Dead Island 2 - Why

I’m not really sure why I expected Dead Island 2 to be an open-world game. Maybe because I’ve spent so much time with Dying Light (developed by Techland, who also made the original Dead Island), which definitely counts as an open-world zombie game. But I’ve spent more than 60 hours with Dead Island 2 (developed by Dambuster Studios) at this point, and I can safely say that it isn’t that type of game.

Instead of having one massive world to explore, you’ll have ten smaller world chunks. You won’t have access to all of them right away — instead, you’ll start in Bel-Air and radiate outward as the story progresses. There is a loading screen between each area, and you won’t unlock fast-travel until you’ve made it through about half the game’s main story quests (you’ll have six of the game’s ten areas open by that point in the game).

The earlier areas aren’t very open either. They feel more like mazes of interconnected hallways, though these hallways often wind back into areas you’ve already explored, with doors that can only be unlocked from one side. This design style feels a little bit like Dark Souls, actually, with twisty paths where you’ll feel hopelessly lost until you open a shortcut gate and realize you’re just a few meters away from where you started.

Dead Island 2 - Sewer

Later in the game, you will explore chunks of Hell-A that do feel a lot more open — Venice Beach feels particularly ripe for exploration — but even these chunks are fairly small. I actually think a decent point of comparison would be something like Deathloop, which was broken into four explorable pieces, though in that game you had access to all four fairly early in the game. In Dead Island 2, the main story funnels you through its ten world pieces at its own pace instead of at yours.

There are plenty of side quests to engage in — in fact, there are more side quests than main story quests — but these are trickled out over the course of the game. You can go back and re-explore old areas, oftentimes discovering things that weren’t there before, but you won’t ever feel that overwhelming sense of icon fatigue that you often get from Ubisoft offerings. You also won’t pull open a world map that’s covered in fog and imagine all the possibilities of where your adventures might take you. In fact, Dead Island 2‘s world map kind of sucks.

Dead Island 2 - Fast-Travel Map

Okay, so it’s pleasant to look at, but it’s functionally useless as a map. Thankfully, each of the ten areas has its own map, and those tend to be more detailed, but even so, they can be kind of hard to navigate because they prioritize aesthetics over function. These are designed to look like tourist maps that have been drawn on with a marker, which feels appropriate for this particular game world, but it doesn’t really work for people who like to use highly detailed world maps to find their way around.

Dead Island 2 - Venice Beach Map

Now, I don’t say any of this to pooh-pooh on Dead Island 2‘s level design. In fact, I think the game feels more tightly focused than its open-world brethren, and in some ways that’s a breath of fresh air. If you’re suffering from open-world fatigue after the past decade of genre behemoths, Dead Island 2 might be just what the doctor ordered.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for something that feels like a proper follow-up to Techand’s incredible Dying Light (especially after the disappointment that was Dying Light 2), this might not scratch that very particular itch. This is more open than something like, say, last year’s A Plague Tale: Requiem, though it’s certainly not Far Cry with zombies.

Ultimately, there’s plenty to enjoy in Dead Island 2; I just think it’s best to set your expectations in the right place.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Dead Island 2 for PS5, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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