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Slot Brain Dead — Game Review

Dragon Age: Origins Review

A game that goes back to classic RPG roots and almost pulls it off without a hitch

Posted by Alex V on December 1, 2009 — 10:46pm EST

If there are any negative things I will say about the game, it is the extreme micromanagement. Not the usual RPG stuff – looting in the game works as well as any other and I enjoy finding new weapons and armor and selling the old – but the whole “Tactics” business. Once again, some people will surely love this feature because it basically lets you program your AI teammates to allow for some great combos during battle with little involvement from the player. For me, however, this feature was very tedious and frustrating at times. The Tactics feature allows you to setup all of your characters to perform any action available to them based on triggers. The list of tasks executes based on these conditions and also down the line – you start off with just a few Tactic slots, so you setup the basic “Nearest Enemy visible -> Attack” combo, along with “Self health < 25% ->Drink health potion”. The frustrating thing about this system is that your characters are literally brain-dead during battles unless you manually order them around, or have perfected your Tactics decision tree. As a simple example, if you enter combat and only have one character selected, he will begin attacking as you asked while the rest of your party stands in place, getting chopped to bits by the incoming enemy group. That’s more than frustrating, to watch your party refuse to even acknowledge enemy presence unless manually setup to do so either in-battle or at the previously setup Tactics logic. If you select the whole party and tell them to attack, they will do just that – swing with the sword or throw the elementary firewall at the enemy until it is dead, only rarely entering their Tactics decision tree to actually perform some moves or spells. So the best way to play is to setup your Tactics tree and then stick with controlling only one character directly. The catch is that your Tactics tree is only limited to 3 or 4 slots at the beginning, so as you level up you will be able to add more actions based on the conditions a character is facing. This also means that you may need to keep re-arranging your Tactics tree when new skills become available, because the Tactics execute in a Top-to-bottom manner, so be sure to place your “Heal yourself if dying!” setting at the top and leave it for the rest of the game. Your character’s total inability to act on free will (Unless Tactics are setup) makes for some literally turn-based combat through some difficult parts of the game that action fans will likely find frustrating. As you have to keep pausing the game to assign your party new orders because their Tactics tree is too short to setup any effective attack combinations. All in all, the whole feature is extremely frustrating and seemingly useless for the majority of the first half of the game, were Tactics slots are too limited in number to be effective, leaving you with pause-and-go gameplay which simply breaks the combat flow.

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He’s dead — No blood splatter analysis needed

On a general note, I found the combat to also be unbalanced in terms of difficulty. Early on, there are plenty of times you will die unless you choose to pause the game every couple of seconds and assign new tasks. However later in the game when the party has heaps of gold, loot, weapons and Tactic tree combinations, you will breeze through every dungeon on Medium difficulty all the way to the finale. Enemies do scale in difficulty but they are no match for your deadly weapons and attack combos. Another thing that I find annoying is the warriors – you are often fighting groups of baddies at a time and your tanks are in the heat of the battle – yet they poses so few area-of-effect damage attacks, that they become almost useless. While your one or two warriors are busy attacking a single target, your mages are tasked with continuously nuking the whole area and trying to keep the heat off of themselves. In other words, the mages are very overpowered and overused in the game, with the rare exceptions of fighting smaller groups or single enemy bosses.

Dead Island 2 review: Precedent Evil

Dead Island 2 review: Precedent Evil

After almost a decade of shifting developers and lord knows what else, Dead Island 2 is here. Was the wait worth it for more zombie-kicking, weapon-crafting RPG action?

April 18, 2023 7:00 AM

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Dead Island 2. After playing it through to the end, I’m not sure Dead Island 2 knew what to expect from itself, either. If you look at the game like a power tool, all the features are here: Zombies, customizable weapons, co-op with several playable characters, unlockable skills, and buckets of gore. But as a work, or a story woven together by teams of creative humans, Dead Island 2 loses its practical form and starts to wiggle, deflate, and fly around making comical sputtering noises like a punctured balloon animal. This game struggles to settle on a tone, narrative, or game direction. By the end, it fails to establish an identity.

Here we go again, and again, and again

Dead Island 2 Review Score

Dead Island 2 opens in a way that almost seems to be invoking COVID. A military unit is facilitating a plane boarding for evacuation, which no passenger seems to be taking seriously. They’re all lined up for forehead temperature scans, goofing off and treating the whole thing like a party. Of course someone on the plane is sick, and after you choose a character the plane goes down and a small band of survivors is stuck in an infested Los Angeles. A jumbled mess of Grand Theft Auto-style clumsy satire, melodrama, and weirdly misaligned dialogue ensues. Oh, and tons of junk collecting. So much junk collecting.

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After the opening, any intrigue about Dead Island 2 having something interesting to say about the current state of everything evaporated quickly. Part of the problem is a tug of war between the plot (driven by a hook that is stuck in foreshadowing for well over half the game) and a desire to capture a more goofy, party vibe for co-op players to enjoy as they bonk zombies and laugh at modern Hollywood culture. So much time is spent wading through jokes about content creators, burned-out musicians and actors that it feels like nothing you are doing is building up to anything. Then when stuff finally pops off and the game demands to be taken seriously, it’s completely unearned. It doesn’t help that my chosen character (Carla) was so aloof and wise-cracky in a way that disconnected her from what was happening in front of me, the player.

To the dopamine mines, gamer scum

A screenshot showing Dead Island 2 gameplay menus

Storytelling woes are what they are, especially in action RPGs like this where the real good stuff is supposed to be in the game’s systems working together to dispense dopamine in front of me like an unfurling red carpet. Dead Island 2 has a lot going for it on paper in terms of depth, but the way it all comes together is so bland and derivative I may as well have been playing any of the dozens of other games that do the exact same stuff. So much time in this game is spent stomping around in empty rooms, examining all the cabinets and doors to pick up thousands of basic parts (wire, fabric, etc.) to dump on weapons at workbenches.

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It’s all in service to make the numbers go up, as a gradually expanding list of mods and perks can be applied to make the weapons inflict status ailments or do more raw damage. And of course the weapons change “color” over time, providing additional slots to fill, which increases the resource costs, and increases the time you need to spend poking into random rooms looking for doodads instead of moving things along. Sometimes there are small puzzles involving slight elemental interactions, like navigating exposed wires turning puddles into deadly hazards, but they’re never arranged in ways demanding any actual brain power. Eventually I just kept upgrading the weapons I had instead of bothering with new ones, because upkeep felt more efficient than starting over with outfitting new stuff from the same pool of mods.

Novelty is meant to be injected in Dead Island 2 by way of Skills, which come as sets of cards you equip in limited slots. These options expand as the game continues, and admittedly it can be fun to see the notification you’ve unlocked a new slot or card, or you pick up a card from an enemy unexpectedly. But the cards themselves don’t do a ton to mix up the regular gameplay, which mostly rewards you for parrying zombies then hitting their legs until they fall over. You can sort of make builds around things like passive buffs from skilled defense or adding extra effects to abilities, but these feel like minor bonuses for the majority of the experience.

At least they aren’t loot boxes

A screenshot of Dead Island 2 from Xbox Series X

The cards get a little more complex towards the end in a way that explaining would probably breach into spoiler territory. But that complexity ultimately feels like a choice between healing or extra damage, which again doesn’t do much to mix up how you approach combat. It’s all fine and functional, but again fails to push me from feeling like I’m just playing a video game to feeling like, “Hell yeah, this is Dead Island 2!”

Slot Sparkling Fresh - Game Review

Even with all the colorful art and attitude, everything about this journey felt painfully generic and aimless. As overplayed as it is to say “zombies are overplayed,” the shoe fits when it fits. Dead Island 2 fronts with style and irreverence, but never actually does or says anything with that energy. And with all the oscillating tone and focus in the story, the way the game ends is so vague and anticlimactic it feels both appropriate and frustrating at the same time. As the credits rolled I didn’t feel satisfied or accomplished at all, which is pretty messed up considering how much of a feat completing a 20-plus hour video game is for an adult these days. Sure, if you want to hook up with a friend and bash some skulls in, you can do that here and even have a great time marveling at the impressive gore system. But stick around for more than a few hours and you might find yourself wondering if spending thirty minutes digging through trash to make your baseball bat do five more damage was a mistake.

This review is based on a Xbox code provided by the publisher. Dead Island 2 launches on April 21, 2023.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He’s far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

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