In State of Decay 2, players manage a ragtag group of survivors as they gather resources, use resources, and waste resources, as well as complain and fight off zombies. In the game’s DLC Daybreak, out this week, base-building and citizen micromanagement are put aside in favor of pure zed-killing action.
Daybreak is an independent co-op horde mode in which players earn weapons, items, facilities, and playable characters for use in the base game’s campaign. You and up to three teammates must defend a walled-off parking lot and protect a technician who is repairing a relay. This becomes increasingly difficult over the course of seven waves, each longer and more zombie-riddled than the last But as you’re a paramilitary soldier from Red Talon, you’ve got access to powerful weapons and equipment to help you make it through.
As each round begins, zombies shamble out of the darkness toward your little safety zone, determined to knock down the walls and get inside. There are gaps in the wall to shoot through, but it’s a good idea to conserve ammo. However, to use your melee weapons before the zombies get inside, you’ll have to jump the wall and fight them outside. It’s a viable approach to keep the horde at bay and protect your barricades, but it’s also easy to get overwhelmed, particularly when there are also special infected on the field. Getting trapped in a Bloater’s gas cloud can kill you quickly, while Ferals can jump the barricade and take down your technician in no time. Then maybe a nigh-unstoppable Juggernaut shows up, or even one of the new infected, the Blood Plague Juggernaut, who’s like a regular Juggernaut but, you know, plague-ier.
Daybreak is at its most exhilarating when it devolves into chaos. Watching your safe haven collapse around you, zombies everywhere, hoping the technician will stay alive for the remaining seconds in the round as you die and wait to respawn…only for the technician to die and send you back to wave one. If the technician does survive, you spend the brief time between rounds gathering supply caches from the darkness beyond the parking lot, bandaging everyone up, and repairing broken walls. Good luck getting it all done and feeling fully prepared when the next group of undead arrives, particularly if you attempt a solo run. Your AI companions will shoot at zombies, but they don’t prioritize saving the technician and they don’t assist in any of the tasks between rounds.
There’s no story content beyond the simple premise, and the cracks show early. It’s frantic and fun, particularly with friends, but there’s a thin line between “let’s go one more round!” and “it’s just the same thing over and over.” How long it takes for the former to become the latter likely depends on how much of a checklist gamer you are. Item unlocking is really the only goal beyond surviving all seven waves. You start each match (or life) as a new character, with no skills to earn or levels to accrue. There’s a healthy number of weapons and items waiting to be unlocked, but what motivation is there after you get the last one?
Maybe you want to earn enough prestige, Daybreak’s currency, to enable you to create a community of well-armed supersoldiers in the base game. To me, this flies in the face of the “ordinary folks endure the apocalypse together” vibe of State of Decay. On the other hand, it might be nice to have some competent survivors instead of clumsy boobs who constantly ruin supplies and get winded after two swings of a wrench.
Daybreak is a decent enough diversion, but, like the base game, the experience ultimately feels oddly hollow. Surviving for survival’s sake isn’t always enough.