Dead Island 2 Preview: Development Hell Be Damned

Dead Island 2 feels like a game that was plucked out of the Xbox 360/PS3 era and was dropped into 2023. This statement might feel like a way of diminishing the upcoming post-apocalyptic title, but in a time when open-world games are starting to feel far more bloated than they need to be, I actually say this with a lot of praise. Dead Island 2 might have taken a long time to be on the precipice of release, but based on what I've already experienced, it has already exceeded my admittedly-low expectations. 

I was recently able to go hands-on with a sizable chunk of Dead Island 2 and largely came away quite excited to play the full game. In a general sense, developer Dambuster Studios doesn't seem to be looking to change a whole lot of the formula seen in the original Dead Island that resonated with players all the way back in 2011. DI2 still focuses heavily on melee combat, it features a similar quest structure as the original game, and its open-world is spaced out across a number of smaller areas. Instead, Dambuster is looking to make smaller tweaks that will assure this is the best Dead Island game ever made.


Combat remains the bread and butter of Dead Island 2 as you'll be bashing zombies in the midst of just about everything you're doing. Based on what I have played so far, combat doesn't have a ton of depth and largely just results in you spamming the attack button to take down foes. What Dead Island 2 does do a great job with, though, is making each weapon feel greatly unique. The way in which your character swings a machete has a drastically different feel compared to using a pool cue. This diversity in playstyle makes Dead Island 2's combat continuously feel pretty fresh, especially since item durability will force you to rotate through different melee weapons on a routine basis. 

The thing that I ended up loving the most about Dead Island 2's combat the more I played was its gore system. Rather than having damage dealt to zombies in-game be standard for all attacks, Dambuster has made it to where the type of weapon that you're using impacts the way in which zombies visually show the hits that they've taken. If you're using a sharp object like the aforementioned machete, you'll be able to slice off limbs more easily and deal out a number of cuts to the bodies of various zombies. Blunt-force objects, by comparison, will crush zombie bodies and will noticeably break bones. I spent a good chunk of my time playing Dead Island 2 attacking lifeless zombie bodies on the ground just to see how these different weapons would make an impact. All in all, this system is perhaps the most impressive and unique part of DI2.

One of the aspects of my preview of Dead Island 2 that really won me over the more I played was the game's setting. Taking place within Los Angeles, Dead Island 2 is choosing to forgo the fictional locale of Banoi and is instead moving the action to a setting that is present in the real world. As a result of this change, Dambuster has found a way to inject some enjoyable spoofs and commentary into the game that I think makes for a better backdrop. 


For example, one early location in Dead Island 2 that I ended up coming across was the former mansion of an internet influencer. Scattered around this sprawling house were a number of hints about their previous lifestyle, one of which happened to be an "apology" message written on a whiteboard that was clearly meant to make fun of the countless fake apologies that YouTubers have posted online in the past following various scandals. There are other pieces of smart commentary and satire like this in Dead Island 2 that deal with Hollywood, former big-screen actors, and a number of other things that people would associate with LA. All in all, this shift to a real locale is one that I think will be a big boon for Dead Island 2 and I've been left excited to see its full world. 

For a game that was stuck in development hell for the better part of the past ten years, I'm surprised at how positive I've come away with feeling about Dead Island 2. Nothing I've seen in this game seems like it's going to reinvent the wheel, but it's certainly a sequel that looks to make some notable improvements on the original entry. Although these upgrades and tweaks might not lead to Dead Island 2 being a Game of the Year frontrunner for 2023, this long-awaited follow-up definitely feels poised to deliver what fans have been waiting for.

Dead Island 2 is set to launch next month on April 21, 2023. When it does release, the game will be available to pick up on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC