After the Seattle-based studio, Undead Labs, released their first game, the Microsoft published and Xbox console exclusive State of Decay, founder Jeff Strain was open about the lack of multiplayer being the games main problem. He has spoken about the absence multiple times and even talked about the possibility of patching a multiplayer mode into the game. With Strain coming from a background as being lead programmer for the huge, long running success that is World of Warcraft, it's easy to see why.
So what did they do with all of the feedback gathered both from within the development team and from the community, regarding this lack of multiplayer? Well, the Undead Labs team's multiplayer ambitions may not have been implemented in the original game but they are central in the sequel. At first the plan was to let the game evolve into a full blown zombie themed MMO, but that plan got scrapped in favour of the co-op experience we're now seeing. This switch in focus does make sense too, as it's looking to be more easily absorbed by ordinary players while, at the same time, it gives fans of the original exactly what they have always asked for.
The co-operative gameplay was previewed behind closed doors at this year's Gamescom event and the system behind the multiplayer mode looked great. Let's set a scenario; you're out looking for rations and a possible zombie cure for one of your most valuable community members who's been infected and is in really bad shape. You find yourself in a relatively undead-inactive neighborhood and everything seems to be going your way. Some houses still have stocked medicine cabinets, a car outside is driveable and you're thinking it's too good to be true - and you're right. Some AI survivors come rushing past the building you're in, honking their car horns and a horde of angry zombies is approaching fast as the car continues off into the distance, leaving you in the middle of an undead horde with some tasty flesh covering your body. You keep your cool and fire a bright flare from your flare gun in hopes of someone seeing it and acknowledging your need of assistance, making saving you a priority.
In State of Decay 2, the multiplayer aspect is triggered either through your friend list and its option to join someone else's game, or through the aforementioned flare feature. When a player sends a flare up, other players who have registered themselves as "willing to help" in the menu get a notification that someone needs them. From there the notified player can either refuse to help or easily join with the press of a button. Once in the other survivor's game the co-op partner can help out and drop out at any time. When the transition between the single- and multiplayer modes were shown at the Gamescom event it seemed seamless and took little to no time. In seconds, the two players demoing the game were standing side by side, fighting off some rotting corpses together before they ran off in separate directions so they could cover more ground and find more loot. Turns out the small neighborhood the pair were scavenging housed two AI characters and after helping them out of an undead pickle the two agreed to join the player's community. We were, however, told not to trust all of the AI characters - they're not all good people or assets to your team.
When we asked about the possibility of luring co-op partners in and straight up shooting them in the head and taking their loot, Strain assured us that that kind of scenario wouldn't be possible at all since you can't shoot other players directly. There will also be some kind of reward system active for players helping others out, however, what the rewards are and any intel on how they will be distributed wasn't shared.