Originally announced in 2014 and three development studios later, Dead Island 2 has a lot of hype to live up to and a devoted fan base’s insatiable hunger for guts and brain to service. The first-person action RPG takes place in Los Angeles over 10 years after the events of original and puts players in the role of one of six Slayers, each with their own unique attributes to fight back against the outbreak and uncover the truth behind their significance to the future of the human race.
The satisfyingly twisted weapon crafting is back, allowing players to create deadly melee weapons that have an electrical kick, flammable impact or damage over time effect to name a few. With an arsenal as broad as the players imagination, the melee combat driven bloody journey is a violent delight.
Featuring a variety of visually distinct locations within the Californian sandbox to be explored alone or co-operatively with up to three players, Dead Island 2 outdoes its predecessor at every turn and proves itself to be the gory playground we’ve waited nearly a decade for.
Following a cinematic that sets up the prologue, the player can choose their Slayer from one of six, each offering a pair of unique traits that serve as the only meaningful difference between them, aside from the personality injected into their dialogue throughout the story.
The narrative is set in motion when a plane full of uninfected survivors is thrust into turmoil with the emergence of an infected passenger, kickstarting a chain of events that crash the plane and lead the player through a series of tutorials of traversal and battling the undead threat. To discuss the plot beyond this prologue would be a minefield of spoilers around the story, and the motivations that drive the Slayer and the supporting cast of characters forward.
A broad cast of quirky survivors populate the story and each new location that is uncovered throughout it, breathing humour, tension and life in general to an existence that is otherwise rooted in death and decay. The premise establishes a theme of predictable storytelling that borrows from classic tropes of the genre that more often than not fail to feel genuinely surprising. That doesn’t prevent the story from being enjoyable by any means, it’s packed with interesting beats that keep the player invested and keen to see what’s around the corner, even if its biggest moments are obvious from early on.
The near fifteen-hour story can be exponentially increased with the plethora of side quests and optional tasks that reward the player with new weapons, additional XP and money to spend on new weapons, tools and crafting components. Special enemies are also littered throughout the world that offer higher level gear that is well worth the challenge they put up and dozens of locked areas are packed with goodies once the player has explored to find the keys required to access them, rewarding players for returning to previously visited areas later on. Better loot is always a driving motivator in this type of title and the allure of more XP to level up the exciting variety of skills in the card-based Skill Deck system is equally rewarding.
Cards can be found through exploration or as reward for completing story missions and side quests, falling into one of five categories that each offer unique types of skills and perks. Additional card slots become available with story progression, and experimenting with different combinations is a lot of fun. Skills, such as a dropkick, can be equipped that can be stacked with associated cards to further increase the damage output or apply elemental effects. Selecting between a dodge or a counter function each play differently and further variety comes when effects are stacked with them by combining specific cards. The Skill Deck really does allow players to tailor their Slayer to their preferred play styles, offering impactful abilities that are fun to experiment with.
The core combat of Dead Island 2 is rooted in melee weapons though an assortment of guns are also available for players that prefer to slay at range. Melee weapons have damage, force, speed and durability stats to weigh up to determine the best weapons for the job. Once weapons are used to the point of breaking, a new weapon will need to be selected from the weapon wheel to use in its place. Weapons can be upgraded and repaired at Workbenches found throughout the world at the cost of crafting materials and money. Materials are found almost everywhere, including as loot from slain zombies and in chests and containers.
Weapons come in a variety of rarities and can’t be upgraded from Common to Rare for instance, but rather new variants need to be found, unlocked, or awarded. Various components of weapons can be upgraded, with more options available with the higher tier weapons. Applying elemental effects, damage over time and stat buffs are just a few of the upgrade types available. Crafting an electrical blade to a wooden weapon can be quite the buzz and altering a sword to inflict a lethal burning sensation is satisfying, puns intended.
Enemy variety is respectable, if not a little safe and predictable. Caustic spitters, hulking brutes and screaming psychos are joined by crawlers, runners, pounders and walking bile bombers to name a few. Fans of Dead Island, Left 4 Dead, Dying Light and games cut from the same cloth will have encountered most of the enemy types before but Dead Island 2 certainly finds a way to put its own spin on some of these, and the variety definitely keeps encounters anything but easy. The boss battles peppered throughout the story offer some legitimately tense encounters that are no walk in the park either.
Brutality in Dead Island 2 goes hand in hand with dismemberment as an exciting system is in place that literally leaves jaws hanging and limbs flying when that sweet spot is caved in or sliced. Thrusting a sledgehammer into a zombie’s jaw that leaves it dangling by a thread is as disgustingly enjoyable as it sounds. The violence is excessive in all of the right ways which keeps the mayhem as fresh and flesh-laden as possible.
Environmental observation is critical in Dead Island 2 as there are many ways for players to gain an elemental edge by introducing electricity to water, knocking enemies into environmental hazards and igniting nearby explosive canisters or fuel spills for example. Elemental damage causes an assortment of afflictions that can damage over time or impact enemy movements, granting the player a much needed edge, especially in group encounters. Amplifying the core combat to consider elemental hazards and traps is a lot of fun and leads to some interesting and exciting combat possibilities that are as visually satisfying as they are gruesome.
Sprinting, climbing, crouching and sliding are the only means of traversal. There are no cars to drive and plough through the hordes, coming as a surprise to players of the original and Dead Island: Riptide which featured drivable cars. The lack of vehicles doesn’t restrict player mobility though as the running speed is generous and the use of fast travel maps also makes it easy to return to previously discovered locations. By keeping players grounded, the danger of the outbreak is kept at the forefront and with the diverse and customisable arsenal at the players disposal, beating your way through LA is even more satisfying.
The stunning backdrop to this iteration of a zombie apocalypse is beautiful in its own right. Striking backdrops that would be at home on a postcard have becoming bloody, lifeless wastelands that are begging to be painted with the insides of the zombie masses. Character models are grotesquely realised and disgustingly gorgeous while the widely personalised weapons are unique and interesting to watch as they rip through the infected.
Satisfyingly crunchy and squishy sound effects are the icing on the cake of combat and the visually gut churning animations that accompany them. The audio-visual presentation is everything it needed to be in a world that is as beautiful as the insides of its antagonistic, undead masses.
It’s safe to say that Dead Island 2 ticks all of the boxes for a title that is definitely not suitable for young players. From the over the top violence of the combat to the explicit nature of the dialogue, this one is to be kept from the kids at all costs. The co-op campaign is part of the Dead Island experience but I was unable to be played this in time for this review.
* A digital code for Dead Island 2 was kindly provided to Xbox Gamer Dad for the purpose of this review *
Dead Island 2 has had one hell of a journey to see the light of day and it’s incredibly exciting to say that it lives up to the long gestating hype from its 2014 reveal. Better combat, more visceral gameplay and animations, a well implemented card-based Skill Deck system and masterful sound design all contribute to an experience to die for. A dense, dangerous and secret filled world offers as much gameplay as the player is willing to endure, presenting an abundance of activities to entertain long after the credits have rolled. The over the top violence and crunchy melee combat go a long way in creating a world to satisfy the zombie slaying fix we’ve long waited for.
- Fun Skill-Deck system
- Beautiful visuals and gory animations
- Enjoyable combat and satisfying sound design
- Weapon customisation keeps the toys exciting
- Highly replayable
- Story is predictable
- Supporting characters lean into cliches and stereotypes
- Feels familiar in many ways to other titles in the genre