I honestly could not believe I was booting up Dead Island 2 when I got the game last week. The game was announced back in 2014. That is almost ten years of waiting to play the sequel to one of my most beloved PS3 games. Dead Island 2 has a lot to live up to and thankfully, as a sequel, it delivers what you would expect from it. There’s lots of zombie bashing, some cool weapons to collect to bash even more zombies with and the Los Angeles setting is fun to adventure through.
Watch the Dead Island 2 Review Below
Dead Island 2 takes place ten years after the events of the first game on the island of Banoi. While Los Angeles is far from an island, the game’s setting spans multiple locations across the state. From the pretentious mansions of Bel-Air to the red carpets of Hollywood Boulevard. There’s even a large focus on sewer traversal which many will remember from the original game.
Given its LA setting, Dead Island 2 also comes with all the ups and downs of the area too. The rich and famous are now walking the streets as the undead and even the meth addicts stumble through the neighbourhoods not much better off than before. The people I met along the way were all somewhat memorable thanks to fleshed-out side quests and dialogue that dove deeper into their lives.
Similar to the first game, Dead Island 2 puts you in the shoes of a Slayer who is immune to the zombie plague. As a result, they set off to escape LA but things go south very fast and you end up running errands for the snobs, the survivors and even the military in the area. There’s an overarching story involved in Dead Island 2 which I won’t spoil but I will discuss some issues with it later on.
With that in mind, Dead Island 2 follows a similar hub approach to the original game too. As I progressed the main story, I travelled to a number of new areas. Each area is based on an authentic place in LA. They also came with new side quests to take on, people to meet, locations to explore and zombies to bash. If anything, these areas are wonderfully designed. I have been to LA a few times and I kind of missed it while exploring the beach at Santa Monica Pier. Dambuster did an excellent job bringing these hubs to life and every detail is to the point.
Given the whole “end of the world” situation, these areas are also littered with zombies, environment hazards and hidden items. Dead Island 2 wants you to use every gas canister, water bottle, acid barrel and electric wire to take down the hordes across the game. Not only did it feel great to toss a water bottle at zombies who were standing near a damaged street pole but watching gas canisters blow them apart like bags of flour made every trip through the sewers worthwhile.
Even after I finished the main game and went back to clean up some quests, the combat in Dead Island 2 was just as satisfying as it was 20 hours before. Be it swinging a mallet around with a blast modifier that shot zombies into the distance or simply firing my hunting rifle at a Crusher as it slowly crept towards me. There are so many cool ways to approach each encounter in Dead Island 2 that I would often get distracted by killing countless zombies I would forget what I was doing in the first place.
These moments make Dead Island 2 an incredible action game. To spend ten minutes completely going bonkers with every weapon, every environmental hazard and of course, the drop kick, felt fantastic. After which, the floor was covered in organs, bones and blood and I walked away feeling a little bit less stressed than before.
Dead Island 2, from an action game point of view, excels thanks to its gruesome GORE system that sees zombie flesh literally fall off the bone as I ripped away at their skin. Their eyeballs pop out and dangle around their faces when their heads are cleaved apart with a machete. There was something weirdly satisfying about watching flesh disintegrate as I shot a zombie with an acid round. If you wanted to completely decimate zombies, Dead Island 2 is the best way to do it.
The weapon system works too. Everything can break but once broken, can be fixed. So once I obtained a set of weapons I enjoyed using, I could then use them without worrying about losing them. They can also be levelled up to my level with a heavy cost so I was able to take them with me throughout the game.
Weapons are then modded with various buffs and effects. Electricity adds sparks to it and shocks zombies, fire burns them and acid damages over time. These mods change the visual appearance of weapons too. Perks then further enhance weapons with damage buffs and certain types of attack styles. For example, Bloodthirsty grants a damage boost and Fury added to the gauge after every zombie kill. Others increase attack speed while decreasing damage.
There’s a lot of freedom to craft weapons that work to your playstyle. Some zombies are also immune to certain elements so you’re forced to make weapon types to counter them all.
The Slayer Skills are a whole other ball game. The six Slayers all come with certain cards that offer various tweaks to the game combat. Ryan, for example, is focused on Force Boost when blocking and knocking down zombies so it made sense to build him with more cards that grant health regen with blocking and Fury too. So when I blocked, I got my health back, Fury added to my bar and my Force attacks from my weapons dealt some insane damage.
I do have to say that while the Slayer Skill system is fun to experiment with, I did feel it was a bit shallow. Slayers don’t feel unique enough to tell them apart from one another. Apart from a handful of cards, which you don’t have to use, I can’t see myself creating more than two characters because they are so much the same. It would have been nice to have each slayer locked into a certain attack or ability instead of just forcing them into a buff box. They revolve around doing the same thing, just some of them do that thing better than others.
This is a shame given how much replayability a decent class system would have added to Dead Island 2. One Slayer just feels like enough to experience this game with. It also doesn’t help that Dead Island 2 doesn’t have any sort of New Game Plus mode or in fact, any sort of difficulty adjustments at all. So once the game ended, I finished some side quests, got some awesome Legendary weapons and had nothing to use them on. The game could have greatly benefitted from a New Game Plus or perhaps, a higher difficulty tier which increased the drop rates for loot but made zombies more difficult. Having cool weapons, which you mostly only get after the game ends, is pointless if you have nothing to use them for.
I also need to complain about the general story in Dead Island 2. The game spends a lot of time building up some rather interesting plot points only to just end without fleshing anything out. In fact, the game ends on a cliffhanger and that’s it. It takes about 15 hours to tell a fraction of its story and then the credits roll. We have only waited 10 years for what seems like a slice of the pie. It feels like a slap in the face to a certain degree.
There is an expansion pass for Dead Island 2 but I can’t see an expansion being sufficient enough to flesh this story out. The overall plot, without giving anything away, feels much bigger than a DLC.
But the unfinished story is a problem that much of Dead Island 2 faces. Mostly everything in the game feels cut short to some degree. Even some areas last for less than an hour before moving on. Sure, side quests pad these a bit but I can’t help but feel the meat on offer in Dead Island 2 is just a big bone without much flesh. The card system is underwhelming, the Slayers don’t feel diverse enough, the story is short and abruptly ends and the game’s lack of a New Game Plus and higher difficulty mode means that once you’ve finished everything, which will take about 25 hours, you’re done.
But that aside, Dead Island 2 was a fun time. Up until the end, I loved it. The quests felt both weird and wonderful and the combat plays true to the original game. This is a sequel and it definitely delivers on most of its promises but I just wish there was a bit more here. After 20 hours, there’s nothing really to go back for and all those epic weapons are just going to gather dust.
This Dead Island 2 review is based on a code sent to us by Dambuster Studios. The game launches on 21 April for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC. You can pick it up starting at R999 here.
Dead Island 2 Review
Dead Island 2 packs some excellent zombie-smashing action but its short story, shallow skill system and lack of end-game content make it feel short-lived.
GORE system is great
Skills feel shallow
Slayers are too similar
No New Game Plus