Not many people remember the original Dead Island. That’s quite sad if you think about it. It was middling, janky and quite repetitive, but it was also quite fun. The sequel, Dead Island: Riptide wasn’t much better received. Needless to say, nobody was expecting much from Dead Island 2, especially after its repeated delays.

Well…after a looooooong time out of the public eye, the game is finally out. No joke!

So what do I think about it?

Read on and find out!

What is Dead Island 2?

Dead Island 2 is a first person action RPG. It is the fourth game in the Dead Island series, but is the second main entry, hence the 2 at the end of the title. The game is developed by Dambuster Studios (the guys behind Homefront: The Revolution and Chorus) and published by Deep Silver.

It is available for the PC, Playstation and Xbox consoles right now.

Our copy of the game was kindly provided by the awesome folks at ExcelGames Interactive, the local distributor of Dead Island 2. Thanks a ton EGI!

I’ve had quite a while to play the game and my impressions of it has been pretty much a rollercoaster experience. There are a ton of things that Dead Island 2 does right, but there are also some head scratching design choices too.

Like Dead Island, the sequel starts you off at the outset of a zombie outbreak. This time, instead of the tropical island of Banoi, you’re in Los Angeles…or as the game prefers to call it, Hell-A. I don’t know why this game is called Dead ISLAND despite not being on one though.

The Santa Monica pier is one of the best areas in the game.

Anyways, like the original, you pick from a handful of survivors, each with their own perks and stats. I picked Ryan, the fake firefighter (you’ll find out why in the game’s intro), because everybody else kind of sucked.

You can’t create your own custom avatar sadly.

Also like the original, Dead Island 2’s plot has the survivors trying to survive the zombie apocalypse and get rescued by whoever is still in charge. This is pretty much the plot for 75% of the game, until the twist at the very end…and the lame ass cliffhanger ending.

Why is there a Dead Island 2 poster in Dead Island 2? So meta!

To say the ending is unsatisfying is to give it more credit than its due. I understand that Dambuster Studio’s probably planning on expanding on it (maybe via a DLC or expansion pack), but a cliffhanger almost always leaves a bad taste in the mouth. So many issues are unresolved that it genuinely feels like that game deserves a few more missions or cutscenes before the credits roll.

You do get some extra side missions that involve the survivors you met along the way after you finish the game though…so that’s some closure, I guess.

While you’re moving the plot along, you get to explore the hellish landscape of undead LA. Unlike the original which had a somewhat open world design, Dead Island 2 eschews that and is instead divided up into sections of Los Angeles you can visit.

You’re gradually given access to these as you play, so like it or not, you have to do the main questline to get to go to the other areas.

Don’t be fooled, zombies can swarm any moment.

The areas you gain access to are actually decently sized (my favourite’s the Santa Monica boardwalk), and there’s ample room to venture off the beaten path. You can sometimes find optional objectives, even special cards that you can equip (more on that later on) hidden away or dropped by special monsters.

However…It might be a bit unwise to do so, as while the game has scaled difficulty (wherein most enemies in earlier areas will rise up in level to match yours), the opposite is not true.

There are locations in the game, where the enemies are of a much higher level than you when you’re first able to access the area.

Dead Island 2 has some pretty locales!

You can easily tell you’ve wandered where you’re not supposed to because the zombies here have a handy dandy skull icon next to their health bar (where their level indicator should be). See that and it’s time to skedaddle.

It’s no use fighting them because they do massive damage to you and you do massively reduced damage to them.

As you scamper around L.A., you’ll of course have to contend with zombies.

The game starts you off easy, with slow moving (think Night of the Living Dead) varieties but gradually amps the undead selection with the expected zombie types.

Hu-Err, Crusher SMASH!

The runners, the Hulk-sized ones (the first boss you fight even resembles She-Hulk…in a wedding dress), the screamers, the fatties…basically if you’ve played any zombie game (Dying Light 2, Left 4 Dead, World War Z and Back 4 Blood especially) in the past few years, you know what to expect.

Zombie originality aside, there’s actually quite a decent number of skins for each type so even when you’re swarmed, you never seem to face the same looking one too many times.

One of the best features of Dead Island 2 is the damage system.

Your attacks actually reflect on the zombies themselves. Slicing them with blades gouges out chunks of flesh, tearing into their clothes, severing limbs and decapitating heads with critical hits. Smashing them repeatedly in the face with a blunt object will turn their heads to mush…exposing their (weirdly pulsating) brain in their skulls.

That’s going to leave a mark

It’s not just the visuals that sell the combat.

Hit locations are also taken into account. Smash appendages to neuter zombies! Chop off their arms and the huge hulking zombies are much easier to deal with. Runners with broken legs are nowhere near the speedy threat they previously were! There’s just something inherently satisfying sending zombies flying when you wallop them with a sledgehammer.

The game also takes into account environmental factors too. If you add water to exposed electricity (whether it’s via a jerry can or the water grenade), you can electrify any zombie what shambles through. Same thing with fire and the green goo.

Oh and due to the corrosive nature of the goo, enemies you fight will all have their skin burned off in real time. Delicious!

Melt them all down!

My favourite weapon class though are the fist weapons. Though rarer than other weapon types, they’re amazing! The brass knuckles are just plain awesome. They’re fast, and very brutal. I’m simply mesmerized watching them in action as I’m caving a zombie’s face in with repeated blows. You can also imbue your weapons with perks that might add environmental effects or even enhance them in other ways.

Coupled with the right feats, you can be practically unstoppable! You can be healing, smashing and flinging zombies left and right with pure abandon all at once!

It’s gory, it’s very visceral and I LOVE IT.

…or just squish them!

The scaling difficulty also affects the weapons.

As you level up, you’ll naturally find weapons with higher power, even if they look the same as those you found while you’re just starting out.

You can pay money to update weapons you found (or customized) earlier to your level, but it’s massively expensive to do so, and the game’s pretty stingy with the cash too.

The sad fact is that you’ll only want to stick with one or two weapons customized weapons (Rare Quality or above) because you simply can’t afford to keep upgrading your whole arsenal every few levels. It’s already costly enough keeping them in fighting shape with the repairs.

It’s not until about halfway through that money doesn’t become an issue. That’s mainly due to the rare weapon drops coming frequently so you can just sell off unwanted weapons.

Weapons are color coded from Grey, Green, Blue, Purple and Orange to denote their rarity.

Weirdly this actually works for the game. Early on, you’ll constantly be picking up random weapons and because of that, have to constantly be adapting your tactics and getting a feel of all the instruments of pain Dead Island 2 has. When you know what you want, it’s then that you’ll want to keep the same weapons at hand, repaired and upgraded for the fights.

Just know that you’ll be fighting a lot. In fact, I’d even say that it’s too much at times.

Zombies will constantly respawn, even in areas you’ve cleared before. Hell, they’ll respawn as you’re puttering the immediate area (you know, the one you just cleared) looking for loot.

Sometimes, they’ll even respawn as you’re looking right out thin air, right in your view! That’s some Star Trek level shit I tell you!

Adding to that, is the stupid decision to NOT let you close doors.

WTF right?

You can open them just fine, but there’s ZERO way to close them. WHY?! Why can’t I just hole up in a room and loot it in peace?

Even worse, if you trigger alarms or the screamer, zombies will literally pop out the woodwork to come for you, even if you’ve killed everything in the vicinity. It’s a huge copout that doesn’t reward those who prefer a more cautious gameplay style.

The worst offender though…are the damn Butcher zombies.

dead island 2
Ged to da choppa!

These guys have blades jutting out of their hands (think Baraka from Mortal Kombat), hit fast and hard, are resistant to most types of damage AND their blades are invulnerable. They also run away when injured, feasting on nearby corpses to heal if not stopped.

I HATE them with a passion. They’re just not fun to fight…not alone, and definitely not when you’re being swarmed. Still, running isn’t really advised. Like it or not, you’ll have to fight to level up.

In Dead Island 2, leveling up doesn’t net you stat increases like a normal ARPG.

Instead, every few levels you get a card, which gives you perks or new moves (like a dropkick). Cards are how the game lets you customize your character. You have a limited number of card slots available (each type of card has its own category too) so you’ll have to mix and match to find the perfect balance for you.

dead island 2
So many cards to choose from!

Do you want to use cards that reward perfect blocking? Do you want cards that give you back some health for kills? It’s a rather fun system, but some of the more powerful skills are a bit too situational to be of much use and not every skill is useful. The one that imbues the Dropkick with an explosion is mandatory though. That’s saved my hide more than I can count.

Some cards also have drawbacks, but come with powerful perks. It’s up to you if you want to use them but I found myself swapping them in and out over the course of the game depending on what’s needed.

Numen skills (the most powerful skills in the game) come into play waaaaay to late. In fact, if you do the story missions back to back, they pretty much are force fed down your throat in the last quarter.

I wish the game doled them out sparingly throughout the game, instead of just the last parts.

Ok so far, I’ve talked about melee weapons and the card system. You might be wondering where guns fit into all of this. After all, the game’s set in America.

Here’s the bad news…guns only unlock after about a 1/3 of the way through the game. You’ll be given an assault rifle (and some ammo) for free in a mission, but it’s up to you to source out other guns on your own.

dead island 2
The boomstick is ready!

Ammo isn’t exactly scarce for the low powered weapons (pistols and such) but the more powerful guns (shotguns, rifles) can be tricky to find ammo for. You’ll be able to craft your own bullets later on, so guns should always be in your inventory when the crap hits the fan.

Like the melee weapons, guns too have their own power level that rises as you become stronger.

Unfortunately, that means a headshot from a weak gun may not kill a zombie in one hit. Disappointing, I know. I feel the pain too. It fits in with the gameplay mechanics, but boy, do I wish that Dambuster Studios had made an exception for headshots.

Visually, Dead Island 2 is fine.

Characters look decent, the damage modelling it insanely awesome, the environments are fun to explore and the framerate is stable enough to hover around 60FPS if things aren’t too busy. There’s a bit of object pop-in in some areas, the frame rate also seems to go down a bit when there are too many zombies and effects on-screen.

Overall though, it’s a relatively smooth experience. It’s definitely better than how the original Dead Island was when it launched on consoles.

The Bottom Line.

dead island 2
Come get some!

Many people expected Dead Island 2 to suck. I know I did.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t.

The gameplay (repetitive as it is) is decent enough, the combat is fun and visceral and the framerate (mostly) sticks to its target.

Are there issues with the game? Hell yeah but they aren’t as severe as I had expected. In fact, if Dambuster Studios patched those, Dead Island 2 could be a pretty good game, perhaps even a sleeper hit.


Decently fun with a few glaring issues.

The Good:

  • Bloody, visceral combat.
  • Lots of zombie variety.
  • Interesting locations to explore.
  • Fury mode lets you go all out in a Berserker rage.
  • Smooth framerate.

The Bad:

  • Some skills aren’t useful, Numen skills unlock too late.
  • Zombies respawn too fast.
  • Cliffhanger ending.
  • Not enough optional objectives.
  • You can’t close doors.

Sal's been in the industry since the early 2000s. He's written for a ton of gaming and tech publications including Playworks, Hardwarezone, HWM and GameAxis. Recently, Sal served as a juror for the Indie Game Awards at Taipei Game Show 2020. A geek and hardcore gamer, Sal will play everything, on any platform.