State of Decay: The Many Deaths of Marcus Campbell
So I've been sinking a lot of hours into State of Decay lately, and you'd think that means I'm pretty far into the game. But I'm not, because I'm a stubborn old mook, and every time the starting character Marcus Campbell gets killed, I start a new game.
For those of you who haven't played the game, I recommend giving Martuk's recent article about the development of the game a good read. And then play the game, because it's badass.
I should also point out that starting over when Marcus dies is almost entirely unnecessary. Once you get out of the introductory zone and into the main sandboxy area of Spencer's Mill (or, realistically, as soon as you pick up Maya Torres, the second playable character), Marcus's story commitments are basically done and he is as expendable as your most beloved character on Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. But I hate losing him because he's the first guy you get - he's sort of the Rick Grimes of State of Decay. He feels like the "leader" of the group, despite the fact that it's Lily Ritter who seems to he the one giving out all the orders. And, since he's an African American man, I want to see him buck the long-standing racist horror movie stereotype and make it to the end.
Problem is, I can't seem to keep him alive. I've sunk about 20-some hours into the game so far, and I've restarted 3 times. He has died spectacularly each time. Sometimes it's hilarious, sometimes frustrating, but never is it boring or un-earned.
1. Death By Horde
This first death took me by surprise, and taught me two valuable lessons:
1) There are wandering hordes, and they are super dangerous when you're running solo.
2) When your cricket bat breaks and you have no other melee weapons, just go home and get a new one. Because you need a melee weapon, always.
It was the first time I had encountered a horde. Marcus had just finished cleaning out a house in beautiful downtown Spencer's Mill, and, during the course of clearing the place out, busted his bat across some zombie's skull. Or, more likely, on its shoulder, because the damn things never break with a finishing move. He was running solo, because clearing out a house doesn't really require extra manpower.
Even two zeds can be overpowering when you're exhausted and unarmed.
Anyway, the bat was busted, and he was down to his trusty .22 revolver, fully loaded with 6 juicy shots. He was carrying a full rucksack of... something. To be honest, the details are a bit fuzzy, because what happened next sort of overshadowed the trivia.
He steps out into the sunlight. I had not yet learned to keep a weather eye on the mini-map for the telltale red stain of a horde's line of sight, nor had I ever encountered a horde before this point. Later on, I would encounter them almost immediately after leaving Mount Tanner, wandering the streets with impunity, but this was my very first one. It came as a bit of a shock, then, when approximately 8 zombies came charging at Marcus as soon as he stepped out into the street and jogged directly into their line of sight.
Eight zombies might not sound like a lot, but when you're by yourself with no melee weapon or gas bombs or other efficient means of dealing with multiple zeds, and you are over your carrying-weight limit, it might as well be 80. Also, the zombies that travel in hordes are usually the fast-runner kind - you need to use sprints to keep ahead of them, and the zombies don't get tired.
The most effective method of dealing with hordes of zeds - though, ideally, use a bigger car.
Marcus emptied his revolver at the charging horde, killing a few of them but attracting far more - another 8 or so joined in on the Marcus-hunt, drawn out of the shadows of nearby houses by the sound of gunfire. Then he ran, and he had to sprint to stay ahead of the horde. But the weight of the load of bricks or Twinkies or Ibuprofen or whatever it was he was carrying, and the fact that he had been out scavenging all night and was dead tired already, spelled his doom. He was quickly exhausted and over-run, and torn into several gory pieces. He put up a hell of a fight, rallying twice, but he had no means to properly fight back, and there were simply too many of them.
He might have been fine if he had been carrying a frying pan. He could have swatted his way out. Instead, he was forced to try to fight by kicking, which is disastrous after hard sprinting.
This death dismayed and disheartened me, like when a key character on The Walking Dead dies a grisly death. But I kept on playing this save for a little while. Until I lost Maya and then one of the other random group guys, who died trying to retrieve her rucksack. At that point, I started over.
2. Death As A Runner
This one was terribly disappointing, and taught me another important lesson - this one, about the relative merit of sending runners on long-distance supply-retrieval missions, and using terribly weak escorts.
The church had come upon a dire need of construction materials, and I remembered seeing an industrial warehouse between the park at the beginning of the game and the tunnel on the way to town. I sent a couple guys out there and, sure enough, found a couple caches of construction materials. I radioed back for pickup, and Lily decided Marcus was the man for the job.
You probably wouldn't be so tired if you didn't use so many high-jumping head-stomps.
This goes to show you that Marcus is perfectly expendable at this point. Runners can encounter serious trouble on the road, and this is especially true if it's a long-distance haul at night. They take ill-advised shortcuts and do dumb n00b stuff, and can get killed pretty easily. This is not a position that crucial characters should be put in, so it stands to reason that, if a character is sent out as a runner, he is no longer crucial.
I was using Jacob Ritter, Lily's brother, and this was just after I had unlocked him as a solo character rather than just a helper. His combat skills, endurance and health were all pretty low, and he did not have a forbidding arsenal of weapons. And I was driving the crappy little yellow car, which is just as much of a lemon as un-trained Jacob is.
Marcus got waylaid by zombies on his way to the pickup spot. Jacob drove there in his little yellow lemon car to help out, and broke his rusty pipe and used up all his Twinkies in doing so. But I knew that the road between the point where Marcus had been waylaid and the warehouse where the goods were stashed was thick with zeds, so I decided to follow him to "help" him out.
That was a bad idea. A double-stack of hordes had formed up behind me, and Marcus got caught by both of them. The crappy tin car, which was already belching black smoke by the time Marcus met up with the hordes, was not capable of snow-plowing through the hordes as per usual. So I had to flee, and let him die.
I took Jacob back a short while later to retrieve Marcus's rucksack, but the hordes were still there. And I had forgotten to bring a new bat. Jacob died in a burst of glory, and, having lost two key characters, I decided to restart. Again.
3. Death By Ambush
This one happened really early on, and it didn't really teach me a lesson. It did teach me that the game can be a real bitch sometimes, and that life after the zombie apocalypse can be unforgivingly harsh.
It was just after I had set up at the church, and Lily had given me my very first swap-n-trade assignment. Maya was the package-carrier, Marcus was the escort. We drove off in the dead of night to the gas station with the dinosaurs, way out on the highway.
"A handyman's dream, one owner, colorful neighborhood, abundant local fauna!"
Of course, the place was flooded with zombies. Marcus broke his bat on the very first group, and didn't have a backup. Or a gun. I had just started this playthrough, so I didn't have a lot of equipment for my newbie traders yet. And these trade missions were usually pretty simple and easygoing.
Not so this time. The gas station was packed with zeds, and the damned things just kept coming. After breaking his bat about halfway through, Marcus soldiered on using just his feet and Maya's crowbar. It worked well enough.
Then it was time to make the swap. The blue indicator was just to the north and the zombies were all cleared away. Or so I thought. There were more of them in the house, attacking the trader guy. A lot more. Say, an entire horde's worth, all packed into one pitch-black room, hammering on the long-dead body of the friendly trader.
Again, this wouldn't have been so terrible. Maya is a capable fighter, and Marcus is usually fine using just his boots if he's running with a capable ally. The problem was the Feral that was tucked away in the middle of the horde.
Ferals are a lot tougher than your average zombie. They are ambush hunters with very powerful attacks, and are deadly enough when they are encountered on their own. When encountered in the middle of 6 or 8 regular zombies, they're a freakin' nightmare. It leapt out and killed Maya and then ripped Marcus to shreds while he was still trying to kick his way back out of the house to flee for his life.
Kicking ass is tiring work.
At just over 21 hours in, I'm now on Marcus #4. Things are going a bit
better this time - there have been some close calls, but I make sure he
never leaves the church without an undamaged melee weapon and plenty of
Twinkies and Aspirin. When he gets worn out, I trade out his weapon for a
fresh one and retire him for a rest. This time around, I'm determined to
keep my ace dude alive. But if the past 20-some hours are any indication,
my hopes for Marcus Campbell's future are not terribly bright.