Dead Island 2 - The First 5 Hours - Preview
Can you smell that? That is the smell of the undead, shuffling around the corner. They are hungry, relentless and innumerable. They are the coming apocalypse and standing between the endless horde of flesh-eaters and the end of humanity is an oddball group of LA locals, a knack for creating weaponry out of household items and a can-do attitude. Welcome to Hell A and after what feels like an eternity, welcome to Dead Island 2.
Thanks to Plaion Australia, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a preview build of the long-awaited zombie sequel that let me experience the first five hours of the game in all of its gory glory. Unlike my previous preview of the game, which was a small vertical slice, this was the whole open world at my fingertips. I could sink into all of the game’s systems, experience the gameplay without restrictions and really get a good feel for what Dead Island 2 will offer when it finally hits our consoles and PCs next month. While this is a preview build and there are things that could change, at this point they are likely to be quite minor and as a result, I have a good idea of what to expect from the full release, at least as far as mechanics and systems go.
The first thing I want to say is this, Dead Island 2, despite the long, twisted and downright crazy development timeline is a true sequel to the original game, even going so far as including one of the main characters from the original game as an NPC. As a result, there is a lot that is familiar to those of us that played the original two titles. The basic structure of an open-world action/RPG with a focus on constructible and destructible melee weapon combat is much the same as it was way back when. But don’t let that worry you, because it seems to me that the developers have taken that original blueprint and buffed it to an iridescent shine.
Let’s start with the tone of the game. The first two games were pretty dire story experiences, with a bog-standard zombie outbreak tale being told through average voice acting and boring missions. This is no longer the case. I was immediately invested in this story thanks to some great characters and even better voice acting. A prime example is one of the characters is a spoiled Hollywood starlet that immediately set my teeth on edge, but as I played further through the game, I began to not only empathise with her but to actively like her. There is a depth to the characters here that just wasn’t present in the original games, a depth that makes them much more than just quest-giving NPCs and as a result, it means that there is a much greater emotional investment when things go south. There is also a much lighter tone here. Sure things are pretty bad in Hell A but that doesn’t mean you can’t have joke now and then. The humour sprinkled throughout my time with the game was, as expected, very dark, but it also helped to make the game more endearing and less of a one-note slaughterfest.
As far as the map goes, Hell A is obviously a much bigger place to explore than some random tropical island, so there is naturally a lot of ground to cover. The game breaks the map up into smaller segments (Beverly Hills, Downtown etc) with a quick loading screen in between each one. A small concession to allow the fantastically detailed areas the development team has conjured for our enjoyment. I have no idea as to how accurate the map is to the real world LA, but as someone who has only experienced LA through the prism of media, it feels authentic in its depiction. It will be interesting to see how the map holds up over what I feel will be quite the lengthy experience, but for the moment, I like what I saw.
On the combat side of things there is still a heavy focus on homemade melee weaponry. Thankfully though, things are much more exciting this time around, with a much more robust crafting system, expanded combat move sets and a more satisfying heft and feel to the entire act of smacking, slicing and crushing the zombie hordes. There is a real challenge here, even in the basic random encounters so this will not be a game that you can just walk through. The boss encounters I came across all took me to the limit and if it wasn’t for my large stockpile of health kits I would have had a much harder time of it. That said they never once felt unfair, they are basically skill checks to ensure players have learned all the lessons so far and are ready to go further in the game.
Speaking of skills, the upgrade path is an interesting and wonderfully customisable one. The game uses a card system to represent the skill tree, with each card representing a new skill. There are limited slots for cards, so you can never have all skills active at one point, however, you can mix and match at your leisure, so tailoring to a preferred playstyle is super simple. I really enjoyed tinkering with the skills I had unlocked in my five hours, pairing them with different abilities and seeing how they worked in the game. It was refreshing to have complete control over the skillset and not be locked into an upgrade path. I can’t wait to see how my range of skills expands as new cards unlock in the full game.
With 6 different characters to chose from, all with their own perks and moves there is going to be plenty here for people to sink their teeth into. I have no worry that this is a game that is going to offer its crowd a big meaty game to explore and interact with. My biggest concern at this point is how it all holds up after 20 – 50 hours, how players will feel after inhabiting Hell A for so long. Only time will tell on that score, but for the moment I am pretty darn excited about the release of Dead Island 2, something that I never thought possible. It is taking the untapped potential of the first two games and really making sure it isn’t wasted this time around. Even in this preview build, it feels supremely polished and there are no immediate signs of the immensely troubled development it went through. The full release will tell the final story, but at the moment it looks like this could be one of the biggest underdog stories in games history, because frankly after the hell that the development of this game has been through, it has no right to be looking and playing as good as it is.
Dead Island 2 is coming to PS4/5, Xbox Series/One and PC on the 21st of April so there isn’t long to wait now. I for one am super keen to dive into the full experience, hopefully, I will see some of you join me in Hell A for what looks to be an absolute blast.