LA’s Got A Zombie Problem in Dead Island 2

Dead Island 2 Preview

Killing zombies is a ton of fun. They’re slow, gooey, and endlessly renewable. So a zombie game with detailed anatomy, slow-motion finishers, and a ton of moves should be a slam dunk. A total layup, as it were. And yet, my time with Dead Island 2 has so far been pretty mixed. Maybe it’s the RPG elements, maybe it’s the crafting system, or maybe it’s the level scaling. Either way, I found myself struggling through the preview build.

This could be a case of defeated expectations. I know that Dead Island is a different type of power fantasy. You’re not just mindlessly mowing down undead hordes. There’s a science to it, a sweet spot within the larger gameplay loop. I just couldn’t quite find it while getting through the preview build. If you time your strikes, your skills, and your environmental attacks, you can make short work of most regular foes. The bosses are a different story. Those require a more dexterous hand–along with ten or twenty practice runs.

A Real Zombie-Killing Machine

If you’re stuck, you’ve got options. There’s a crafting system, which means stronger weapons. It also means constant upkeep and repairs. Plus, digging through every suitcase and cupboard you see, hoping for more materials. You’ve also got a bunch of skills to swap out, in case your strategy feels lacking. I liked the wide variety of skills, though they felt ineffectual compared to the level scaling.

Dead Island 2 Preview

You’re rarely put up against someone stronger than you, which is nice. But it felt to me like the enemies and I weren’t growing at the same rate. At some point in the preview, regular strikes from my opponents were taking off a fifth of my health bar. This meant I had to be dodging constantly, while also juggling broken weapons and skill cooldowns. All of this is working as intended, I just felt corralled. You can’t run away and level up because the enemies are busy doing the same thing. In fact, level scaling means you’re almost discouraged from exploring without exponential growth.

Breaking weapons were a pain, but a manageable one. I was constantly getting newer, stronger weapons to replace the ones I was losing. If you’re hitting the workbench regularly, you’ve got nothing to worry about. On the other hand, it felt like the zombies were powering up even faster. It wasn’t long before every fight was terribly intense. If that’s what you’re hoping for, you’re in luck. You’ll never be bored with the battles.

Always a Stronger opponent

In spite of my grievances, this is a highly polished zombie game. Dead Rising 2 has some excellent visuals. The zombies break apart in many unique ways, with bones and organs sloughing off in meaty chunks. Hanging jaws and exposed craniums are common sights, along with raw flesh and spurting blood. The sound design is decent, but the graphics are pretty remarkable. You can see every bit of these monsters as they’re bashed apart by your attacks.

Dead Island 2 Preview

I’m also impressed by the voice acting, at least so far. You’ve got six protagonists to choose from and they’re all quite distinct. Their mannerisms, responses, and personalities feel well-crafted and fleshed out. The NPCs have been interesting, if a little stiff, and the levels themselves feel freshly abandoned. I’m less impressed with the quests, which mostly involve light detective work and zombie murder.

Having spent several hours exploring Dead Island 2, I’m cautiously optimistic about the final product. The combat is satisfying, though the level scaling is a bit aggressive. The crafting is a bit of a slog, albeit with some satisfying results. I wish the RPG elements were properly integrated rather than feeling tacked on. Finally, I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve met, even if they all want roughly the same thing from me. You’ll want to keep a close eye on Dead Island 2 when it releases this April.

***A PC preview build was provided by the publisher***