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News video games 13 March 2023, 16:00

Dead Island 2 Preview: Much to Live For

After years in development limbo, Dead Island is coming out next month and is sure looking good. I got to play it for a few hours and can’t wait to see more.

Dead Island 2 has been a long time coming, but the zombie shooter is finally seeing the sun – and not just any sun, either, but the warm rays of sunny LA. Of course, it may not be the Los Angeles you want to visit, but we do get to gawk at some landmarks while we’re there, even if those scenic vistas are all ablaze due to, you know, a zombie apocalypse.

All this in mind, I got my hands on a preview build of the game and played for a few hours through a handful of missions that really got me used to that West Coast lifestyle complete with celebrities, movie studios, and plenty of…gore. It’s the Dead Island 2 fans have been waiting for, and it sure is shaping up to be another stellar zombie-smashing good time.

Welcome to Hell-A

Dead Island 2 Preview: Much to Live For - picture #1

source: Dead Island 2, publisher Deep Silver/Plaion

One of the glaring differences about this Dead Island is that you aren’t on an island, but instead get to explore what’s become of Los Angeles after zombies started popping up. Fondly referred to as Hell-A by some of the locals, the city was being evacuated by the government, but some unfortunate chaps such as your character, weren’t so lucky to get out.

The game begins with the protagonist surviving a plane crash and finding out that others also made it out alive. These include the famous actress Emma Jaunt, who later offers you sanctuary at her huge house in Bel-Air. There, you discover other survivors and learn that the military may have a base of operations at a nearby hotel, where you volunteer to head to for help. Not only that, but you also realize you’re immune to turning into a zombie and thus hold the key to finding the cure. Getting to this hotel is one of the first main missions in the game, and with it comes a chance to explore the wrecked neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

As you would expect, the setting of Dead Island 2 is what gives the game its flair. From Bel-Air to Beverly Hills, the streets you travel through feature lots of devastation, abandoned homes, and show signs that people were trying to get out. Getting from one neighborhood to another often means going through abandoned military checkpoints. This not only gives the game time to load each new location, but also gives you an idea of how quickly stuff hit the fan.

The homes you visit also contain cheeky references to the kinds of people you would expect in LA such as content creators and celebrities – expect zombies dressed in yoga pants and crowding around swimming pools, for example. Exploring also lets you find side missions that grant you with extra experience points and some useful weapons you get as rewards.

One of these missions included protecting an elderly celebrity while his stair lift came down and the other had me killing zombies while an influencer recorded it all on her phone to post later once the internet came back. I’m excited to see what other side missions the game has in store that will not only pull from the colorful environment that is LA, but also continue to give the series its unique, twisted brand of humor.

Bash and Dash

Like in the original Dead Island, using the resources you find in your environment is crucial to your survival. You will often find miscellaneous weapons such as pieces of wood, pool cues, and wrenches as you explore, and having plenty of weapons will keep you alive considering they wear out over time. To increase their durability and strength, you can also find blueprints that will let you buff up the weapons by giving them mods that change their effects.

Dead Island 2 Preview: Much to Live For - picture #2

source: Dead Island 2, publisher Deep Silver/Plaion

Some of these modifications come at a cost and can make your weapon less durable, but stronger. Others are more beneficial and can provide added effects such as elemental damage that you can exploit by having zombies walk over puddles of water or dousing them in gasoline to electrocute or burn them. Your environment is always changing depending on where you go, so having a good mix of weapons to use at various times is essential to staying alive.

During my preview, I didn’t get to the part where you could equip guns or other long-range weapons, so I was only able to use melee weapons to defend myself. Still, you definitely have plenty of tools to choose from and some stronger weapons can also incapacitate enemies causing them to fall on the floor. This gives you a chance to unleash a fatality on them by smashing in their heads and getting them out of your away so you can focus on the other zombies coming at you. Combat can get a bit hairy at times, so knowing your character’s strengths and weakness is crucial to defend yourself.

Skills of Survival

Dead Island 2 Preview: Much to Live For - picture #3

source: Dead Island 2, publisher Deep Silver/Plaion

When you first start your game, you get a chance to pick the kind of character you want to play as from a list of six potential survivors with different attributes. These consist of toughness, stamina, health recovery, critical damage, agility, peak health, and resilience. Each survivor has an attribute they excel at and one that is their weakness, so knowing this information from the beginning can shape how you play the game.

Characters also come with innate skills that offer them a buff depending on their actions. Amy, the most agile survivor in the game, regains stamina after hitting a zombie with a thrown weapon and gets a damage boost when fending off isolated zombies. These skills are super helpful considering she has the lowest toughness – meaning she’s very susceptible to damage. It makes sense for someone like her to be able to dodge attacks early on, while the tankie Ryan can block attacks instead and recover health when he knocks zombies out.

The character that I chose to play the longest, however, was Bruno, a Los Angelino who has the highest critical damage in the game (but the lowest health) and gets a boost whenever he attacks from behind. Add to that an innate skill that lets him increase his agility by dodging attacks perfectly, and I had me a character who offered the kind of playstyle I was looking for. The beauty of Dead Island 2 is that these survivors can offer you a different combat experience thanks to their attributes and skills, while also providing their own personality whenever they deliver their lines.

As you play and gain experience points by beating up zombies, your character levels up and unlocks various skill cards that you can equip to further develop their build. Each character has unique skill cards they can only learn, but there are other universal skills that you will find on any playthrough such as cards that let you recover health when you successfully block or skills that stun zombies depending on the situation. Some of these you get by just leveling up naturally, but others you get for exploring and completing side missions too.

Your skills and character can mean you sometimes evade zombies, lure them into hazardous environments, or focus on sneaking around and taking them out one by one. In addition to your weapons, you can also deploy items such as dynamite, a vial of liquid that extinguishes fire and moistens zombies, and even an exploding jar of meat that lures zombies to it, offering a distraction and a way to lure them to traps. These tools refill over time and can really come to the rescue and get you out of sticky situations.

Lots to Look Forward To!

Dead Island 2 Preview: Much to Live For - picture #4

source: Dead Island 2, publisher Deep Silver/Plaion

If my experience with the game is anything to go by, Dead Island 2 is also bound to have plenty of fun bosses. One of the first bosses I had to defeat was a zombie bridezilla that kept walking towards me in what should have been her ballroom, while members of her wedding party joined her in hunting me down. I had to trick her to getting electrocuted and then immolated, so I could bash her while dodging her earthquake attacks – all while some lovely wedding music played in the background. The other boss fight took place on a film set and featured a giant robotic spider and plenty of special effects. I won’t spoil the details, but it was a very Hollywood-like sequence for sure.

Dead Island 2 comes out next month and I can’t wait to play more of it. The game already feels different from the original, but in a good, different way. Its setting is bound to feature more tongue-in-cheek humor than the original, and the characters I met so far seem layered and with their own story to tell. Letting you outfit your character with the skills and weapons you want lets you play the game how you want without making it too difficult or too hard for each build. So far, it feels like the ultimate test of your skills in the long run will be about how well you can use the tools given to you.

We’ll definitely look out for Dead Island 2 when it comes out on April 21.

Giancarlo Saldana

Giancarlo Saldana

Giancarlo grew up playing video games and finally started writing about them on a blog after college. He soon began to write for small gaming websites as a hobby and then as a freelance writer for sites like 1UP, GamesRadar, MacLife, and TechRadar. Giancarlo also was an editor for Blast Magazine, an online gaming magazine based in Boston where he covered various video game topics from the city's indie scene to E3 and PAX. Now he writes reviews and occasional previews for Gamepressure covering a broad range of genres from puzzle games to JRPGs to open-world adventures. His favorite series include Pokémon, Assassin's Creed, and The Legend of Zelda, but he also has a soft spot for fighting and music games like Super Smash Bros and Rock Band. When not playing Overwatch after a long day at work, he enjoys spending time working out, meal prepping, and discovering new international films and TV shows.