The first was during a misunderstanding with another group of survivors. Russell was one of the first four people in our group. He was our soldier. You could tell he was military, and not just because he had a badass sniper rifle and wore camo. You could tell because it said so on his character panel. When you do the tutorial, you pick a set of two starting characters and then the tutorial adds a doctor and a soldier, because it knows you’re going to need them. Russell was our soldier.
Another group had been hassling us about something. I forget what it was. I think they wanted some of our medicine. So Russell and another one of our guys went to meet with them. Russell had to make a choice between threatening them or trying to smooth things over. He chose to try to smooth things over. Of all people, soldiers know that fighting should be a last resort.
That seemed to resolve the situation. But as Russell was walking away, suddenly our guy and the other guy started slashing at each other. I’d never seen that before. I wasn’t sure why it was happening or what I should do. I didn’t want to fight other humans. They probably have a lot of hit points anyway. But our other guy quickly collapsed to the ground and their guy started running at Russell. He had a bright red diamond hovering over his head. I’d never seen that before. The bright red diamond was new. Human aggro was new.
So Russell, being a soldier, quickly killed the guy he’d been trying to negotiate with. He had to go back and kill the guy’s buddy as well, who was hiding in the back room of a gas station. I don’t remember which one of our guys got killed in the slashing. He was someone new. I don’t always remember the new guys until they’re not new guys anymore. It’s probably better that way. Besides, it was a while ago. Anyway, whoever he was, he was the first.
The second was probably Amun, but I’m only guessing that he was actually the second. He was causing problems. He was a serious morale hit on everyone. Hit trait was “asshole”. And since we were short on beds and food, it made sense that if someone had to go, it was him. So I selected to exile him, which is an option on the survivors screen. The hotkey is X, appropriately enough. For exile. But pressing X from the survivors screen isn’t enough. That’s just how you initiate the process. To see it through, you have to actually walk up to the person you’re exiling and tell him to his face. Amun had some sharp words — he was an asshole, after all — and then he left. Maybe he’s alive somewhere. Maybe he took up with another enclave. Or maybe he’s sustaining himself at a remote campsite where him being an asshole doesn’t impact anyone else’s morale. But probably not. So I’m counting him as the second.
The third was because of blood plague. It was Russell. He and Marigold were taking out a blood plague nest. These are new in State of Decay 2. They make hordes look like a picnic. They make infestations look like a brunch. They make sieges look like tea and biscuits with your 80-year-old auntie. You have to go into a house shrouded in poisonous red fog, which rises into the sky so you can see it from a distance. Nests have no compunction about advertising themselves. Somewhere socked in red fog is a huge fleshy mass that can take a lot of damage. I think fire is the best way to destroy it, but I never seem to have enough molotov cocktails. So I end up standing in front of it, slashing it with a gardening blade or whapping at it with a baseball bat, my characters complaining that there’s gotta be a better way. All the while, angry zombies swarm in to defend it. The poisonous fog stings. It burns. Russell was there the first time we dealt with a nest. It was chaos and panic, but we got the job done. He was a mess for a while after that first nest. The poisonous fog has a long-term kick.
Anyway, we’d gotten better at dealing with the blood plague nests, but it was still a challenge. We have to prep. We have to stock up. Ammo, molotovs, bandages, painkillers, freshly repaired machetes, experienced fighters with lots of stamina, a couple of coffees or energy drinks. Clicking items from the supply screen into each character’s inventory is like the montage in an action movie of the heroes getting ready for a difficult fight. Quick cuts, stirring music, close-ups. That’s how it plays in my head, but really, I’m just clicking on stuff. The best games make exciting things play in my head while boring things happen on screen.
Ideally, we go after plague nests during the day. But this time, I tried it at night because, why not? We were on our way back from someplace we probably wouldn’t be for a while, so now was as good a time as any to swing by this house and take out the nest. The number of nests represents overall progress on the map, so I’m going to have to deal with each one sooner or later. Russell and Marigold, our best fighters, were experienced enough. Sure, their infection meters were about two-thirds filled, but I didn’t really appreciate what that meant. It seems that when a character is injured by the zombies slathered in blood — they’re called blood zombies — the infection bar fills up a little bit. I could make serum to cure the infection, but I was waiting until I had the extra medicine to spend. That was a luxury I hadn’t enjoyed yet.
So it’s night time, they’re whaling away on the pulsing mass of blood plague flesh, and it’s not going well. I’m playing Marigold, and her stamina is bottoming out and I’ve run out of energy drinks and there are still a couple of zombies flailing about, and here come two more, and it takes a while for her to reload her shotgun. So I fall back a bit, firing at the fleshy mass through the door, and then a bit more because I think there’s a zombie behind me and now I can’t get an angle on the fleshy mass, and then I back out the front door to get some room to dodge. I think I can see Russell keeping up, coming out into the main room and towards the front door with me. Limbs are flying and the zombies’ bright red eyes are flashing and it’s snarls and hissing and growling at full volume. Russell is yelling about something, and Marigold is backpedaling while the shotgun reloads. But then there’s a flurry of messages about infection that I can’t quite follow because suddenly Russell has pushed forward out of the mass of zombies and his face shines bright in the glare of Marigold’s flashlight. His face is red. Deep red. Covered in blood and wet and brightly illuminated. It’s like something out of a horror movie. It’s Russell, but it doesn’t look like Russell. It doesn’t move like Russell. It’s kind of hunched over, moving towards Marigold, its face shining in the light, wet and red and Marigold is slipping the eighth shell into the shotgun. Russell is not Russell anymore. He’s my best soldier and now he’s something else entirely.
I freeze for a moment. Russell doesn’t. It takes a couple of shots from the shotgun to drop him. Actually, I’m not sure how many it takes because I just sort of panic and unload and then Russell’s face isn’t shining in the flashlight anymore and Marigold is running back to the truck, out of stamina and shotgun shells and any hope of destroying the nest or rescuing our best soldier. Now her infection bar is filled and bright green and there’s a timer on it.
I made my first batch of serum as soon as Marigold got back. Now we really need to find more medicine. Russell’s body is still way up there by that nest. I need to go back and get his rifle.
The fourth was Chang. She was our doctor. She stayed at the base most of the time. We didn’t make any progress on her standing, which is sort of like a character’s experience points. When the bar fills up, a recruit becomes a citizen, and then when it fills up again, a citizen becomes a hero. Each hero unlocks a bonus for the community, unique for that hero. I don’t recall what Chang’s bonus was, but it wasn’t enough for me to risk sending her out in harm’s way. She was our doctor.
But she kept grumbling about wanting to go on a mission. She specifically wanted to take out one of the plague nests. And she had threatened to leave. Twice. So I geared her up. I patched up one of the shotguns, gave her all the extra 12-gauge shells, loaded her up with molotovs and bandages and energy drinks. It wasn’t an action movie montage so much as a begrudging “okay, let’s get this over with so you’ll shut up and go back to doctoring at the base”. Marigold was being treated in the infirmary, so she couldn’t go along to keep Chang safe. But Blake is a hearty enough fighter. I figured he could keep her safe.
I could tell it was going all wrong, and I kept trying to get Chang out of the house. I was hammering the dodge key, trying to get her back to the front door. All of her energy drinks were gone, all of her bandages were gone, all of her stamina was gone, most of her health was gone, the shotgun wasn’t doing enough to clear a path. The zombies dragged her down once, but she broke free. They dragged her down again and she broke free again. She made it out the front door. They dragged her down a third time at the bottom of the porch steps. She didn’t break free. As in the first State of Decay, the color leaches out of the screen as the camera pulls out to an overhead shot, like an out-of-body experience. The zombies closed in on her corpse, tearing and ripping and snarling, their claws flying madly like a dog digging a hole. I’ve seen that image plenty of times in the first State of Decay. I remember it well. But what I don’t remember is Chang violently shooting upright with a snarl, her eyes entirely white. Then the camera fades and Blake is back at the base and we don’t have a doctor anymore.
The fifth hasn’t happened yet.