Chasing realism in State of Decay, Pt. II: Win some, lose some


Undead Labs rolled out a second update for State of Decay, again fixing a lot of essential problems: characters getting stuck, zombies and characters not reacting properly, etc. I hope this also means my walls will never disappear again, which was hilarious until I discovered, in mid-air over the river, that the bridges had disappeared, too. Best/worst crash ever.

But it’s not all fun and zombies-stuck-in-walls. Some of the update is about immersion. The Undead Labs folks really seem to be listening to their players; a number of officials are active on the forum, and they engage in social media, passing around articles (like ours!) and talking to the players about their desires. Some of what’s happening with the patches is a direct response to that. That’s good. I’m glad they’re listening. I just hope they don’t listen too much.

I praised the team last time because State of Decay seemed to get more difficult in some ways after the first update, and I feel that’s good and right for an apocalyptic scenario. But maybe I spoke a little soon. I haven’t had a chance to play much since this update, but the patch notes had me a little wary about some of what’s going on, and in the one 45-minute session I had of any significance? Nary a single special zombie (except some SWAT guys, and they’re wusses who don’t count). No ferals tryna rip me up. No fatties. Nothing. A few sweat-inducing hordes of size, but hordes ain’t nothing if you keep your head. I ran around a little more. Picked up some things. Checked the clock. Looked at the map, check my resources, and shrugged. I didn’t have the drive to do much. It was easy, in fact, to turn off my Xbox.

I’m starting to get a little worried about my badass zombie game here is what I’m saying.

Between the two updates released thus far, I worry that the UL team is trying to keep the experience immersive while pandering a little to the folks crying difficulty. Caffeine and energy drinks won’t keep you going as long, for instance. There’s only so much lifespan to those Red Bull wings, you know.

But one of the changes that had me rubbing my chin was that playable characters could no longer be killed by the game simulation, so look up to find that your homies have gone to that safehouse in the sky while you were not paying attention. Huh, I though. Yeah, I’d prefer to have control, but hey. It’s the apocalypse. If I’m going to lose resources if I don’t play for a couple of days, if I can never pause, why do I want the characters I build up to be safe just because they’re playable?  Short answer: I don’t.

It’s not a huge change, really. But it’s UL giving in, just a little, and already there are people complaining that their characters are dying. “I thought playable characters couldn’t die now, but Marcus just got messed up!” No, folks. Your people are not invincible. Do you really want them to be? Is that what we’ll be asking for next? “Hey, I want to fight zombies and try to survive, except I’d like to also never die because dying is bogus.”

And Mercy Shot, which I wrote about previously? That tragic mission that requires you to make tough decisions if one of your survivors looks like they might die? No longer going to affect playable characters. The decision is easier if it’s some random you have to walk out behind the proverbial barn. Maybe this is what the team originally wanted, but it doesn’t feel quite right to me (and doesn’t quite jibe with the moral decisions Jeff Strain has talked about wanting in the game). That kind of mission should be difficult, in my opinion. It should be a sacrifice, something that’s never easy. I even find it difficult every time to kill Asshole Alan in the required mission that introduces the idea of the mercy killing — and I want those feelings. If playable characters can no longer be affected by serious illness or the black fever, some of those difficult decisions are being taken away.

The Undead Labs team is listening to the fans, and that’s good. But elements of the game (like fuel management) were already cut in order to release on time, and now we’ve lost an opportunity for a truly tough decision. Right now, State of Decay is the only game in town, as it were, but with titles like Project Zomboid lurking just outside the mainstream, the UL team might want to decide just how much they want to bend.

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3 Responses to “Chasing realism in State of Decay, Pt. II: Win some, lose some”

  1. Alexander B. says:

    There is definitely a place for both easy and hard games as Demon Souls has taught us. Meeting that balance of hard but not punishing is not easy to do so for a game to achieve it and try to temper it down seems a shame. Perhaps it’d be better for them to make another game mode entirely for those that want a easy mode, IDK. lol

  2. dr. b. says:

    I think all games should have scalable difficulty levels. At this point I expect it and get pissed if I don’t get it.

    On another note, Demon Souls helped us see something that we learned from platforms decades ago (but didn’t realize that we had learned), that we learn from our failure. I think that the biggest difference is that games like Demon Souls are a lot more brutal in their failure.

  3. Alisha Karabinus says:

    I would definitely love to see scalable difficulties in all games, but I think also sometimes it’s hard to determine what makes a game difficult. What would make SoD harder? More zombies? More effort to kill zombies? More specials? Fewer resources? Lower health? All of the above? Something else? It’s a holistic experience and I think setting different bars would be difficult without making the harder settings artificially difficult or the lower bars laughably easy.