Opening with players choosing the backstory of two survivors, State of Decay 2 has players trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. Right away one of the survivors is bitten by a plague zombie, requiring aid before they become a plague zombie themself. Choosing to start in either the foothills, valley or plateau, players will start with a house that has three small plots. An infirmary will be needed immediately to save one of the survivors. The remaining plots can be used based on the needs of your settlement to build a garden to grow food, or a workshop to repair and make weapons. The settlement will quickly outgrow the first base and need to be relocated.
The interesting thing about the base building mechanic is that typically in games with survival elements once you have an established base the game becomes easier. Here the opposite is true, as you build up your base zombie attacks become more frequent as they become attracted to the increased noise and activity. This increase in attacks puts your survivors at risk and can lead to more deaths happening, making your experience harsher. The better-prepared survivors will find scavenging and defense to be a much easier experience.
Different survivors have different skill levels, some of which may have unique skills such as gardening, chemist or utilities. These skills will make them better at different tasks, a chemist, for example, can make the still which provides base wide water and can mix fuel. Someone specialized in utilities can work well with power and water, eventually specializing in electricity or plumbing. The core annoyance here is that players have to switch between survivors when they become fatigued or they take constant stamina penalties. The part that makes this more annoying is that if you have a survivor that has a special mission and they become fatigued or injured, switching to another survivor makes them drop the mission which makes them unhappy. Unhappy survivors are more likely to start fights and bring down the morale in your settlement.
Survivors will increase their skills as they go out scavenging the ruins, gaining points in cardio from sprinting, fighting from melee combat or wits from searching containers. Some skills also increase core stats, for example increasing fighting increases max health, while increasing cardio increases max stamina. When a skill becomes max level it can be specialized, the nice thing here is not every survivor has the same options. One survivor may have access to swordplay when specializing in fighting, while another may have access to close combat specialization.
Combat in this game is pretty straightforward, your primary attack button will cause you to swing your melee weapon or close combat weapon if it breaks. The secondary attack button will cause you to pull out and aim your equipped gun while aiming primary attack fires. The core issue with combat is weapon durability, having a weapon durability system is perfectly fine as it adds more stress to what should be a somewhat stressful experience. The problem is that weapons break far too quickly, combine that with high repair costs for some weapons and the fact that crafting parts are typically found in single digit numbers in containers.