With Dead Island 2 finally releasing on April 21st on Xbox One, Xbox Series, PS4, PS5 and PC after years in development, it’s been a hell of a journey. Even more interesting is how the formula has changed compared to the first game, which launched in 2011 and developed by Techland, who would subsequently make Dying Light. Let’s look at 10 of the biggest differences between Dead Island 1 and 2, and how things have changed.
Tone and Atmosphere
Every fan remembers the initial Dead Island 1 cinematic trailer, and though it didn’t quite hit the same emotional highs, the game was still pretty serious. With Dead Island 2, Dambuster Studios is taking more of a light-hearted, satirical feel to the tone. Narrative designer Lydia Cockerham told WCCF Tech said the Los Angeles setting resulted in wanting this “whole pulpy, irreverent tone that is a love letter to B-movies from the ’80s and all these kinds of things that we all have in our psyches.”
The team felt this worked well with the setting and characters instead of the “dark and serious direction” several games picked. It also feeds into the game’s streamlined nature, where you’re focused solely on killing zombies.
Linear vs Open World
Banoi Island in the first game is considered an open world – aside from some areas gated by story progress, you could explore freely. Dead Island 2, on the other hand, is decidedly not an open-world title. Los Angeles, or HELL-A, is divided into multiple districts that open up as you progress the story with different side quests, collectibles and so on in each level.
However, it’s a lot more linear, based on various previews, and you’re mostly killing zombies en route from point A to B with a few things to distract you. You can revisit previous districts, but the entire world isn’t stitched together into this freely explorable space with no loading screens.
Slayers vs Survivors
Dead Island 1 introduced us to four survivors – Logan, Purna, Sam B and Xian Mei – with different stories, abilities and personalities. Dead Island 2 has six – Jacob, Ryan, Carla, Bruno, Dani and Amy – and dubs them Slayers, learning more into the pulpy tone. They also have unique play styles – like Logan, Dani is good with throwing weapons – but instead of having unique skill trees, each Slayer has a customizable Skill Deck with different cards.
Also, for those concerned about characters “quipping” too much back and forth, creative director James Worrall told The Loadout, “Generally speaking, our characters try not to quip at everything.” Each has an idiom or phrase, but the team has “stayed well away from this notion that heroes should suddenly go into this comic exchange that goes back and forth and back and forth.” Citing Thor: Love and Thunder’s exchanges, Worrall said, “We made a conscious decision to stay away from that kind of stuff. And hopefully, we’ve achieved just the right balance.” Time, of course, will tell.
Probably the coolest (or most gruesome) difference between the two games is the FLESH System in Dead Island 2. It’s a procedural gore system which allows for much more realistic damage. You could knock their jaw off, split through their face, etc. Depending on the weapon, you may slash through flesh and bone or crush limbs outright. Zombies will even burn and melt procedurally, the latter causing their limbs to fall off. It’s a huge step up in detail and sheer overkill.
The modding system for weapons in Dead Island 2 looks to be more advanced, with different options depending on the materials gathered. They still have durability and rarity tiers like the first game, but their damage type now plays a bigger role in combat thanks to the FLESH System.
For example, katanas are better for cutting off limbs and more precise damage, while sledgehammers are good for wide-arcing swings that can hit multiple enemies at once and deal blunt damage. The overall similarity between both games’ combat is still pretty strong, especially since dodging is still available, but Dead Island 2 feels more refined and hard-hitting.
FURY vs Rage Mode
On the surface, Dead Island 2’s FURY seems the same as Rage Mode from Dead Island 1. It’s a gauge that must be filled with kills and once activated, allows for using powerful attacks for a limited time to kill enemies. The difference is that FURY involves ripping zombies apart with your bare hands due to the infected within each Slayer.
Rage Mode, on the other hand, sees each survivor having unique abilities – Xian Mei’s Bloodrage sees her swinging a sword more powerful, while Purna uses a revolver with infinite bullets. Each can be upgraded thanks to the Fury skill tree. It’s unknown if Dead Island 2 allows for the same, though that might be what the Numen category in the Skill Deck is for.
Skills and Skill Deck
Completing quests and killing zombies in the original game grants XP, and there are three skill trees to invest in – Fury, Combat and Survival. Each survivor had distinct skills in each tree, reinforcing their playstyles. Dead Island 2 upends this with Innate Skills, with each Slayer having two at the outset, and the Skill Deck. You can slot skills in as Cards across four categories: Abilities, Survivor, Slayer and Numen. It provides a lot more flexibility in how you want to build a character, based on how they play, and you can swap out skills in the middle of battle.
Apex Zombies vs Special Infected
In addition to regular zombies, Dead Island had Special Infected with unique abilities. For example, the Thug was more muscular and tougher than the Walkers, and Floaters are bloated and shoot acidic projectiles at players. Dead Island 2 also has Special Infected but calls them Apex Zombies instead. The Butcher, which moves faster and has sharpened its forearm bones to attack with, has crossed over intact. Others have been changed in some ways – the Thug with the Crusher, who is much larger; the Floater with the Slobber; and the Siren with the Screamer (which also appeared in Dead Island: Riptide). Of course, how distinct they feel from the first game’s Special Infected remains to be seen.
Co-op Player Count
While the first game has four-player co-op with its four survivors, Dead Island 2’s co-op is for up to three players. Interestingly, back when it was announced under YAGER, the sequel was to have eight-player co-op (according to an interview with VG247), but that didn’t carry over. As such, given the expanded skills and Skill Deck and more linear environments, it makes sense to scale the number of players back for the sake of performance and carnage.
In terms of playtime, the base version of Dead Island could be completed in about 18 to 19 hours if you stuck to the story. It would take about 50 hours on average to complete everything, as per HowLongToBeat. By comparison, Dead Island 2 is “around 20 hours,” according to art director Adam Olsson when speaking to WCCF Tech. While this factors in some side quests, it doesn’t account for all of them or playing as different characters, pursuing collectibles, co-op and so on. Though both games are different in structure, the sequel still promises a fairly meaty experience without an open world.