Heartland, the biggest State of Decay 2 update yet, is a love letter to the first game. It’s also a mode that relies far less on the emergent narratives and focuses more on a deliberately paced experience.
Heartland is a traditional narrative with some twists that picks up 18 months after the end of State of Decay. As zombies and plagues are wont to do, they’ve mutated. A starting pair of survivors make their way to the titular heartland, and that’s when State of Decay 2’s gameplay loop starts — with some big changes.
The biggest change is that the player’s band of survivors is set at one base. There’s no more roaming and trying to size up for a bigger, better situation. Instead, players are locked down and forced to work with the singular base. The survivors that players meet in the world, to compensate, have powerful perks and passive abilities that bolster the base and its operations.
Players choose between the two survivors at the start of the Heartland campaign. The campaign features two new stories — one woman is trying to find her father, and one man is attempting to find his hero, who he has only spoken to over the radio.
Gone are the randomly generated survivors; instead, Heartland introduces a band of hardy folk across the map. The order you encounter them in, and the decisions you make, can change, but the survivors are far more set in stone than in State of Decay 2’s main mode.
These enhanced survivors are necessary because Heartland kicks up the difficulty. Every zombie you encounter on the map has the Blood Plague. That includes the “Freaks,” special characters like the Juggernaut and Screamer. Every single enemy is infected, which means that I cannot stop screaming, because that not only amps up the difficulty dramatically but it’s also incredibly spooky. Players need to build, prepare, and survive until the endgame event, the Gauntlet.
The map from the original State of Decay was rebuilt from the ground up, Undead Labs says, with special care taken to revisit old landmarks. The developers intended it as a love letter to longtime State of Decay fans while balancing that with making it accessible to new players. You can jump into Heartland at any time.
There is a catch to this, though. Because Heartland survivors are so tied to their map and base, they can’t be made into legacy characters and cross over into the main campaign of the game. That divide goes both ways; characters from the main campaign can’t travel to Heartland. However, players can bring their survivors into the opposite mode if it’s through the multiplayer co-op.
State of Decay 2’s Heartland expansion is available now for $9.99 on the Microsoft Store; the mode is also included as part of Xbox Game Pass.