As readers here know, I’m a big fan of sandbox gameplay, MMO or otherwise. The core thing that attracts me to the sandbox experience is the sense of unpredictability, of seeing a bunch of tools laid out for you by the developers and seeing what happens when you interact with them.
Dead State is an interesting, if ultimately frustrating quasi-sandbox game. I don’t want to get into the details of the game or do a full review, as I honestly think it can easily be summed up as “turn based State of Decay”. Now on paper, TBS State of Decay is right up my alley, and honestly the game does play like that for the most part.
The main issue I have with the game is that it’s not a sandbox experience, but rather a directed experience posing as a sandbox, which is initially very odd and gets more and more frustrating as you go. Quick example; the game has an infection mechanic, where if someone is infected they will turn undead after a few days. This can be delayed by using antibiotics daily. That’s actually a fun mechanic, because it adds the burden of finding or making antibiotics, and getting infected isn’t a total dealbreaker as any one character dying isn’t game-over.
Dead State however has an event that gives you an infected character which then drives an infection-based storyline. That’s fine, other than being a little heavy-handed in terms of driven content. The issue is that, at least in my game, I had another character already infected from some random encounter and was already treating them with antibiotics, yet because the event is scripted, everyone was acting like this is something totally new and unexpected. Hell, my previously infected character even had scripted dialog talking about how horrible being infected would be. Not only is that just a laughable immersion breaker, but it reminds you that while bits of the game are sandboxy, you aren’t really playing in a true sandbox.
The really frustrating thing about Dead State is that it SHOULD be a 100% sandbox game, or at least have that mode. It really feels like the story-driven part is tacked on, often ungracefully, to what is otherwise a fairly open and player-driven setup.
It’s also very clear that the ambition of the game heavily outmatched the budget here. The low graphics I can deal with (in fact I think the environments are fantastic, but the character models are pretty meh), but the disconnects and inconsistencies of the game just scream “ran out of money/time”. There is a reason Skyrim cost a fortune to make; to get a sandbox setup that still has heavy scripted stories, you NEED a giant budget to make it work, and clearly Dead State didn’t have that going for it. But again, it would have been a MUCH better game if it never tried to go heavy on a pre-written story, and instead just dropped you onto the map, said good luck, and let you play things out.
Maybe that will be patched in at a later date, but I doubt it, which is very unfortunate, as Dead State has a lot of good stuff going for it. Still somewhat recommended, especially heavily discounted, but know you are getting something that while fun, is a bit flawed and taunts you with unlocked potential.
PS: The zombie-based combat is also pretty stupid since 99% of the time you will fight them one at a time, which feels terribly lame and gets boring fast. The encounters with other humans, who make noise with guns, are far superior, and again taunt you with what could have been, especially since zombies already have noise-based AI, but its so terribly imbalanced that melee never triggers another zombie, even one standing a few squares from your current fight.