A lot can happen in nine years. Recessions, World Cup’s, even a global pandemic just to really kick everyone’s metaphorical teeth in. For Dead Island 2, it’s also been a rocky time. First announced in 2014, the sequel to Deep Silver’s head-smashing hit has been plagued with issues, casted doubts and a whiff of Duke Nukem Forever’s “it might come out but suck” about it.
Well, I can safely say that time has definitely been kind to Dead Island 2. Perhaps not to its residents, 90% of which are shambling undead monstrosities, but the game itself. It’s finally here, gracing us on April 21st this year. Still itching to hear more?
We at Finger Guns were fortunate enough to be invited to play a preview of the game. The kind folk at PLAION have granted us access to the first five hours of the game, and I’m going to tell you all about it. From the looks, the character styles, the stat-swapping deck system and its brutal, on-brand weaponry. Not only that, but the appropriately named and gross F.L.E.S.H system gets details too.
So without further hesitation, let’s swing and bludgeon our way through infested Los Angeles…
To HELL-A And Back
I’ll keep the story short and sweet, as this isn’t a full game review. The long and short of it is standard zombie apocalypse, naturally. You, one of six playable characters, survives an aeroplane crash only to fall for that most common of tropes, bitten by surprise in a cutscene.
Yet rather than suffer slow death and reanimation, your player character develops some kick-ass survival instincts. How this plays out in the endgame, who knows…
But in the meantime, your chosen character is trying to find out why they’re supposedly immune, figuring out what’s going on and trying to save a few people along the way. Altruistic, if a little optimistic, in a zombie end-of-days scenario.
Typecasting Of The Dead
As mentioned earlier, there are six different personalities to choose from in Dead Island 2. Much like the first, each of these painfully stereotypical Slayers have certain strengths and weaknesses. The cast of widely varying weirdos boils down to:
- Ryan – An exotic dancer (no, really), otherwise All-American stereotype.
- Dani – The Most Irish Person Ever™, as well as punk roller derby girl.
- Bruno – A thief that looks like a Soundcloud rapper.
- Amy – A Paralympian who wouldn’t look out of place in Mirror’s Edge.
- Jacob – A wannabe-stuntman from Londoner, complete with Cockney accent. Loves an old fashioned quote.
- Carla – Stuntwoman by day, hench badass all round. Weirdly cheerful about it all.
Each of these colourful characters has two innate Slayer Skills to bring to the table. I went for Dani, whose skills include a blast-inducing strong attack and a chained, damage-increasing trick. On my second run, I gave Bruno a try, whose thieving nature allows for a powerful back stab skill. As with anything, it’s all about finding what works for you.
The other aspect comes from co-op element. Mixing and matching characters will utilise the best builds, much like say, a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Except less dragons and more hideous violence.
What also gives the game versatility is its skill system.
Decked Out For Dishing Out Death
One new feature of Dead Island 2 is the character building system it implements. Eschewing a traditional level-and-skill-upgrading style, we instead get funky little collectible cards.
Still hidden behind levels gained by experience, earned from killing the undead (again) and completing missions, players will unlock new cards for their chosen Slayer. The beauty of these over say, Borderlands, is they are broad and wide in subject. Some are character specific, encouraging players to try other Slayer “builds” but most are universal.
Ranging from offensive to passive, you’ve got all sorts from dropkicks and double-fisted ground pounds, to health replenishment on consecutive kills. For example, I had the two offensive ones above, as well as a few buffs that increased damage on chained kills. This meant I could [hopefully] keep enemies away in a pinch, yet get the upper hand when overwhelmed.
Some worked, other didn’t. The beauty is they’re not “locked” once equipped, meaning players can chop and change on the fly without repercussion. No respec fees or certain points, just an progressively unlockable deck of skills to play around with.
HELL-A Brings Out All The Weirdos
Make no mistake, Slayers will need to pay attention to their loadout(s). It’s very easy to dismiss even the most “basic” of enemy as simple cannon fodder, but you shouldn’t.
You’ve got your standard shambler, the slow but sturdy kind. There’s some quicker ones, appropriately named Sprinters that will lunge and dive at you for added terror. Things get spicier with the addition of grenade-carrying zombies, which will explode in a similar fashion to the oxygen tank carrying foes from Dying Light.
As time goes on, there’s even bigger tank-like undead that hit hard and go down harder. Then, when you think all the standard examples have been exhausted, there are hazardous zombies. I mean, they’re all a hazard, but these will be electrically charged, for example.
Which means an element of tactic will come into play, as sometimes charging in will see you come off worse for wear. Fortunately, LA is littered with convenient weapon-crafting bits and pieces to pick up.
The Mean Streets Are Your Toolbox
If you’re familiar with the first Dead Island, or Dying Light, or just about any open world game recently, Dead Island 2 has a crafting system. The focus here is weaponry, Dead Island 2’s main focus on zombie killing.
Base weapons come as “standard”: knives, golf clubs, wrenches and whatnot litter the streets and residences. Yet it’s what you do with them that really counts. I know that sounds like corny Hallmark advert, but it refers more to how you want to modify them.
Adding perks that do more damage [but weaken durability], adding elemental damage, the options are pretty varied. Players can equip their favourites on a wheel, switching between them on the fly. Which is great, as environmental hazards play a big part too.
Water puddles can be shocked, as oil patches can be set alight. Yet there’s more: see a spark and a water can? Grab the can and pour a puddle to make that area of electrical hazard bigger. There’s an element (no pun intended) of tactic, but it requires the quick-thinking Slayer to pull them off.
Which, unfortunately, Dead Island 2 doesn’t always give players the room to assess.
Always A Party In HELL-A!
My only grumble with this build, and I accept that we had early access, is the primary focus on multiplayer. Which, sadly, we didn’t have access to. Single player can and will get overwhelming, with more than one zombie at a time taking you out if you’re not prepared.
The other oddity, that hopefully will be ironed out, is zombies appearing from literally impossible places to gang up on you. Not just behind you when you’re close to a wall, but out of roads. Spawning from nothing to crawling through unbroken road is extremely disjointing and, especially if you’re doing well, absolute bullshit to try and trip you up.
Again, these are all just little niggles and to be expected from something like this. Dambuster were extremely communicative during our time and addressed any and all feedback we (as a pool of lucky players) we put to them.
Fame, Fortune, Fatalities
In short, because I’m going to say the deep dive for the review, I had an absolute blast with Dead Island 2 so far. That we were fortunate enough to play a version of the game so far in development was great, as you can see Dambuster Studios have made the effort.
I was pessimistic, given the troubled development and the lacklustre gameplay of the original (I preferred Dying Light). But since the sequel to that was underwhelming, this is certainly Dead Island 2’s time to reclaim the open world, zombie-slaying crown.
Stay tuned, as we’ll be covering Dead Island 2 more between now and its release date of April 21st. Preorder from GAME now and get a plushy Carver the Shark toy (which PLAION sent me, and is super adorable).
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.