State of Decay Is Animal Crossing with Zombies: Let’s Build on That

We’re just a few days away from one of the most exciting game launches of the month. You know the one. The one that lets you design your own home space, filling every corner with exactly what you want or need. It lets you head out into town and meet your neighbors, even helping them with their daily routine and getting rewarded by your new friends. It lets you craft different tools for different jobs, garden or go out foraging for food, visit traveling traders with rare goods, and change your clothes to fit your style. You can even leave your town behind and visit friends in their towns to see what’s different about their world. Yes, people can hardly wait for State of Decay 2: Juggernaut Edition.

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Oh, were you thinking of a different game? That’s the point. State of Decay is, essentially, zombie Animal Crossing.

The connective threads between the two are apparent. One just does it with cutesy museum curator owls and the other with bile-filled zombies that explode into noxious gas when you shoot them. But that’s not so different, is it?

All kidding aside, the massive popularity of Animal Crossing and its shared DNA with State of Decay lead one to wonder about what the latter could learn from the former, should we get a State of Decay 3 from Undead Labs on Xbox Series X. Here are five things State of Decay could learn or implement from Animal Crossing.

Build Monuments to the Past

State of Decay 2 improves on its predecessor in many ways, but one of the most important ways is how it gives you a legacy to carve out with your chosen leader. Offering different archetypes like Warlord or Sheriff, State of Decay 2 allows players to cement a figurative monument to their post-apocalyptic adventures, but what about literal monuments? In Animal Crossing, players dig up fossils to fill the local museum. It’s one way of appreciating the past, though in Animal Crossing the barren story outline isn’t so interested in contextualizing that history in any meaningful way. But in State of Decay, it could be.

Let players chase down relics of the pre-zombie world like baseball equipment or fill libraries as best as they can with what books they can scrounge up. Currently, these old-world delights are used in trading and considered “high-value,” but what if they served a greater humanistic purpose rather than just being fodder to amass more Influence to build your survivor community? A great deal of State of Decay 3, should it come to be, could then be focused on memorializing the past to ground its survivors in their humanity.

Settle Down Someplace New

When State of Decay 2: Juggernaut Edition arrives March 13, it will introduce a fifth map to the game, which is awesome. The new map, Providence Ridge, joins the three at launch and Trumbull Valley, which returned to the series in last year’s Heartland DLC. To go from one map to five in a single sequel was a welcome leap, but there remains a bit too much in common across all of them. We saw this for years in Animal Crossing too. “Oh, look, another small village with the same trees and homes spread among them.” State of Decay‘s maps aren’t quite as uniform as the settings in the last several sequels of Animal Crossing, but they could use a similar injection of new scenery the way New Horizons is getting a big makeover with its island locale.

All five of State of Decay‘s maps are (or in the case of this week’s latest, appears to be) set outside of major hubs. Is State of Decay forever tied to rural settings? That’s all we’ve seen so far, but change is in order. State of Decay in a major city would be awesome. Rather than search short offices, homes, and barracks, having to clear much larger skyscrapers, hospitals, and sports arenas could be a riveting new way to play.

Find Your Isabelle

Do you know why every Animal Crossing fan has an opinion on every character, from the iconic Isabelle, to the musical K.K. Slider, to the controversial Tom Nook? It’s because even though not every village is home to every character, those that are your neighbors have a distinct personality. They don’t feel randomly generated. In State of Decay, there is no Isabelle. Neighbors are useful because you can form alliances and develop trading partners, but there’s no relationship to be found beyond the surface level. Characters’ names are virtually pointless.

In State of Decay 3, NPCs could have clear-cut personalities. They could act more like quest-givers in a live-service game — established and identifiable at a minimum. Like in Animal Crossing, I should need to play multiple times before I meet everyone, and when I share the same town with past neighbors, I should already have a feel for who they are just by seeing them on their property. Story is State of Decay‘s weakest point, but something like this would be a smart compromise for the game that is mostly intent on letting players tell their own survivor stories. Don’t define every interaction — just color them.

Celebrate the Seasons

One of the coolest parts about Animal Crossing has always been its live-service nature — well ahead of the trend in that regard. In Animal Crossing, things happen at different times of the day, the month, the year, whether you’re there or not to see them. Holidays, birthdays, town festivals —  life goes on without you, which makes it fun to keep coming back so you don’t miss the festivities. In State of Decay, nothing is quite as festive, but State of Decay 2 never did much with live in-game events. Rare traders have come to town and there was an Independence Day weapons DLC, but that’s as far as that idea went.

In State of Decay 3, I’d love to see more events that go on with or without you. In a zombie game, the possibilities are fascinating too. Maybe there’s a massive horde of zombies approaching your town, and a full lobby of players will need to fend it off. Or maybe a new Warlord, a real Negan type, comes knocking at your door, forcing players to pick sides in a battle you may not wish to fight. Maybe in the winter, a new special infected arrives, or it makes certain cars less helpful in the snow. Give the world a sense of time and place in ways the series hasn’t done yet.

State of Decay 2: Juggernaut Edition is like Animal Crossing: New Horizons with zombies

Go Bigger, Like You Always Wanted

In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players can join up to four-player co-op on one screen or up to eight players online. For the beloved series, it feels like the sort of dream players always wished for, now finally achieved. State of Decay 2 already offers four-player co-op online, but did you know the original game was once thought of as a precursor to an eventual zombie MMO? A long time ago, Undead Labs codenamed State of Decay Class3,” and it was meant to lay the foundation for an eventual “Class4,” the full MMO experience. We haven’t seen it yet, but it seems like the next logical step for the franchise.

Especially now, as Microsoft continues to push Xbox Game Pass so hard, it seems like live-service games like Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 4 are the load-bearing columns of the subscription, and more games like those should be right in line with the company’s vision. Even as Phil Spencer has said Game Pass allows studios to not have to chase live-service games, such games remain an apparent priority for Microsoft itself — get you in and keep you there with massive games that have no real end. Like Animal Crossing, State of Decay already does that well, and making Class4 a reality, I believe, is both still on the table and even the most promising path forward.

State of Decay 2 lets me live out my Walking Dead fantasies better than anything else in games, but there’s still a lot to improve. I do believe State of Decay 3 will come to be one day, and it may look very different from what we’ve seen from the series so far. But its roots have always been in its post-apocalyptic life sim elements, and I’d bet the next iteration of the series will still gleefully play a lot like Animal Crossing — with a few more cleaved zombie brains, of course.

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Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. Formerly the Features and Reviews Editor of TrueAchievements, he's been writing online since 2011 and continues to do so as a freelancer today for outlets like Escapist, GamesRadar, EGM, and OpenCritic. Outside of games, he is an avid biker, a loud animal advocate, an HBO binge-watcher, and a lucky family man. He almost never writes in the third-person.