Dead Island 2 review: Precedent Evil

After almost a decade of shifting developers and lord knows what else, Dead Island 2 is here. Was the wait worth it for more zombie-kicking, weapon-crafting RPG action?


I wasn’t sure what to expect from Dead Island 2. After playing it through to the end, I’m not sure Dead Island 2 knew what to expect from itself, either. If you look at the game like a power tool, all the features are here: Zombies, customizable weapons, co-op with several playable characters, unlockable skills, and buckets of gore. But as a work, or a story woven together by teams of creative humans, Dead Island 2 loses its practical form and starts to wiggle, deflate, and fly around making comical sputtering noises like a punctured balloon animal. This game struggles to settle on a tone, narrative, or game direction. By the end, it fails to establish an identity.

Here we go again, and again, and again

Dead Island 2 Review Score

Dead Island 2 opens in a way that almost seems to be invoking COVID. A military unit is facilitating a plane boarding for evacuation, which no passenger seems to be taking seriously. They’re all lined up for forehead temperature scans, goofing off and treating the whole thing like a party. Of course someone on the plane is sick, and after you choose a character the plane goes down and a small band of survivors is stuck in an infested Los Angeles. A jumbled mess of Grand Theft Auto-style clumsy satire, melodrama, and weirdly misaligned dialogue ensues. Oh, and tons of junk collecting. So much junk collecting.

After the opening, any intrigue about Dead Island 2 having something interesting to say about the current state of everything evaporated quickly. Part of the problem is a tug of war between the plot (driven by a hook that is stuck in foreshadowing for well over half the game) and a desire to capture a more goofy, party vibe for co-op players to enjoy as they bonk zombies and laugh at modern Hollywood culture. So much time is spent wading through jokes about content creators, burned-out musicians and actors that it feels like nothing you are doing is building up to anything. Then when stuff finally pops off and the game demands to be taken seriously, it’s completely unearned. It doesn’t help that my chosen character (Carla) was so aloof and wise-cracky in a way that disconnected her from what was happening in front of me, the player. 

To the dopamine mines, gamer scum

A screenshot showing Dead Island 2 gameplay menus

Storytelling woes are what they are, especially in action RPGs like this where the real good stuff is supposed to be in the game’s systems working together to dispense dopamine in front of me like an unfurling red carpet. Dead Island 2 has a lot going for it on paper in terms of depth, but the way it all comes together is so bland and derivative I may as well have been playing any of the dozens of other games that do the exact same stuff. So much time in this game is spent stomping around in empty rooms, examining all the cabinets and doors to pick up thousands of basic parts (wire, fabric, etc.) to dump on weapons at workbenches. 

It’s all in service to make the numbers go up, as a gradually expanding list of mods and perks can be applied to make the weapons inflict status ailments or do more raw damage. And of course the weapons change “color” over time, providing additional slots to fill, which increases the resource costs, and increases the time you need to spend poking into random rooms looking for doodads instead of moving things along. Sometimes there are small puzzles involving slight elemental interactions, like navigating exposed wires turning puddles into deadly hazards, but they’re never arranged in ways demanding any actual brain power. Eventually I just kept upgrading the weapons I had instead of bothering with new ones, because upkeep felt more efficient than starting over with outfitting new stuff from the same pool of mods. 

Novelty is meant to be injected in Dead Island 2 by way of Skills, which come as sets of cards you equip in limited slots. These options expand as the game continues, and admittedly it can be fun to see the notification you’ve unlocked a new slot or card, or you pick up a card from an enemy unexpectedly. But the cards themselves don’t do a ton to mix up the regular gameplay, which mostly rewards you for parrying zombies then hitting their legs until they fall over. You can sort of make builds around things like passive buffs from skilled defense or adding extra effects to abilities, but these feel like minor bonuses for the majority of the experience. 

At least they aren’t loot boxes

A screenshot of Dead Island 2 from Xbox Series X

The cards get a little more complex towards the end in a way that explaining would probably breach into spoiler territory. But that complexity ultimately feels like a choice between healing or extra damage, which again doesn’t do much to mix up how you approach combat. It’s all fine and functional, but again fails to push me from feeling like I’m just playing a video game to feeling like, “Hell yeah, this is Dead Island 2!” 

Even with all the colorful art and attitude, everything about this journey felt painfully generic and aimless. As overplayed as it is to say “zombies are overplayed,” the shoe fits when it fits. Dead Island 2 fronts with style and irreverence, but never actually does or says anything with that energy. And with all the oscillating tone and focus in the story, the way the game ends is so vague and anticlimactic it feels both appropriate and frustrating at the same time. As the credits rolled I didn’t feel satisfied or accomplished at all, which is pretty messed up considering how much of a feat completing a 20-plus hour video game is for an adult these days. Sure, if you want to hook up with a friend and bash some skulls in, you can do that here and even have a great time marveling at the impressive gore system. But stick around for more than a few hours and you might find yourself wondering if spending thirty minutes digging through trash to make your baseball bat do five more damage was a mistake.

This review is based on a Xbox code provided by the publisher. Dead Island 2 launches on April 21, 2023.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He's far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

Review for
Dead Island 2
  • Legitimately impressive gore physics, you godless degenerates
  • Co-op!
  • Solid performance (Xbox Series X)
  • Extremely paint by numbers AAA action RPG
  • Gameplay systems are voluminous but uninteresting overall
  • Poorly constructed storytelling
  • Incohesive VO and dialogue
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 18, 2023 7:00 AM

    Lucas White posted a new article, Dead Island 2 review: Precedent Evil

    • reply
      April 18, 2023 7:09 AM

      Seems like it has all the same flaws as the first game

      • reply
        April 18, 2023 7:13 AM

        Except it's on game pass so that kind of evens it out?

      • rms legacy 10 years legacy 20 years mercury super mega
        April 18, 2023 7:34 AM

        I played through DI1 with the female asian character, and never felt she was too chatty, or questioning what my short- or long-term goals were. This new one, oof.

      • reply
        April 18, 2023 9:33 AM

        The Metacritic numbers are coming out to around 75%.

        Which is honestly about what I expected. I liked the original as gaming junk food, and TBH that's kinda what I'm in the mood for right now.

    • reply
      April 18, 2023 1:12 PM

      not surprising but disappointing to hear. I've loved all these games and will probably pick it up but wait for a discount

      • reply
        April 18, 2023 1:59 PM

        I'm kinda in the mood for that sort of zombie-killing gaming junk food, so I'd probably be willing to spend $40-$45 right now, but not $60.

    • reply
      May 3, 2023 4:06 PM

      Didn't realize it had come out until a few days ago. I've been playing quite a bit and it's simple but fun.

      Hell, I've been playing it rather than Jedi Survivor, which I was really enjoying

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