Dead Island 2 Review
Dead Island 2 is the long-awaited follow-up from the first Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide from Deep Silver and developed by Dambuster Studios. While original developer Techland was originally set to work on the sequel, they instead focused on Dying Light 2. With a less-than-ideal development cycle that took a couple of studios and many years in between, we finally have this sequel that fans have been dying (heh) for.
In Dead Island 2, the zombie outbreak has ravaged Los Angeles, and its residents fight tooth and nail to evacuate. With an evacuation plane set to transport survivors, everything goes to hell when an infected find their way onboard, resulting in a plane crash that kicks off the whole adventure for our cast of survivors.
After nearly a decade in development, we can finally experience the sequel as it’s meant to be played. Was it worth the wait? Pick up that crowbar and let’s bust some zombie heads in this review of Dead Island 2!
Map to the Stars!
Dead Island 2 takes place 10 years after the events of the first 2 games, and despite the length of time in-between titles, this latest entry falls back to its roots and brings some fun zombie-bashing action into a semi-open-world format that plays host to sidequests, upgradeable loot, secret areas, and standard elements that you’d normally expect in similar titles.
Set in L.A., Dead Island 2 looks great, and takes you on a tour of some of its most memorable locations like Bel-Air and Beverly Hills. This would have actually been a great open-world title that allowed players to explore the zombie-stricken city, especially because of its visuals, but it ends up like a more linear action title with endgame options feeling limited to just sweeping what’s left and not really adding much to the sandbox.
Combat-wise, it’s good. Simple, but good. There’s an emphasis on melee combat in Dead Island 2, where most of your arsenal will compose of pipes, wrenches, and even the occasional sledgehammers. Combat is extremely crunchy, and you can see that the developers really made it a point to make this aspect shine.
You have a wide range of melee attacks, ranged weapons, and skills to feel the bone-crunching catharsis of zombie carnage, which won’t feel old given that you can be creative enough. You even have a parry that has a pretty generous timing window that’s great for non-parry enjoyers.
A lot of this creativity will depend on which Slayer you choose as your character, with each specializing in a specific stat that affects their playstyle. Jacob is a hard-hitting, high-health melee character that has a bad habit of dying in just a few hits due to his low resiliency stat. Amy is a speedster who specializes in ranged weapons but is challenged with close range. There’s also Carla, who lacks the acumen for critical damage but makes up for it with high toughness and resilience.
While Dead Island 2 tries to keep the characters diverse with different dialogue options and some skill variations (they also talk way too much), characters are somewhat reduced to skins for the most part because of the card system in the game. Players will be able to unlock cards that these Slayers can equip, giving them ability boosts that will provide an edge in combat.
These cards let players “build” their own slayer, either by enhancing their current playstyle or by offsetting their weaknesses. If your character is a speedy type, you can boost their playstyle by adding benefits to their dodge. Or if your character lacks resilience, you can add a block to bolster their melee and add a healing effect.
Most card effects are minimal and don’t really completely change the way some slayers are played, but some are also exclusive to certain slayers. There are some sweet combos you can build, though, like taking advantage of Fury mode to eliminate all those that stand before you. It’s a feature that you don’t necessarily have to engage with, but should you do, you’ll be rewarded with awesome ways of disposing of the many zombies out there.
Much of the gameplay in Dead Island 2 really lies with gear progression. You’ll get a wide range of durability-driven melee weapons which could break, and goes pretty well with the impressive combat physics, taking weapon weight into account and providing some variety depending on your equipped melee weapon.
Later, you’ll also get access to firearms as well as Curveballs, which are throwable items with cooldowns that easily become main staples to your arsenal and lets you set up ways of killing the horde of zombies along the way.
All of these conspire in a great way that allows players who are creative enough to bring pain to the zombies that litter the streets. You’ll find a ton of environmental hazards, and while some are obvious (shooting flammable tanks, electrified water puddles, etc), most will need triggers for them to work. Whether activating a generator to power up a wire or leading zombies to a puddle of caustic goo, this aspect of Dead Island 2 is very important and certainly gives a lot of variety in an otherwise repetitive combat loop.
Water is a pretty interesting trigger in Dead Island 2 as it can modify existing hazards. You can stretch the electrical radius by adding water to the area, clear fire and corrosive hazards with water, and you can even daze zombies by throwing water at them. It adds an extra layer of creativity that is very much welcome.
Dead Island 2 also features crafting, and while most of the various weapon upgrades can be had through this system, the whole thing feels quite unnecessary to progress, which is a good or bad thing depending on your inclination for it. Oftentimes, you’ll be picking up much better weapons along the way simply by killing mobs, so a lot of its usefulness really doesn’t manifest until later when you’ll need to be taking advantage of everything in your arsenal to survive.
That doesn’t mean that it is useless, as crafting allows players to get creative with their weapons due to the status effects they provide. From a flaming sledgehammer to an electrified machete and even a dagger that deals corrosive damage, picking up a wide variety of materials and blueprints scattered throughout will be key to creating these weapons of destruction.
Dead Island 2 also allows players to repair nearly destroyed weapons or even “level match” their older weapons at the cost of resources. If you’ve taken a liking to a certain one you’ve picked up, you can make it scale to your level and pretty much use it forever, should you wish to do so.
To Live and Die in L.A.
Despite being formulaic, Dead Island 2 feels serviceable and fun, but it largely depends on how you approach the game. There’s a certain level of effort needed to make combat fun, with a huge reliance on how creative you can get with combat. However, one aspect that’s really quite well done is its FLESH system.
FLESH, or the Fully Locational Evisceration System for Humanoids, is basically a procedural system that lets players see the effects of their handiwork in various ways. Because of the weapon types, you can expect the damage to reflect accurately on these zombies, and Dead Island 2 has quite a wide variety of zombies! You can crush them with a hammer or slice of limbs using a katana, and the gory details will be seen scattered around the area. It’s quite a feast (wrong term, but you get it) for the eyes, and it does help that they do look and sound like what dying zombies would do.
Even with limbs galore, Dead Island 2 runs remarkably well. Playing on a PS5, it maintained a good and steady 60 fps for the most part, with some frame drops here and there but nothing too distracting. There are a few glitches that will be patched, but it was a fairly stable experience overall based on our playthrough.
If you enjoy quippy humor, this game will add some sort of enjoyment for you because it really makes fun of a lot of the LA stereotypes seen in movies and series. It’s especially fun when they are implemented with the apex zombie types, which are found in the many bosses such as the Bridezilla introducing the Crusher zombie apex class and the Killer Clown introducing the Butcher apex zombie class.
Apex zombies add a bit of variety to the standard zombie classes such as Walker, Shambler, and Runner. They take a little bit longer to defeat as you will need to chip away at their stability meter before their health meter. This leads to… you guessed it, bullet sponges. Ultimately, during the endgame, this can get pretty frustrating, and instead of actual variety or additional mechanics, you’re left with some enemies that simply take too long to kill.
Dead Island 2 becomes quite formulaic as it goes on, which makes it predictable for both its linear story and gameplay. Crafting and the card system merely become supplemental for your character strengths, like adding hazards to your weapons. You can use the same mechanics across all slayers like counters, ground stomps, flying kicks, and even ranged attacks to clear the board, so switching up characters doesn’t completely change the play style.
The repetition and lack of variety extend to the missions and side-quests, mostly just requiring players to clear the area of zombies or hold out in an area until an elevator arrives. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in some shape or form before, and while the side-quests provide some context on the story or the state of L.A. after the zombie infestation, they fall into the same requirements that get quite tedious. Fun? Arguable. Repetitive and tedious? Yes. It doesn’t help that the map is so hard to read and is practically useless, with some waypoints bugging out and leading you through a path you already came from.
It also has to be said that Dead Island 2 has an unhealthy obsession with keys and locked items. Players will encounter a TON of locked doors or chests that will require a certain item to open. Sometimes, these keys are within the immediate area, but some will require you to either backtrack or fully scour an area, pushing the exploration part and fighting off bosses to a certain degree.
Dead Island 2 can be completed in about 18-20 hours depending on how much of it you plan to consume. The main campaign is straightforward and serviceable, and while there are detours and side-quests along the way, you can simply breeze through them if you wish to do so. Despite the abundance of slayers to choose from, there is no branching storyline here, so replayability is limited to just trying out the differences between these characters.
Apart from some aspects like the card and FLESH system, Dead Island 2 doesn’t really reinvent the wheel. It’s B-movie-type fun, and really, isn’t that just all you need sometimes? It doesn’t get too overcomplicated, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and could just be something you’ll want to play just to enjoy and tide you over until the next AAA title.
What We Liked
- Enjoyable combat is easy to pick up and scales to your level.
- Semi-open world has many exploration aspects such as side quests and challenges
- Easy to learn skill card interface allows for frenetic combat.
What We Didn’t Like
- Crafting feels redundant with new loot being introduced all the time.
- Gameplay loop becomes repetitive with the same objectives and the same enemies.
- Highly formulaic, everything gets predictable after a while, which doesn’t motivate replayability.
Verdict: Wait For It…
Dead Island 2 is a serviceable zombie action game that improves many components of the first title and delivers an enjoyable time when given a chance. However, it doesn’t innovate, is highly formulaic, and ticks off every feature to a fault. Your enjoyment will really depend on what you’re looking for, and there’s no truer example than Dead Island 2.
Dambuster Studios did a good job revitalizing Dead Island 2, which has fallen into development hell over the past years. This has to be pointed out, and with such a troubled history, it’s a massive feat to finally be able to bring this out and release it to the gaming public.
That said if you’re looking for a game that lets you maim and mutilate zombies to your heart’s content, Dead Island 2 can certainly fit the bill. There’s punchy and creative combat that will reward players that think out of the box but don’t really expect it to innovate or offer a deep experience.
*Dead Island 2 was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.