Dead Island: Epidemic is a zombie-based hack and slash MOBA by Deep Silver and Stunlock Studios. In it, players combat hordes of undead and player-driven humans to find supplies and survive. Unlike many other MOBAs, Dead Island: Epidemic supplies a limited pool of dynamic humans that can wield a vast array of customizable weapons. Although my time in beta was plagued with slow frame rates and poor load times, the game itself was quite fun.
The controls are WASD-based, with abilities set at Q, E, R, and F. C switches weapons, and X functions as an action button, unloading supplies into trucks and completing objectives. Attacks are aimed with the mouse; primary attacks are executed with a left-click, and secondary attacks are executed with a right-click.
In general, I found the controls enjoyable. I feel the controls in Dead Island: Epidemic are one of its biggest successes. As a gamer who got his start playing PC first-person shooters in the 90s, these controls feel good—unlike other control schemes (like the 1, 2, 3, 4 map in SMITE) that took several rounds to get used to. And it feels nice to do something other than click.
The User Interface
Dead Island: Epidemic makes use of a top-down third person camera, akin to DotA and League of Legends, or, more aptly, Gauntlet and Diablo. Abilities and items line the bottom of the screen, the map sits at top right, and player stats and weapons lie in the bottom left. Team chat, like most other MOBAs and MMOs, can be accessed with the Return key. Objectives pop up in the top center of the screen, and NPC dialogues appear in the center.
The camera view here works. It sets a different tone for Dead Island, opening the experience up from an isolated, solitary experience to a team-based free-for-all. It helps users combine abilities, and it gives them a good vantage of the coming horde.
I am not a big fan of the incoming NPC messages though. They take up a substantial potion of the screen, and they usually offer little insight into objectives and strategies. Since all NPCs are fully voiced, these messages should appear as subtitles at the bottom. Instead, we are forced to pause and read along. And this is distracting, especially when receiving a message during a fire fight. On multiple occasions, I have died from limited visibility during debriefings. I hope developers pick up on this and change it before the game’s final release later this year.
The game is less MOBA and more team-based dungeon crawler on a limited open-world map. Think Gauntlet. Players travel the map, looking for supplies. They fight off waves of zombies, secure supply points, and return the supplies to the truck, where the goods are taken to base at the end of the game. Players start at level one every game, and they gain experience by killing zombies and completing objectives. When they level, characters unlock abilities and ability tiers (like DotA or League of Legends). Players are also given a limited in-game arsenal of weapons: a melee weapon and a gun. And the graphics look great–a sort of stylized realism that works well with the existing franchise. There are currently two game modes: Crossroads and Scavenger.
Crossroads is a coop PvE mode, perfect for players trying to hone skills, pick up items, and adjust to game mechanics. In it, players grouped in a team of four work together to secure positions on the map, gaining supplies, rescuing survivors, killing bosses, and fighting zombies. The mode rewards players with usable goods and blueprints and awards goods based on a five-star performance system. If a team rescues an entire group of survivors with no casualties or returns to the truck with a complete set of goods, they receive five stars for their efforts, yielding a bigger post-game bounty. If survivors die or the team loses goods, the team receives fewer stars. As a result, they receive fewer goods and items in the aftermath.
As an old school American RPG fan, this mode feels simultaneously new and nostalgically old. The user interface might remind me of Gauntlet, but the gameplay very nearly mimics it. But this isn’t a bad thing. There are very few new crawlers these days, and Dead Island: Epidemic breathes new life into the old genre. I love having to use skills to power other players and complete objectives. I love the open-endedness of the map.
I love fighting zombies. For a sub genre that has been oversaturated with games (Left4Dead, Resident Evil, Day Z, Half-Life, you name it), Dead Island: Epidemic tries something new. Stacking abilities with teammates’ abilities and collecting objectives works. It works well. The game is a step in a fresh direction for the zombie shoot-em-up genre, and I respect the developers for taking a risk. The risk pays off.
Scavenger is a co-op PvPvE mode that pits teams against other groups of survivors and endless hoards of zombies. Like Crossroads, players fight to complete objectives, stacking goods and returning them to the truck. However, in this mode, players can steal enemy way points and goods. This new dimension adds a new meta to the game. Zombies are not the greatest threat to survival; people are.
This is where Dead Island: Epidemic gets away with calling itself a MOBA. The map becomes an open-world battlefield, and players must strategize and work together to win match. Like Crossroads, the more goods a team picks up in-game, the more bounty players yield post-match. Points are scored by returning goods to base. The first team to fill their truck wins.
As a hardcore eSports player, I prefer this mode of gameplay. I love competition. And I love making my teammates look good in battle. There is no better feeling than a successful team fight. Dead Island: Epidemic blends classic dungeon crawler objective missions with MOBA-style gameplay beautifully. It’s addictive and fun to play. Although I don’t see this game taking off as an eSport, it is an incredibly fun casual brawler.
The game’s biggest success is the start menu, The Crib. While there, players can purchase new heroes, view item inventories, buy blueprints for weapons, build weapons, and choose matches. The set up is incredibly intuitive.
The Work Bench
The work bench is my favorite feature of The Crib. From there, players craft weapons, gadgets, and weapons modifications. Instead of limiting characters to their classes, Dead Island: Epidemic opens everyone up to a nearly infinite arsenal of weapons. Players gain crafting items like duct tape and cloth during missions, and they use those items to create weapons. That means a large, tanky character can wield dueling pistols and a baseball bat or a stealthy rogue can blow enemies away with a shotgun. Anything is possible. And this freedom to create and forge new classes through experimentation and weapon crafting makes for an intriguing meta, a meta that I have yet to truly explore–even after about twenty hours of gameplay.
It is a lot of fun. I currently play as Berg, the bulky lumberjack. He absorbs damage extremely well. Although he starts with a shotgun and an oar, I have been playing him a lot lately with a pistol and a Spikey Plank. As a result, I can tank a lot of damage and bullet-hose my way out of nearly any close-range skirmish. He does a great job claiming and holding bases and carrying boxes of supplies back to the truck. When coupled with his Leaf Shield ability, I can pump up my long-range allies while I destroy immediate threats.
Inventory, as the name suggests, show the items and consumables you currently have–from guns and melee weapons to turrets, bandages, and item building materials. The set-up, like everything else in The Crib, is very intuitive. Nothing feels cluttered or clustered.
The Shop uses three types of currency, depending on what the player wants to purchase. The overlying currency is Cash. Cash can be bought with real-world money, and it can be used to buy everything in the store. It reminds me a lot of Riot Points. The other currencies, Gear Points and Character Points, can be gained in matches. Gear points, of course, can be spent on weapons, gadgets, and modifications; and Character points can be spent on unlocking new characters. Nothing surprising here.
The Character Screen
The character screen lists the characters’ various stats, abilities, and backstories. It is split up into four pages: Summary, Equipment, Attributes, and Description. From here, players can view their current weapon/item load out and evaluate how it works with their characters. It is an excellent form of instant feedback. I never start a new build without first looking to see how the load out effects the character. It is an incredibly helpful page that adds a lot to both the game’s gameplay and lore.
In all, I really enjoy Dead Island: Epidemic. It is a very good cross-genre piece that offers a fresh take on a tired genre. MOBA players and old-school dungeon crawler fans alike should enjoy this game. The graphics are crisp, fresh, playful, and the gameplay is enjoyable. For a beta game, it looks really polished. Although I had problems running the game on two separate computers, I equate the slow load times to poor internet connections. I refuse to fault the developers for these problems.Related: Beta, Dead Island, Dead Island: Epidemic, MOBA, Review