting and RTS-esque resource management and base-building, available in a vast open-world; all this from a small-indie studio and it shows: Besides the obvious technical issues, the game did not tutorialize itself very well, making the game impenetrable and unfair, aimless and, simultaneously, with too many options that were not clear. Add to that the poignant impact of the permadeath mechanic, the ludo-narrative nature of the game and the appeal of a game managing to present something unique and fresh in an overcrowded and cliché-filled genre, and you end up with a deeply-flawed game that has massive potential and is begging for a sequel.
It was an ambitious effort and one that barely managed to get enough things right, to gather notoriety in the gaming community and a passionate community of fans around it; instead of crashing into the ocean, State of Decay parachuted into the ocean and survived, sure to try again one day.
As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve used the term “ambitious” to describe the first State of Decay, more times than I should; that’s because I can’t think of any better terms to describe what appealed to me in the first game.
Yes, it was a mess and impenetrable in too many ways, which lead me to lose interest and stop playing eventually, but I was hyped for the return of State of Decay, with the same passionate developers behind it (but bigger and more experienced), equipped with a lot of feedback from the passionate fans of the first; which is where my original question of “what makes a good sequel?” comes into play. In today’s game industry, feedback from the community is prominently displayed as a game feature, and lots of sequels feel like the developers had a list of the most demanded features and checked as many as they could off, for the sequel; that’s not an inherently bad way to create a sequel, as for a lot of games it works like a treat. Take Titanfall 2 for example: The first Titanfall was Xbox exclusive, which lead to a decreased playerbase at launch, while it lacked a single-player campaign, which turned a lot of people off; Titanfall 2, first and foremost, fixed those issues and was a huge success with critics and players, although the strategy of the publishing company meant that the game would not have the financial success it deserved. In the case of State of Decay 2, the same formula was used; if I had checklist of what I wanted to see from the sequel to State of Decay, it would be multiplayer support, new mechanics and systems, a better tutorial and guiding experience, a story and an improved technical performance. All of these features-besides the technical performance, which I will talk about shortly- were ticked off by the sequel:
Co-op is a feature now, as well as new impactful mechanics and systems to spice things up (and bring more chaos and fun to the game), a form of story that smartly expands the ludo-narrative potential of the game, and the best part is that now I understand what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and I’m guided to the next goal or encouraged to progress in a smarter, more effective and organic way with the redesigned quest system. Thus, the quality of the new features and the game itself is at the very least good and sensible, but those features are not what disappoint me; it’s the overall lack of ambition the sequel shows. While the first State of Decay, was a breath of fresh air and revitalization of the AA game tier, the second State of Decay feels more like a standard sequel, rather than an ambitious continuation to an equally ambitious beginning; there is no awe-inspiring feature or a unique and daring new take on the game-style.
It’s too sensible, too curated to feel like a passion project, and too underwhelming to feel like a meaningful improvement over the original. To go back to the previous analogy, if the first State of Decay aimed for the stars, only to parachute and crash to the sea, then State of Decay 2 built an airplane so it could fly; still an achievement, but not nearly as impressive or exciting as what the original game was aiming for. Obviously, that’s just my impression of the first game, and maybe I saw something that was not there or did not really mean what I understood; regardless, I wanted to see something more exciting, like what the dreaded hunger and thirst meters would look like in a State of Decay game, or a more hostile multiplayer setting; I wanted something to push forward the genre, the gameplay style and the setting. Then, there’s the technical performance issue, which is where I fully realized why I found this game so disappointing: In the original State of Decay, I encountered several game-breaking and frustrating bugs, but I was more lenient and patient with that game, due to the ambitions and grand vision it put forward; State of Decay 2 has the same game-breaking and frustrating bugs, but none of that ambition, the original had. Thus, taking into consideration the limited scope of the sequel and the technical mess, when it was time to gather my thoughts and feelings on the sequel, I kept asking the same question…
“What makes a good sequel?” Is it all about fixing previous issues, expanding previous concepts and furthering the world of the first or is it about taking the ethos of the first and creating something new and fresh? In my opinion, it’s a bit of both, the balance of which has to be set in regards with the property handled; State of Decay, for me, was never about the systems and the stories I could create in that world, even though I enjoyed that aspect of the game as well, it was mostly about that underdog tale; a studio wanting to create their passion project, which aimed to marry many genres and offer something ambitious, interesting and different from everything else. Although State of Decay 2 is a better game than the original, but it is disappointing in how limited and safe it ended up being, as well as broken and frustrating; that does not mean I did not enjoy my time with State of Decay 2, or that I consider it a bad game. It’s more bitter rather than sweet experience for me, but hopefully the success of it will offer Undead Labs more chances and resources to create a truly ambitious sequel-or a new IP- that I think State of Decay warranted in the first place.