Dead Island: Epidemic Closed Beta Impressions
Over the course of the weekend I was invited into the closed beta for Dead Island Epidemic, a MOBA based on the Dead Island franchise. I had no idea it even existed, nor did I sign up for it, so I still wonder how exactly I got in. But I did, so with that in mind I decided to talk a bit about it. It should be noted that this isn’t a review, as I don’t find it fair to review a game that hasn’t been released yet or is in open beta yet. These are just my experiences with the closed beta, and of course anything and everything could change by the time the game is actually released.
Dead Island Epidemic, or DI:E as it likes to remind you from time to time is quite possibly the most unique MOBA I have ever seen. If you’re unfamiliar with the term MOBA, it stands for multiplayer online battle area. Think of League of Legends or DOTA 2, and that’s a MOBA. The story of which is basically a continuation of Dead Island Riptide. However, you need little to no experience with the series to play this game, thankfully. Really, all you need to know is there is a horde of zombies in Hawaii, and you’re trying to survive. As I mentioned the game does a lot to differentiate itself from the many other MOBA’s that are out there, even calling itself a ZOBA, or zombie online battle area. So let’s go over some of these changes, starting with the controls.
DI:E doesn’t control like a typical MOBA, actually controlling your character with WASD and aiming with your mouse. It’s actually closer to Diablo than any other MOBA I’ve played. In fact, the only MOBA I can think of where you use WASD to move is SMITE. But it is very simple, if not a little unrefined in chaotic situations, which you can find yourself in from time to time. Abilities are mapped to Q, E, R and T for your characters ultimate; you attack with the left mouse button, and use a heavy attack with the right one. Characters can attack and move while aiming abilities. It takes a little bit of getting used to if you’re a League or DOTA player, but it’s nice that you can still attack zombies close to you while aiming a spell at something else, provided they are in the same direction. Another common skill required in MOBA’s is known as last hitting, where in order to get experience from a monster, you need to be the hit that kills it to get the most experience. DI:E also does away with that, making it a very friendly MOBA between teammates.
Visually the game is solid, nothing fancy though. It takes on a cartoonier feel than the other games in the series, but the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, so the cartoony nature only works in its favor. I mean, one character swings logs, another summons a sharknado. The game has a humorous bent, and it’s not afraid to show it. The maps themselves are decently pretty; with a rather strong variety considering the game takes place on a small island. Not much here at the moment, but time may change that.
(pictured above, comedy)
Probably the biggest change is the fact that DI:E is the first MOBA (to my knowledge) that has PVP(player vs player) and PVE(player vs environment), you’re not limited to just trying to kill other people. After a brief tutorial once you boot up the game the first time, you can choose between Horde mode and scavenger mode. Horde mode puts a 4 man team of players against hordes of zombies, as you try to capture points and beat a boss at the end. Scavenger mode places you against two other teams as you fight to control points and gather enough supplies before your opponents to win, while battling against zombies at the same time. Both modes actually offer a decent way to play, as both offer the same rewards. The loot you acquire while playing is based on your characters level, not which mode you play in, leaving it up to you as to what you want to do. While horde mode is basically Diablo, scavenger mode actually offers up a unique way to play a MOBA, as you fight for points and supplies either by killing other players and stealing their loot, or by killing unique monsters that show up on the map, and I’ve never played a MOBA that pits you against 2 other teams. The maps themselves are fairly basic, and there are only so many maps right now, but that’s part of the beta, and hopefully that will grow in time.
The other unique bit they take from Dead Island itself. After the tutorial, you’re taken to the crib, your hub for getting into a game and whatnot, and tasked with buying a character. Each character levels up on their own separately outside of the two game modes, as does your account overall. When you first get a character, your limited to two abilities that you can use, you have to earn the rest by playing them. I don’t care too much for this system, as I find it only handicaps you when you first try to play a character, and it takes a couple levels to unlock all abilities. As you further level, you unlock weapon specialties, bonuses to your abilities, and the ability to use stronger weapons as time goes on. As your account levels, you gain the ability to forge better items with your workbench, where much like the other games in the series, you can use blueprints and items you loot while playing to forge weapons that you can equip on any character. No character is restricted to what weapons they can use, but each character does have weapon specializations, as I mentioned, that give them bonuses to using certain weapons. These weapons themselves also level up to get new passive bonuses. Each character can equip up to two weapons, which you can switch in game with the C button. Most MOBA’s make you do your item buying and customization in game, but DI:E does that all outside of actual matches, which means you have one less thing to worry about while actually in a match. The weapons themselves mostly function as either melee or ranged, but they all have a different look to them, and in keeping with the Dead Island theme, are usually pretty random, often two everyday items duct taped together.
I do have reserves and issues with the loot/item system, however. First off, there is way too much grinding to do and way too many different levels and loot to acquire. It takes a lot to play this game without spending money, as it’s all random. I also have a bad feeling when it comes to forging new items. In order to make an item, you need a blueprint, which drop randomly. You also need pieces for the process, which you get randomly. If your short items when you go to make an weapon, you can spend gear points to make up the difference. You can buy blueprints with gear points as well, if you need them, but the better ones can be expensive. In order to buy a character, you need to spend character points. On top of that, you earn unbound XP, which you can unlock with real money to use wherever. You can also straight out buy weapons with real money, which are max level when you buy them, but that’s not cheap either. It is a free to play game, so I’m not surprised they are trying to get players to go to that cash shop, but it does have some warning signs of being a pay to win game, where hard work can easily be trumped with a credit card. It’s not at that stage yet, as the weapons you can choose from are very limited, but it maybe something to look out for when the game is released. Charging real money to gain extra XP is also a bit cheeky, but it’s optional, and the actual XP you have unbound is never that much.
Overall, DI:E is a game I never expected to like. As I mentioned I was unaware this game even existed until I got into the beta. But, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s so unique from any other MOBA I’ve ever played that it’s worth looking at on that merit alone. On top of that, it’s simple and fun, which I think will help it avoid the toxic player base MOBA’s are usually known for. I’m not too sure what the future holds for DI:E, but once this game gets released, if you’re a fan of MOBA’s its defiantly worth your time. Dead Island fans looking at this one will also feel right at home, as there are enough of the series roots to make you comfortable.