Over 10 years in the making, it’s a miracle that Dead Island 2 exists, let alone be actually rather good.
Taking place some time after the original game and its standalone expansion, Riptide, Dead Island 2 transports players to LA. Is it an island? No. Does it matter? No. What’s important here is that the weather is good, and the scenery is picturesque. Well, most of the time anyway. In any case, for the game’s plucky protagonists, it’s going to quickly become Hell-A after their plane crashes and they find themselves at the centre of a zombie apocalypse.
Discovering that you’re immune to the virus seemingly sweeping across the world, Dead Island 2 finds you on a mission to seek out someone who can help create a cure. Of course, by the time you’re done you’ll have travelled far and wide, laid a large number of the undead back to rest, and met a colourful cast of characters. But more importantly, you’ll have had a hell of a lot of fun. It may be the end of the world, but you might as well make the most of it.
Central to the Dead Island 2 experience is brutal melee combat. You can lay your hands on a wide number of weapons, such as hammers, swords and even rakes. Swing them at a zombie and you’ll see visible damage, making for visceral moment-to-moment action that’s certainly not for the weak of stomach. It only gets more gory as you progress, too.
Weapons don’t seem that impactful at the start of Dead Island 2, but once you’ve levelled up a bit and started modifying your favourite instruments of zombie destruction, limbs starts to fly and skulls get crushed. It’s at its goriest when you start employing caustic acid, causing zombies to first lose their clothes and then their skin as they’re melted to nothing but bone. Grim.
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Melee is just one of the options when it comes to combating zombies in Dead Island 2, however. Curveballs are throwables with cooldown timers that can be used tactically to your advantage or to cause direct damage. Bait, for example, can be used to distract zombies to clear a path, while a well-thrown grenade can take down multiple shamblers at once. Progress the story and you’ll eventually be able to find and make use of guns, too. And while you’re immune, it seems your brush with a zombie has led to some monstrous side effects.
Add in other abilities such as dodging, blocking, drop kicking and stomping on zombie skulls while they’re down, and you have a combat system that gives you a pleasing number of options. On top of all that there’s a card-based skill system, too. Each of the playable characters available has a couple of cards unique to them that are always in play, and more are earned and discovered as you level up, complete missions and simply explore.
With limited slots in which to place these cards, it’s up to you to determine your deck, ultimately determining your abilities. You might build a character that’s a master ar cutting off enemy limbs, earning damage bonuses when you do so as well as restoring health. Or late in the game you might want to lean on your monstrous side, employing powerful Autophage cards that allow you to absolutely slay while your Fury mode is activated, and stay in it for longer.
The great thing is that you’re able to change your deck of cards at any time. So, if you’ve decided you’d rather dodge than block, and don’t make use of your drop kick attack anymore, you can change out cards for those skills for some that benefit your new playstyle. You’re free to experiment as you see fit, or change your build when it no longer works or when you unexpectedly find a new weapon that you’ve decided is the bee’s knees.
Another thing we’ve come to love in Dead Island 2 is using the environment to our advantage. Here, fire, water, electricity and acid are just as much your friend as they are your enemy. You’ll frequently need to find ways to neutralise these elements in order to progress, or employ them to make killing a horde of zombies less strenuous.
At one point, for example, we had a group of powerful zombies waiting to descend upon us behind a metal shutter that we needed to open. We could have hit the button and dealt with them via force, but instead, we got a jerry can full of water, poured it along the line of the shutter making sure the resulting pool also made it to a nearby electric box, then hit the box with our weapon. The zombies then got quite a shock, and a few seconds later the shutter was safe to open.
It’s moments like this that make playing Dead Island 2 such a joy. The environments here may not be as open as there were in the original game and its standalone expansion, but there are more of them, and they’re more densely packed with things to play with, zombies to kill and quests to complete. It’s Dead Island but condensed, improved and much more focused.
A single playthrough of the campaign of Dead Island 2 is likely to take 20 hours or more, depending on how much side content you engage with. While side quests hold your hand and allow you to meet a range of fun supporting characters, Lost and Found quests put the onus on you to figure things out. You’ll want to complete at least some of them in order to make sure you’re not under levelled – just one or two levels can make the world of difference to combat difficulty – and the rewards are often lucrative too.
Playing on PS5 for review, we were initially disappointed when we realised that there were no graphics options to be found. Actually getting into the game, however, all was forgiven. Dead Island 2 looks great, with impressive character models, detailed environments and eye catching effects. The procedural gore system is just the icing on the cake. And despite the pretty visuals, the framerate appears to stick to its 60fps target even when the action gets apocalyptic.
It’s polished as well. We’ve played a lot of games in the last year or two that have been hobbled by Covid, releasing with a myriad of bugs and issues that hampered our time with them. That’s not the case with Dead Island 2. We’ve only encountered two minor issues in over 20 hours, neither of which persisted or cause any problems. It makes a refreshing change, and chances are they might be eradicated with a patch closer to launch.
We do have some minor bones to pick with Dead Island 2, though. The difficulty can be bit uneven for one, with a large emphasis on players dodging or blocking at just the right time to get the upper hand in a fight and perhaps even regain health. It’s also a shame that its final boss isn’t a little more unique. And then you have the game’s ending, which leaves a lot of loose ends. Get invested, and you’ll certainly be wanting to pick up the expansion pass.
Against all odds, Dead Island 2 is pretty much everything we wanted it to be. This is the ultimate zombie game, dropping you in a setting that’s an absolute joy to explore and spend time in while taking apart zombies in any way you please. Fans of Dead Island will be overjoyed at what’s been delivered here, taking the core concept of the original game and building upon it to make something that’s perhaps a little more linear, but better in all regards. It’s funny to think that we once considered this game dead, because developer Dambuster Studios has proved that there’s life in the series yet.