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When I loaded up my copy of Dead Island 2 for a hands-on preview, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little cautious. Creating the sequel to one of the best zombie games of all time is no easy feat, and after years of false starts, it seemed smart to manage my expectations. All I really wanted was the bread and butter of first-person melee combat: blood, crafts, and shriveled hordes of dead things to sculpt.

But as I prepare my knuckle spacers to punch a hole in another zombie’s head, I’m corrected. I deftly dodge to avoid another corpse’s complaining maw, impaling him from spleen to breast with the tip of my pool cue. Guts glisten in my fists as I shift into a modified machete, present it to a zombie’s shoulder and watch as the electrical surge cooks its flesh to a satisfying sizzle. After I’ve broken it down to the right sized pieces and taken a moment to breathe, the floor starts to bake. It’s a pair of shredders the unofficial chad of all apex zombies and while I wish I had a minimap to keep track of all my enemies, it’s official: Dead Island 2 It’s about as much fun as a girl can have without taking her head off a zombie. Can’t wait to play the rest.

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Sun is out, gutting

(Image credit: Deep Silver) Bloody Good

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(Image credit: Prata Deep)

Dead Island 2’s bloody ‘meat’ system is winning over a lot of fans

Dead Island 2 takes place in Los Angeles, but developer studio Dambuster is headquartered across the lake in Nottingham, England. “(LA) is such an iconic location and is a real melting pot of different cultures, ideas, personality types and subcultures,” game director David Stenton told GamesRadar+ in an interview. “We just tried to present this kind of international version, almost the outsider’s version of what most people would believe LA is.”

With the entire city condemned by the government, the game starts with your evacuation plane being shot out of the sky. You’ll be able to choose to play as one of six slayers, wade through the burning wreckage and begin your fight for survival. As you explore Bel-Air, you quickly discover that the upper elite are just as human as the rest of us. Indeed, it’s surprising how well a zombie apocalypse fits into Uber’s residential neighborhoods. The maps aren’t sprawling in open-world terrain, but there’s still no shortage of trashy, blood-soaked mega-mansions to loot for money, treasure, and unique weapons. I took a moment to admire the sunset over Beverly Hills, watching the strawberry ice cream sky dip to deep blood reds before continuing my quest, because wow. Dambuster really did their homework on what makes a stunning LA cityscape really pop.

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These smaller maps and zones are a departure from the original game’s setting, which favors more open world exploration. Don’t be discouraged though, it’s not a one-time deal. “We really get down to what we call districts and they really vary in size,” Stenton says of the decision to go non-open world, “and it’s just there to meet the needs of where we are in the story, (and) where we are in this world. kind of power curve and progression from Survivor to Zombie Slayer.”

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He is referring, of course, to the telling of history itself. The first handful of missions are fairly straightforward, and the more controlled map size lends itself well to the linear requirements of these opening scenes. “The game is about up close and personal combat,” explains Stenton. “So if we create vast districts, large expanses, it kind of hurts the zombie fight.” They seem more leaning towards the multiplayer aspects of the game, with a feature that lets you stack up with teammates so you can leave each zone together.

In short, the smaller districts allow Dambuster to “tailor the environments to really provide the best combat sandbox” for players. I can imagine this as a great feature for co-op gameplay, even if the loading screens can feel like a bit of an immersion breaker at times. But really, in a game about squishing zombies, dumping oil on them, and setting the world on fire, you’re still going to have a glorious time.

hit the deck

(Image credit: Dambuster Studios)

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“We try to offer the player many, many different ways to succeed. And the skill deck really just allows for that.”

David Stenton (Game Director)

I was instructed to only play the first 14 or so main and side quests of the test build, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that one of the coolest things about Dead Island 2 is its deck building feature. As you play the game and level up your character, you unlock or find more skill cards to be traded in your hand.

By pairing companion cards together, you can create custom skill builds that enhance your chosen playstyle, as well as remedy any downside your assassin may suffer. “Strategy is a big part of Dead Island 2, (as it is) choosing the right tool for the right situation,” Stenton says of the decision to opt for a skill deck over a skill tree. “I think combat really becomes its own where you have what I call the symphony of the combat sandbox.”

According to Stenton, it’s all about choice. “We try to offer the player many, many different ways to succeed. And the skill deck really just allows for that,” he says. Gone are the days of elusive, incoming, once-invested, and tributary skill points to keep up in the heat of battle.

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Not only do the cards look shiny from a stylistic perspective, but all pulpy and flamboyant like an old school comic book, but the deck building mechanic itself makes the combat that much more memorable and engaging. You can edit your deck at any time, encouraging a trial and error approach where you can go back to rework your cards as often as you like to test out the different buff combos. This allows you to make much more considered specialized combat choices than you normally would; You’ll want to combine your block cards to ensure PERFECT PARRIES give you a health and stamina boost, while enhancing your battlecry to destabilize your enemies, as well as getting rid of any harmful status effects like burning, toxicity, or electrocution.

Also, your skill card selection will depend on which character you have selected to play as. On my first playthrough, I opted for Carla, the motorcycle stunt driver, but who is David Stenton’s killer of choice? “I think my slayer is probably Amy,” he says, referencing the laid-back Paralympic queen you can find in Dead Island 2’s merchandise shop (opens in new guide). “I really like Amy because she has a very nimble set of starting skills, a very nimble kind of play style.”

in the flesh

(Image credit: Prata Deep)

When it comes to down-to-earth blood and guts, Dambuster cuts down to absolute science with the flesh system—the terrifying graphics that let you land blow after blow of anatomically correct direct force trauma. “It was something that we really started almost day one of starting the project,” says Stenton. “We knew that for Dead Island 2 we wanted to get back to zombies being at the absolute core of the game. We wanted to be the absolute best in class, first-person combat.”

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Judging by the few hours I spent on the game, I think it’s safe to say that the studio managed to get the gore in Gorgeous. As David Stenton says, “Dead Island 2 is just about allowing people to get involved in areas that they find more fun.” To me, that’s literally punching a runner’s teeth in the teeth before backing them into a puddle and slamming them in the shins with an electrified machete. Dead Island 2 may be a month away from release, but it’s already in tip-top shape to receive it on April 21, 2023.

For more of this year’s hottest releases, check out our list of new games 2023 .

Dead Island 2 Preview: Work Hard, Kill More in Gore-Geous LA

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Dead Island 2 Preview: Work Hard, Kill More in Gore-Geous LA

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