Dead Island 2 Creative Director Talks Realising a Zombie-Slaying Vision 'Without Restraints' - Interview

Dead Island 2 Creative Director Talks Realising a Zombie-Slaying Vision 'Without Restraints' - Interview

Richard Walker

In just over a month, Dead Island 2 will finally be upon us, almost nine years on from its original announcement. It's been a long road getting here, but, having gone hands on with the game, we can confidently report that it's in good shape.

With developer Dambuster Studios taking the reins, following original studio Yager being taken off the project, before Sumo Digital was drafted in to finish the game, the pressure was on to bring Dead Island 2 across the finish line.

We caught up with Dead Island 2 Creative Director James Worrall to talk about whether the studio faced an uphill battle having inherited a game that had been in development hell for so long, and how it essentially was able to create a zombie game in line with its own vision.

Dambuster Studios took over development on Dead Island 2 in 2020. How much of Yager and Sumo Digital’s work were you able to carry over? What were the main things that had to be done?

James Worrall: We actually took on development of Dead Island 2 in 2018! From the get-go we had an ambitious vision for how we wanted Dead Island 2 to be. When we took on the product, we started from the ground up and were lucky enough to have the freedom to create the game we wanted, without any restraints. While this was a fresh start, we thought it was crucial to continue with that paradise gone to hell gameplay pillar with the Los Angeles location. 

Was there a sense of pressure to really ‘bring it’ with Dead Island 2, given that it’s been so long since the game was first announced?

JW: Fans have been waiting for Dead Island 2 for a long time and we’ve been working diligently to provide them with a fantastic experience. We had an amazing reaction when we unveiled Dead Island 2 at Gamescom last year from both the online community and journalists who were able to get stuck into the game at Gamescom. We’d been sitting on Dead Island 2 for a few years and, when it finally surfaced, it really proved to us that we were moving in the right direction with the next iteration of the franchise. 

At one point, eight player co-op was mooted for Dead Island 2, with the game billed as “the world’s smallest MMO”. Has that made the cut, or have things been scaled back a bit?

JW: Dead Island 2 will have co-op functionality for up to three players, so you’ll have the opportunity to make zombie slaying a fun social activity. You can expect more details closer to launch. 

Was it difficult coming on board as a studio tasked with bringing Dead Island 2 over the finish line, and essentially continuing the work of other teams? 

JW: I wouldn’t say it was difficult since we had the ability to leverage our creative freedom with Dead Island 2 from start to finish. Although we utilised similar settings for the game from previous works, we were able to ultimately create the game we always wanted from the ground up whilst sticking to what made fans fall in love with the franchise!

During our preview, we played with a lot of cool weapons, but none seemed particularly outlandish, like, say, an electric guitar. Are there any off-the-wall weapons we’ll find later in the game?

JW: Whilst you won’t find any electric guitars, there are certainly off-the-wall ways to brutalise zombies! There’s an array of weapons, mods and organ-bursting skills to level up which will allow you to become an unstoppable zombie stomper. The advanced crafting system will empower players to create the most stylish and deadly loadouts ever. In conjunction with a dynamic environment that allows you to exploit new ways of killing zombies, fans can rest assured they’ll be able to slay in style.

Getting around in the first Dead Island was aided by vehicles, but I haven’t seen any in Dead Island 2. Have they been given the chop?

JW: Ultimately, we wanted to deliver a visceral experience by keeping players constantly on their toes through a barrage of zombies! We want players to utilise their array of abilities and weapons to fight and confront zombies, not run away from them. 

Los Angeles obviously affords more chances for verticality, what with it being a pretty diverse city. Is that something you looked at, or did you want to stick more to a more horizontal plane?

JW: We wanted to keep the fight at street level, that’s where the real meat of any city’s culture is and that’s where the zompocalypse has its most personal impact, on the shops and homes, the sidewalks, the cafes, the beach front promenades and boardwalks. Our heroes are defiant – L.A. is still their city!

What would you say to all those cynics pointing out the fact that Los Angeles isn’t an island?

JW: We get why people are saying this but Dead Island 2’s narrative transpires in a city that is quarantined from the outside world due to the outbreak. As nobody can leave this city due to government intervention, it is, in a figurative sense, an island; a space which assumes its own personality that is cut off from the outside world.

There’s been a few issues recently with the more technically advanced games struggling on the old/not as powerful consoles. Hogwarts Legacy’s last-gen title has been delayed yet again, while Larian has said its struggling with Baldur’s Gate 3 on Xbox Series S. Obviously, Dead Island 2 is shooting for last-gen and current-gen, how is the studio finding that? Is there still life left in the last-gen consoles?

JW: Obviously this is a challenge, but one that Dambuster committed to early on – we’re gamers! And we want everybody to experience Hell-A. We are working hard to optimise the experience for old and latest gen machinery 

Dead Island 2 is coming to PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC on 21st April.

  • The answer to that last question really wasn’t an answer at all. I have a feeling this’ll be a shitshow on last-gen
  • Fun interview!
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