The game opens with the selection of a Slayer (I went with Jacob), which you will be tied to for the rest of the game—instantly a frustrating choice because I wish I could expand on how all of the options differ in terms of play, but my suspicion is that the differences are relatively minimal (a bit more strength, a bit more stamina, etc.) “Dead Island 2” constantly gives the gamer at least the impression of choice. You pick a slayer; you pick your weapons; you pick from a variety of Skill cards found throughout the game that give you different strengths and weaknesses. Like most action-based games, it promises an experience that can be customized to your style of play. However, many of these customizable options barely differ, giving an illusion of choice when the game will play out largely the same for most who play it. It’s not like there are options that make stealth or strategy legitimate choices. It’s all based on the carnage.
That carnage unfolds in a version of Los Angeles called “HELL-A,” a place filled with what are largely fetch quests through a zombie-strewn landscape. Most of the missions consist of finding someone or something and then returning to a safe home base to repair or upgrade the weapons you found along the way. The game is driven by smashing zombies with your favorite tool. For hours, it’s purely melee-based, meaning you’ll watch weapons like axes, knives, hammers, and even street poles impale themselves into zombie heads. The game will eventually give you firepower, and that really opens the game up to a bit of strategy because ammo is relatively limited in this world. You’ll learn what sharp weapon to use on minor, easily defeated enemies and when to switch to your upgraded shotgun for the tough guys. (I vastly preferred weapons with a little reach, like my trusty pitchfork, because anything more close-combat, like a knife, allows the enemies too much proximity.) You will also have two very-handy, rechargeable consumables to swap out as you find new toys. A grenade and a nail bomb became my best friends.
Weapons in “Dead Island 2” degrade with use and will eventually stop being functional until you can get to a safe space to repair them. These workbenches become the key to the game, allowing for repair and breaking down weapons you don’t use for parts, fabricating consumable items, and upgrading the weapons you have with dozens of mods. The “scavenger” aspect of “DI2” is its most strategy driven. If you use parts to upgrade one weapon, you won’t have them for the next cool thing you find. However, like many loot-based RPGs, it all starts to blend to a certain degree. For the most part, you’ll constantly be scrapping or selling old weapons to make space for the new ones you found on the last mission.