The road to Dead Island 2 was longer than most. In 2011, Techland and Deep Silver released the first Dead Island, a sort of zombie-themed take on Borderlands. Following a couple of expansions and spinoffs, Dead Island 2 was announced way back in 2014. We’ve been covering it since then! The undead sequel changed development hands a few times over the years, with the UK-based Dambuster Studios eventually bringing the game back to life and over the finish line. Dead Island 2 is finally here, and while it doesn’t revolutionize the genre, it is a very enjoyable first-person cooperative zombie slaying game.
Dead Island 2 picks up 15 years after the original. As a zombie outbreak sets the state of California into chaos, a zombie stowaway causes an evacuation flight to crash. Players will choose from six unique characters called “slayers” who survived the crash and then set out towards the mansions of “Hell-A” to find a safe house. The heroes soon discover that they’re immune to the zombie virus and begin the search for someone who can create a cure for the rest of humanity. Meanwhile, various agencies work to help or hinder their progress.
The game uses an open-world structure in which players venture from their bases to explore and complete various quests around a meticulously detailed, ruined version of Los Angeles. Despite the open world style, the actual map is divided into distinct zones (à la Borderlands). These can be fast-traveled between upon finding maps for them. Zombies spawn practically everywhere. This can be annoying when you’re just trying to explore or backtrack, but foes can often be run past without too much trouble.
Combat is largely melee-focused, though the slayers will acquire a handful of firearms eventually. You’ll find a huge variety of melee weapons throughout the game world, including swords, axes, pool cues, hammers, and many more. Most of these armaments can slice zombies apart in a multitude of ways thanks to Dead Island 2's dynamic dismemberment system. Weapons wear out over time but can be repaired and even upgraded with cool elemental effects via the crafting system. Players can mix things up with kicks and jump kicks, which send enemies flying and are lots of fun to use. Eventually, the slayers will gain access to “Fury” as well. After filling up the fury meter and activating Fury mode, you’ll move faster and deal increased damage until the meter runs out or you deactivate Fury.
To keep the zombie smashing from getting stale, the game has some clever elemental and environmental interactions. Pools of water are often found near sources for electricity, for instance. Provide a battery to the nearby generator or otherwise connect the circuit, and any zombies in the water will take massive electrical damage. Oil cans allow the team to spread fuel around the environment, at which point a flaming weapon or other source can light up the hapless undead. These environmental puzzles/opportunities aren't usually mandatory, but they can make it easier to deal with enemies, as well as sometimes opening paths to fresh loot.
Dead Island 2 has several RPG elements that add depth as well. Killing enemies, completing quests and challenges, and unlocking doors will reward the player with experience. Leveling up increases the player’s health, unlocks skill cards and slots, and allows access to higher-rarity weapons. Instead of a traditional skill tree, the game uses a skill card system. Players can slot in various cards that unlock new moves (such as the ability to activate Fury) or provide different bonuses. This allows for a fair level of customization as you progress through the game.
As with Borderlands and the original Dead Island, this game is best experienced in online co-op. However, players must complete a few single-player missions first. It should take 30-60 minutes to reach the “Call the Cavalry” mission. After stepping outside of the first safe house, the game will state that co-op has been unlocked. Multiple players can choose the same slayer (as shown in our screenshots), but the recently added cosplay feature will allow for visual differentiation.
Co-op has some interesting limitations. For instance, only three players are supported instead of four. This was done, apparently, to maintain a certain level of challenge and performance. It’s still a blast to form a party of three, but it does mean that established 4-person teams won’t be able to enjoy this game together. More disappointingly, cross-play is not supported either. A game of this scale and production values should really support cross-play in the year of our lord 2023. True, Dead Island 2 was announced way back in 2014, but the world has moved forward since then!
The game incentivizes playing with gamers of similar experience levels by restricting who can join whose game. Lower-level players can’t join a high-level game, but high-level players can join a lower-level game. It’s an inelegant solution, but not insurmountable. The more experienced player basically helps the newer player catch up, and everyone still gets to keep everything that they acquire during the co-op game. Players can revive each other before bleeding out, so bringing a friend or two along definitely helps you live longer. Also, some missions require the presence of the entire team before they can be initiated. Any players who aren’t present at the designated circle upon starting a mission are conveniently prompted to warp there.
Dead Island 2’s greatest strengths are its satisfying combat, the well-written and told story, and the highly detailed environments of Hell A. I get a kick out of searching realistic but decimated Los Angeles mansions, hotels, and beaches for loot. Playing on Xbox Series X, the game looks great in performance mode. The only visual nuisance for me is the lack of reflections in mirrors and windows. Why even have mirrors if they’re not going to reflect everything? That aside, Dead Island 2 is a gorgeous game with a great soundtrack, a game that’s solid and intriguing enough even for someone like me who doesn’t care much for zombies.
An Xbox code was provided by the publisher for this review.
The Co-Op Experience: Up to three players can play through the game together, dropping in and out of the hosts game at any time. Players can revive each other.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.