You'll love it if:
- You loved Dead Island.
- You liked Dying Light 2.
- You want a good time smashing, maiming, dismembering zombies.
Not for you if:
- You don't like zombies.
- Can't stand gore.
- Are a pussy.
I never would have thought I would be able to do a Dead Island 2 Xbox Series X review. After its tumultuous development cycle and several studios having a crack at the sequel it’s finally here. We got the Day Zero build for this Dead Island 2 Xbox Series X review for previewing pleasure. And what a pleasure it was, after finishing Dead Island 2 I can truly say I had fun.
Dead Island 2 feels, looks and plays like any triple A game should. After a full week of spending almost every free moment I had on Dead Island 2, I can count all issues I had on one hand. One simple stutter and one instance of getting stuck in some piece of terrain. Dead Island 2 runs so smoothly on the Xbox Series X it felt like a breath of fresh air from my experience with The Last of Us Part 1 PC port. All while looking truly stunning and blowing you away with the detailed city of Hell-A and its undead citizens. Add in an addicting, simple and fun gameplay loop and Dead Island 2 is a smashing success.
From development hell to pristine gem
Dead Island fans have only been waiting for about nine years for the sequel to drop. Enough to see newborn kids grow into small children with an addiction of doom scrolling on TikTok. How did this come to be?
Once upon a time during the zombie hype outbreak
The original developer Techland, known for the Dying Light series, ended up dropping Dead Island 2 in favour of working on Dying Light 2.
After that publisher Deep Silver enlisted Yager studios to continue the work on Dead Island 2, Deep Silver quickly decided to drop Yager and Dead Island 2 remained on ice.
About a year later Hood: Outlaw & Legends developer Sumo took over the project. And did some of its magic to the project. And just like Yager, Sumo went as quickly as it came.
Enter Dambuster Studios the saviour of Dead Island 2 and the last developer. They toiled hard to make Dead Island 2 the game you will see before you on release day. And they did a hell of a job.
Bunch of messy ideas from 4 studios?
While the development history of Dead Island 2 might raise some eyebrows. And you might think Dead Island 2 just ends up being a mess of ideas four different studios had. I can assure you it’s none of that. What was most prevalent to me was the Techland look of the font used in Dead Island 2.
The crafting mechanic and mods for your weapons are very familiar if you played Dead Island or Dying Light. Even some special attacks and moves bear the Dead Island signature. Which isn’t bad because it still is an entry in the Dead Island series.
Don’t change a winning strategy; or in this case: winning mechanics. Dead Island 2 feels like Dead Island 2 should feel with its familiar mechanics and interface from Dead Island but with upgraded visuals, crafting and slaying of the undead.
Take a bite of LA – Dead Island 2 spoiler free story time
A zombie outbreak has hit LA, the whole city has been put under military lockdown and they are evacuating any uninfected citizens from the city. The intro-cutscene shows the messy chaos this evacuation creates and introduces us to the five playable characters in Dead Island 2. Each of these characters has two unique abilities specific for that character. While you choose who your slayer will be, the game shows what stats they inherently focus on.
You regain consciousness after your plane has been shot down by the military as one of the passengers turned out to be infected. After dislodging a sliver of metal from your abdomen the Slayer thinks it might be best to find a medkit. You shuffle across the interior wreckage of the plane, corpses litter the ceiling, now floor, and still hang from their seats. After a shot of whisky and a band-aid you are good as new.
The wreckage of the plane crash is your first area and functions as a tutorial level, explaining the basics and introducing the first main characters in the the story. The superstar Emma Jaunt, her aid Michael and Ronnie who is currently deaf from the crash. They abandon you as a horde of undead is heard in the distance, you stay around to help save a couple trapped under the wreckage.
This first bit of combat is a laid back tutorial on how combat works, how bashing and maiming and throwing your weapons at the undead will be your bread and butter for most of the game. And your survival if you wish to continue.
Welcome to Hell-A
The tutorial section ends with you getting bit by the wife of the couple you are trying to help. So far for trying to be the good guy. As you fight off the fever and your head is thumping in your head we get a cutscene of our Slayer wandering LA, punching undead and just mingling with them, how mysterious.
When you regain control of your Slayer you find yourself in the land celebrities and their villa’s. Emma Jaunt had requested you come to her house after you freed the trapped couple. Turns out lady luck is on your side.
After a cutscene where you succumb to the virus before passing out and waking up at gunpoint, locked up in Emma’s personal gym. You and Emma realize you might be immune to the virus. Emma sees this as an option to get help and get out of LA, saving her own ass. Your Slayer sees it as an opportunity to save humanity and get out of LA.
Immunity, salvation or curse?
The story of Dead Island 2 revolves around getting to the right authorities and working on creating a cure. While the initial setup is rather simple it does have some levels of intrigue, plot twists and takes a turn a bit past the midpoint of Dead Island 2. The whole Hollywood setting adds that unique flavour, look and dialogue that really pushes its content.
The story does wrap up nicely and I really liked some of the characters you meet later on. While some players might feel there is an open ending and definitely more story to build upon in Dead Island 3 or the upcoming DLC. The main story revolving around you, Emma and other characters you meet early one is done, and finished in a good way.
The parts of story that come along later are the setup for later content we will definitely see. There is some mystery left of what is to come but not up to the point that it will annoy you as the player.
As far as the story as a whole goes, I can say it’s quite satisfactory. The writing on some parts stands out as being really good and relevant to our modern times. Hitting subjects that are relevant now for gamers, content creators and rich Hollywood actors, I guess. While some parts can come over as simply uninteresting or boring. Don’t get me wrong, Dead Island 2 has dialogue and parts where we laughed out loud and needed a moment to process how good the joke or pun was.
Maybe because all dialogue was written with five different Slayers in mind. Making some reactions generic for your character or the reply you get just out of touch. Probably because every interaction is linear and thus created for one story with five different personalities in each Slayer. The same goes for all the side-quests you find around Hell-A, they are either funny, well-written, interesting pieces or plain forgettable.
Become a butcher of the undead – Dead Island 2 gameplay review
After that whole chunk of story it’s time to take a bite out of the gameplay part of Dead Island 2. Taking everything that made Dead Island good and building upon that excellent package: a fun gameplay loop that is hard to put down.
Whirlwind of gory destruction
All beginnings are hard. Your weak infected body is still recovering and adapting to the virus. Finding new potential and confidence as you progress. This progression system is visualized as a card system. The further you progress in the story, or level up, the more cards and slots for additional cards you unlock. Some cards are found in the wild as you explore or as rewards but the most impactful ones are unlocked by simply playing as intended.
This card system unlocks new abilities to utilize like Dodge or Block. Bonuses when you use a flying kick on an enemy, health regeneration when you get kills and so on. There truly is potential to build your Slayer into something you like. There are many options that fit any play-style and the cost of changing out cards is free. So you can switch it up any time you like.
Tools of annihilation
The card system is the bread and butter for your character development. All of those perks and cards you unlock affect you as a Slayer. The tools you will use to carve a path to your objective have a different system of their own. The weapon system is very reminiscent of Dead Island or Dying Light. With the added quality of life improvements that you can repair weapons and level them up to your level as you play along. Found that perfect weapon you like? Simply spend some money to bring it back to your level and increase the damage.
This makes keeping your build and arsenal up to date fairly easy. And not a chore of trying to find a new replacement for that weapon you really liked. There is an insane variety of weapons to find and use. Each with their own attack patterns, swing patterns and finishers. Later on you unlock firearms and while there is less variety, they are insanely strong and fit perfectly for my build.
Ammo is scarce but craftable; which is probably for the best. I found a really strong rifle and was able to take down a mini-boss with several shots. Any normal infected without leg protection was crawling on the floor before they could get close. Easy pickings and heads for stomping.
The combat is visceral, gory and shocking at times. Every body part is detachable and has an effect on how the infected behave. Shooting legs and arms disables their movement or arm attacks, head attacks are critical and torso attacks with force can stun or push them back.
Perfectly timing your dodge or parry can stun an infected, pressing the finisher buttons lets your Slayer grab onto them and through a short quick-time-event mini-game you finish them off in the most brutal way. These finishing moves are different depending on the type of weapon you use to finish them off. I completely understand now why these moves were blurred at the Opening Night live at Gamescom 2022.
The combat itself is enhanced through the destruction model of the characters. Slicing off chunks of flesh or burning them has a visual impact on the model of the infected. Punching the head with a blunt object can dislocate or break the jaw, make eyes pop out and turn that side of the head to a pink pulp. One of the more brutal effects is corrosion; with a sizzling sound the skin just melts off, revealing muscle and bone as red gooey slime drips to the floor.
Variety is the spice of life
The further you progress in the story the more variety there is in the infected you meet. Some apex variants make their appearance after progressing in the main story. They now populate the streets of LA in a weaker version but still use the same attacks and have the same weaknesses. Getting to know those weaknesses is simply done by killing them and unlocking entries in the zombiepedia. The more kills you get on a certain type, the more information you get.
Your weapons have several open perk slots you can utilize to customize them. Adding perks requires materials you gather around the world. And you unlock those through blueprints, either finding them in the world, buying them from vendors or through progression unlocks. You can have the same weapon with three totally different configurations at the ready. The grind for materials can be real at times, but not so that Dead Island 2 becomes a huge grind fest.
Sightseeing through Hell-A
Personally I’ve never been to LA, but I feel like the LA in Dead Island 2 does an appropriate job of recreating LA in-game. The lush mansions, the artistic architecture and beautiful beach front. They feel iconic and fitting for the LA setting.
Feast your eyes
Dead Island 2 looks amazing from start to finish. The environments, character models and weapon models are very detailed and worked out. The range of combinations for infected models is also big enough that you don’t see two of the same models in combat too often. The little additions to infected attires like sunglasses or hats are neat. And fun to see them flying as you punch them in the head.
Overall Dead Island 2 is beautiful on every front. From its visual design to creating set pieces in an infected world. Everything looks stunning and there is some smart programming doing its job to keep everything smooth. Dead Island 2 is very well optimized for the Xbox Series X and I hope it does as well on other platforms.
Technical perfection for the Xbox Series X
Pre-release builds are always exciting to see. Are we getting something barely holding itself together with lots of work? Or are we getting a version almost nearing Gold status with only minor patches needed? Well, Dead Island 2 was the latter.
Smoothest apocalypse ever!
As I mentioned earlier we had our hands on the Day 0 build. We got an extensive list of known bugs and issues. Pieces or parts that could block story progression and what to watch out for if we didn’t want to block ourselves. Before the final release there will be another patch to fix more of the mentioned issues so the final experience you have will be better.
During the whole play test of Dead Island 2 on the Day 0 build I played I had a total of 1 issue that was some stuttering. Overall we had zero crashes or game breaking bugs, we encountered nothing out of the ordinary or eyebrow raising issues that had us questioning if Dead Island 2 was ready for release. Well maybe aside from that one cutscene where some NPC’s fell through the floor. Dead Island 2 is the smoothest pre-release game I have played in the two years of writing for BGeek. Bravo Dambuster Studios, very well done.
My only gripe was the sound design indoors. It sounded hollow and had a strange echo to it. Like your punches and shouts were all in a confined metal space. This disturbed me most when I was playing with the SteelSeries Arctis 9x.
Dead Island 2 review – Conclusion
If there was any small part of you even remotely interested in getting Dead Island 2. I one hundred percent recommend getting Dead Island 2. It has been ages since I was excited to get chores done and just continue playing. I was invested and never felt like the time I spent was wasted. I had genuine fun while exploring and fighting and really look forward to trying out the DLC.
I started playing Dead Island 2 alone and I finished it with another BGeek editor just watching along, equally as invested as I was in how the story would conclude and what else the world was going to bring in the form of Apex variants or build options. If it wasn’t for the dips in writing and weird sound design indoors Dead Island 2 would have gotten a 10/10 without a doubt. But it definitely earns its score.
Thank you Enarxis Media for this key. I had a blast!