The concept of getting players into a mindset to better understand or engage with a game beyond what the pure mechanics can present A) Has been and will be an ongoing fluid debate forever and B) Is what every game, ever, no matter how mechanics-focused, is actually doing. You’re always filling in gaps that mechanics can’t, some fill in more for you than others, but there are always gaps, and if you didn’t fill them then you probably wouldn’t be into games (or really, most any art) at all, they’d just be dull marionette shows full of pretense and blather. Art is always speaking a language that tries to get your brain to fill in detail where there can’t possibly be any, it’s just that games have become so vividly interactive (plus a bunch of more cynical cultural factors I won’t get into) that it’s easy for us to stumble into believing there’s any one Way Things Are or Should Be in them, therefore the language we expect from them is still very limited and it’s sometimes hard to get us to think differently.
Rob and Austin have different perspectives on the piece they’re presented because of the type of gap-filling they expected, and part of that could be how SoD2’s introduction of its ludic language is misdirected, while another part could be the general change of tone. State of Decay 1 was almost vibrantly optimistic as far as post-apocalypses go, all problems could be ultimately solved if you were On It, you couldn’t really be a dick and people couldn’t be dicks to you, there was a distinctly horizontal structure to your community, it had its own distinct tone and structure. SoD2 is evidently trying to ramp up the tension, be a bit bleaker, and focus on the structural elements that made the first stand out to make for a double-the-price sequel many years later. As a result, the tone and goals of the game’s storytelling are markedly different from SoD1’s, while still trying to introduce itself as if it’s grounded the same way when it’s ultimately not.
Now it’s a question of how can we learn about how SoD2 failed to get Rob into a mindset where he could feel positively engaged with what it was uniquely trying to do, it’s not a problem of making it procgen-focused, but what the probabilities are presented as when they’re fulfilled, how they’re connected, and what system could exist so the devs could better connect elements and more clearly communicate both tone and complexity to the player. SoD2’s balance is going for some pretty standard disempowerment dynamics and use-your-imagination procgen, and while that abrasiveness and stats-screens-you-can-roleplay-with stuff can be engaging to someone expecting that, it can be devastatingly alienating to those who aren’t, especially if the game itself fails to communicate a huge part of it.
And as it always is, it’s an ideological thing. As far as singleplayer games go, the type of individualism that’s expressed was actually pretty positive in SoD1. It had a lot of empowering strategy elements, but there was no one leader bossing anyone around, you were always playing the role of The Community more than any concept of a commander or overlord, and the “worst” any member of The Community could do to other people is tell them “no”. SoD2 still has a lot of this, but now you have a Leader element, you have combat with other human factions, its worldbuilding starts to fall into the bog-standard pseudorealistic misanthropy you’ve seen played out in so many zombie stories.
You could say things like how you prioritize some human lives over others in SoD2 isn’t commented upon enough, you could say the uncritical focus on established norms to make a higher density of systems washes away much of the uniquely hopeful tone of the first game, you could say there’s too much abstraction of its structure and the people in it to make a clear connection to the player. Similarly, you could see SoD1’s tone as too ignorantly hopeful and its hopefulness (in a very Rural American setting) speaking to a weird us-vs-them absolutism regardless of the diversity of the procgen, while SoD2’s tone doesn’t completely lose the idea of the player roleplaying a community and presents at least a better framework for telling more interesting emergent stories. There’s plenty to learn from both games and how they contrast each other, and likewise both Rob and Austin’s reactions and how they contrast each other.
Both games are deeply flawed, both rely heavily on using your imagination and a bit of grounding in written text (the first game just erred more towards thinner procgen and a handful of specifically-scripted characters, the systems-only expansion Lifeline exposing just how thin that procgen could be without them). Saying “both sides are valid” makes me instinctually sick in 2018, but in this artistic case, they’re worth looking at. SoD1 & 2 present some pretty unique lessons on the tone and structure of procgen storytelling, and they’re relatively simple to pick up and play (or even just watch) for such systems-driven games.
edit: i basically didn’t edit this and this is why i usually edit down my dang forum posts, i apologize