The Dead Island series is very much alive. Irony.
It's fair to say that the initial reaction to the idea of a Dead Island-themed MOBA ranged largely between "Huh?", "Why?" and "What?". Despite selling well enough to quickly expand into one of gaming's most inexplicable recent franchises, Dead Island has often struggled to escape the mires of the average. And its unexpected branching into the currently-hot MOBA genre came with a slight whiff of cynical franchise growth to some. But whatever a game's background, there's no reason it should affect the quality of the game itself, and we're pleased to say that after a full-scale, 12-player tussle on the hallowed killing fields of Capture the Flag, we found Dead Island: Epidemic to be rather fun indeed.
The set-up is pretty standard for the genre. Opposing teams of four start out in bases on opposite sides of the map and venture across it in unison, using their combined classes' asymmetrical skills to combat their rivals and AI-controlled variants of the main Dead Island series' zombies and special Infected. The game's main concession to innovation comes in its PvPvPvE approach to the model. That isn't a convention-tired typo. DIE (coincidental acronym?) differs from genre heavyweights DOTA2 and League of Legends by pitting three teams against each other as standard, rather than the usual two. In theory that brings a new dynamic by emphasising the biding of time, or even full-blown evasion, in letting the opposition focus their attentions on each other rather than you. Both enemy teams cutting lumps off each other around the objective? Hold off for a while, and then mop up the remaining mess. Or maybe you could sneak off and find another route to the objective while they're distracted with each other.
In practice of course, it's not necessarily that clean. Perhaps because we were three teams of first-timer journalist noobs, accidental run-ins were more than frequent, and the resulting bloodbaths were certainly more than a regular occurrence. That said, there is an undeniably distracting, back-of-the-mind tension when engaging only one enemy team. Has the other one run off to the objecting while you're distracting yourselves with petty squabbles? Have they snuck around the back to trap you between a rock and a gory place? It's an interesting dynamic, and one we're intrigued to explore further when we've become a bit more competent with the game.
That journey of improvement might not take too long. All six of the character classes available in our demo (comprising infected and human variants of the Heavy, Sniper and Brawler archetypes) seemed simple to grasp, with accessible learning curves. In only a few minutes we were getting good results out of our medium-to-long-ranger's twin pistols, slow but powerful sniper rifle, area of effect grenades and deployable turrets. All classes in Dead Island: Epidemic come with four weapons and three levelable special skills, and those abilities seem designed with clarity of use in mind. We currently have no idea how many classes Dead Island: Epidemic will provide in the months after its launch, but the free-to-play model would certainly imply quite a few. While DIE isn't currently a revelatory or even particularly stand-out experience, it is an interesting one, making this space definitely one worth watching.
Check out the following slides for additional images and more information.
While capturing objectives gives a big pay-out, there's plenty of XP to be had from ferrying the resulting supplies back to base afterwards
Dead Island: Epidemic's art style is more cartoony than that of the main series, making the franchise's trademark improvised weapons even more comedic
Standard zombies don't pose much of a problem. They're more just there to get in the way. The bigger infected however, can be a nightmare, particularly in choke points
The controls are easy to grasp. WASD for movement, a few keys around that to use special abilities and switch weapons, and mouse clicks for everything else