Nearly 10 years ago a sequel was announced to the hit survival horror game Dead Island. Following more than a decade in development, we finally have Dead Island 2. After all this time is it even possible for a game to still be relevant? Does a soul of a game even survive being dormant that long? We have played through Dead Island 2, and today it is just as relevant as ever.
Developer & Publisher // Dambuster Studios & Deep Silver
Platforms // PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PS5, PS4
Release Date & MSRP // April 21st, 2023 & $69.99
Dead Island 2 is a semi-open-world survival horror game with a bend of crafting and RPG mechanics. If you played the first Dead Island game it is remarkably similar while feeling fresh and new. Along the way, you will loot from hundreds of suitcases and bathrooms, create makeshift weapons from scraps, buy guns from vendors, and meet interesting characters.
The semi-open world is set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. There are large open areas that have a small handful of side quests, these areas are loaded with zombies, items, and hidden crevices. The larger open hubs lead to the linear paths that make up the main quest. The linear paths range from sewers to a carnival ride-filled boardwalk. Unfortunately between the different areas, you will be hit with long loading screens and fast travel transitions, something I thought we had moved on from.
What Is Dead Island 2?
From the start, the game opens with a plane crash. You will pick between one of six survivors AKA “Slayers.” While their story remains the same, the dialog will be unique. Each of the six slayers has a different set of perks, this functions as a lite take on character classes. Between the ability to have character builds, multiplayer, plus the vast weapon selection, Dead Island 2 has a surprising amount of replayability.
From our demo at PAX East, I played through an area of a game in a completely different way, with completely different weapons. All of these combined elements make Dead Island 2 a game I would be open to revisiting with friends even after completing it.
The replayability is simply gravy on a game that feels like it has the perfect amount of content in one single-player playthrough alone. The main missions will take you around 15 hours to complete, then there are another 8 to 10 hours of sidequests. You can get through almost the entire game without completing any of the sidequests but once you get to the final boss, if you are under-leveled it will not be possible to complete. I estimate you will need to complete somewhere between 20 to 40 percent of the sidequests in order to finish the game. With that, Dead Island 2 is roughly a 20-hour game.
The Combat In Dead Island 2
Playing the game is a solid experience overall. For the majority of the time, you will use melee weapons in hand-to-hand combat. Blocking or dodging all incoming attacks is almost as prominent as attacking. A well-timed sidestep will have the lethargic zombies fall down. While a perfectly timed block will open up a counter system that will have them on their knees. This will make up a lot of the game.
You do not get a gun in Dead Island 2 until after you have been playing for a few hours. Gun ammunition is scarce and you will almost always have more powerful melee weapons. I found myself rarely using guns and I believe most players will experience the same. This allows Dead Island 2 to feel unique and stay true to the previous title. Although, it is very disappointing to have a lame shotgun in a game full of zombies.
Once you have chained enough continuous damage together, you will have a full “fury” bar. Entering fury mode allows you to become ultra-strong and rip apart zombies with your hands fairly quickly. The energy drains fast and things turn back to normal in under a minute, it feels similar to getting a star in Mario, you feel indestructible. This combined with the melee combat, defensive skills, and ranged weapons has Dead Island 2 feeling like a well-rounded game with solid combat.
Crafting and Leveling With Perks In Dead Island 2
Chipping away at waves of zombies with close combat is challenging. Unless you are in a story area the zombies will continue to come until you have cleared some space to leave. Plus while you are hacking your way through hordes, weapon degradation will play a major role in the combat. You will need to repair and upgrade weapons if you plan to survive.
Continuously crafting new weapons will be a key to leveling up. As you unlock and discover stronger weapons you can exponentially improve your character’s power by stacking around six different perks with crafting upgrades to each weapon. Have these perks align with your playstyle and your character’s perks for major damage.
For character perks, I highly recommend the drop kick, this allows you to run and drop kick zombies, and it is worth the perk slot, it is so much fun. Then there are the fury upgrades that can give you essentially limitless power when built out correctly. For example, I included an upgrade that extends my fury time for every zombie that I kill, this made me nearly unstoppable against large hordes.
Visual and Technical
I am so impressed with the visuals in Dead Island 2. 4K, HDR, 60 frames per second. It is all there. Not only is it all there, but that is also the native Xbox Series X experience. There is no performance mode or visual mode, it is essentially a locked 60 FPS on the Xbox Series X while playing solo. To me, it feels like the team has traded off a more modern, open-level design with great visuals and tight performance.
I was surprised to see Dead Island 2 runs at native 60 FPS with no visual options for performance on consoles. Especially given that each area has such a high level of detail, fantastic lighting, and plenty of opportunities for explosions.
While visually sound, Dead Island 2 is not free from bugs. I did experience two crashes, there were many instances of zombies getting stuck in walls. Plus there were a few hilarious moments of blown-up body parts still moving around as objects in the game. There is a long list of known bugs the team is addressing with a “Day 0” patch as well as a collection of bugs to be fixed later this year. The issues I encountered in the game, I would consider them to be minor and nothing that really took away from my experience. Although It needs to be said, this game is not problem-free from a technical standpoint.
Amazon Alexa Features
Dead Island 2 has a voice command feature that reminds me of the early days of Rainbow 6 and Xbox Live. It feels like it has been 20 years since I last used voice commands in a game. Although this time it is much different, as it is powered by the cloud and Amazon Alexa. You can link your Amazon account to the game and use something like 40 different voice commands. Amazon Prime is not required. Here are some examples of commands:
- “Map me to a _____”
- “Drop a pin on _____”
- “Get me to a table” _____
- “Find me a work bench”
- “Where’s the nearest _____?”
- “Set a marker to _____”
- “Show me where _____ is”
- “Track the nearest _____”
- “Enter Fury”
- “Go loco”
- “Rage mode”
- “Turn into a rage monster”
- “Come here” / “Get over here!”
- “Get off him” / “Get off her”
- “Eat me!”
I was not able to use the voice command features for more than a few minutes. Even after working with Amazon to get my account set up, the pre-release version of the game has some problems. Often I get an “account ineligible” error from the menu. Plus on the settings, I have the voice commands set to button press but the game never shows you what button to press for voice commands and there is nothing noted in the controller layout screen in the system menu. This hilarious oversight highlights that the Alexa feature might be half-baked.
We need to start off by saying that there is a problem where previous-gen console owners are currently unable to host a co-op game. The team hopes to release a patch later this summer. Outside of that, Dead Island 2 has a fairly seamless hop-in-and-out co-op multiplayer mode. Although you may want to check with your friends as to what console to buy the game on as there is no support for cross-play.
While playing, from a technical standpoint the game is essentially the same experience. It runs at 60 frames per second and from my experience, nothing is done to counterbalance a second or third player. With that, the game becomes a less challenging and more social experience while online. If you are stuck or find the game to be challenging, you can team up.
Final Thoughts On Dead Island 2
All of the dialog is well written, the story is well thought out, and never takes itself too seriously. The character’s motivations are always clear and you understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. At times the story feels like a satire on The Last of Us, but it is never just a bunch of dumb jokes. In a time when a lot of games have begun to lean toward movies, Dead Island 2 just tries to be a video game.
Dead Island 2 is a game that I would recommend to just about anyone. With some bugs aside. It is not a 100-hour RPG that is going to absorb your life but it has solid RPG mechanics. It is, not a “lifestyle” FPS like Destiny but it is a fun time with friends online. Dead Island 2 is not a cinematic masterpiece with a survival horror narrative but, there is a story and setting here that is a great time. While not mastering anything, Dead Island 2 has somehow found a way to be just good enough at everything.