State of Decay 2 shares a lot with the original game, while evolving on the notions that made it so unique. Following its small-scale predecessor on Xbox 360, Microsoft's upcoming zombie-themed survival game is shaping up as the next big step for the franchise.

With the game's May 22 debut less than one month away on Xbox One and Windows 10, we had the opportunity to spend four hours exploring its merciless survival sandbox on Xbox One X. Offering some valuable advances upon the original formula, the game currently shows promise, especially with its attractive price point.

Rebuilding humanity

State of Decay 2 is looking to remain true to the series legacy, embracing the survival roots that defined the original experience. Like its predecessor, players take control of a community of survivors, building out outposts, allies, and the resources to support them. Players are incentivized to explore the remnants of civilization and take risks to progress while keeping tabs on their people.

Over the years gamers have been exposed to an abundance of acclaimed zombie titles, with DayZ, Dead Rising, Dead Island and Dying Light all among franchises embracing the genre's revival. Although the zombie trend of the last generation has mostly subsided, Microsoft still sees potential with its approach for State of Decay 2.

Zombie games have often laid a focus on post-apocalyptic settings while expressing a sense of hopelessness through their worlds. Designer director at Undead Labs, Richard Foge, pitches a different angle for State of Decay 2's development, conveying a tale of recovery. Rather than rewarding mass zombie slaughter or fighting fellow survivors, gameplay focuses on uniting, surviving the outbreak and rebuilding society – but that's not to say you can't have fun along the way.

Some of the main aspects of the State of Decay 2 experience are its base management components, requiring players to build and maintain communities to withstand the rising zombie threat. The development team has doubled down on the first game's strengths while steering clear of past shortcomings for existing features while ushering in new ones.

After securing settlements, members can be recruited under your community, while allocating specific roles based on their strengths. With deeper backstories for every individual character for this sequel, this makes it easier identify outstanding skills and traits, respectively assigning them meaningful roles. Survivors also have their own goals and values to pursue, carving out unique missions in line with their persona. This deep progression leaves each of State of Decay 2's survivors feeling truly personified — not just a sheet of numbers to decipher.

The management and upgrades of bases themselves have also received a revamp and play a deeper role in the game's survival mechanics. Outposts are split into modular sectors, where various facilities can be installed and upgraded to grow an outpost's capabilities. By installing new facilities, new crafting, storage, and resource options can be provided to your community, helping establish a stronger standing against the undead threat.

Our hands-on started six to eight hours into the State of Decay 2 experience, meaning we're yet to experience the early stages of acquiring bases and their growth. Provided the opening hours hold up and opportunities for long-term progression are present, creating a personal home could be a compelling drive to keep playing beyond missions. With the added depth in both community management and base progression, gameplay is looking to push the strengths of the first game even harder.

The fight for survival

Like the original State of Decay, its successor features a familiar gameplay loop — completing missions and side quests, while managing survivors, outposts, and resources on the side. There's a variety of activities to investigate across its open worlds, which can be approached at your own pace.

State of Decay 2 will seemingly pack a variety of content from launch, with three separate maps divided into distinct regions. Each of these maps is supposedly comparable to the first game in its entirety, with rich farmland, dry grassland, and a dark mountainous regions spread between them.

Rather than littering your map with countless objective markers and checklists, much of State of Decay 2's progression occurs organically. Some of my best moments occurred while scavenging for supplies or exploring beyond where the mission directed me, uncovering pockets of narrative or context along the way.

While exploring, a survivor could call for help or a nearby house may contain valuable loot, providing opportunities to secure new community members or resources. High-risk activities like infestations make a return too, pitting an overwhelming horde of zombies against you in the promise of better loot. Blood plague hearts expand on this setup, requiring players to destroy a fleshy mound while zombies flood the surrounding area.

From our time so far, State of Decay 2 appears to significantly build on the content offering on the original, providing an experience deep enough to invest in. While it's unclear how the game will accommodate long-term players, there appears to be a substantial cycle to keep your invested beyond just the main questline.

As with many of today's biggest games, to keep players engaged, ample content needs to be available from the outset. And like the original, I did also encounter some odd bugs and hitches, although its unclear how much of this can be attributed to its in-progress nature. With a proven strong foundation — it's up to the final game to alleviate these concerns at launch.

With a price point of $29.99 for State of Decay 2's standard edition, this could be a major draw at launch. At half the price of a traditional triple-A title, while offering more content than your average indie, there's potential for the budget-conscious gamer. And with services like Xbox Game Pass offering unlimited access at $9.99 per month, Microsoft could see adoption on an even wider scale.

State of Decay 2 appears to remains true to the original experience, leveraging many of the same foundations that make the original stand out. With deeper survival aspects Undead Labs has identified what made the original so unique while reducing the presence of some weaker concepts. If you didn't like what the original had to offer, State of Decay might not be for you — but for an experience with a strong survival focus, there's little on Xbox One quite like this.