I’ve shared my love for Dead Island numerous times now. It had its issues, sure, but that didn’t keep it from being a highly addictive zombie game that was alarmingly easy to sink a lot of hours into, especially if you had a few friends to play it with. I’ve talked plenty already about what I think Techland can do to improve the series, even going so far as to borrow a few ideas from the similarly themed Far Cry 3. However, there still an area left that I have yet to cover, and it’s potentially where Techland made their worst mistakes. Let’s talk about DLC.
As enjoyable as Dead Island was, the post-release support for it was brimming with poor decisions. Let’s face it, the DLC sucked. In case you’ve forgotten — and I wouldn’t blame you if you had — the add-ons I’m referring to are the wave survival mode Bloodbath Arena and the single-player exclusive Ryder White expansion.
Let’s begin with what went wrong.
It makes sense to start with the first add-on, the aptly titled Bloodbath Arena. You can probably figure out what it’s about just by reading the title: you’re in an arena, and it’s a bloody one, or it will be after you spend a few minutes decorating it with the squishy inner bits of the zombie hordes that are thrown at you.
It was delayed, but that’s hardly a big deal. The problem lies with what it brought to the experience, and that was largely nothing new. It was essentially the same mode you can find in a myriad other games that pit you against waves of enemies which become progressively more difficult to survive against.
Resident Evil 4 wasn’t the first to do it, but its unlockable Mercenaries mode took it to the mainstream. Like all popular things it was eventually seen in seemingly every other video game after that, including Gears of War, Halo, Alan Wake, and Left 4 Dead, as well as the upcoming Aliens: Colonial Marines, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, and so many others.
I don’t know about you, but Dead Island isn’t all that fun when you’re surrounded by enemies. I dare say that’s when it’s at its least fun. Frantically pressing the kick button to get some breathing room so I can equip a better weapon while I was surrounded by a group of angry zombies really doesn’t rank among my fondest memories of the game. I’m sure there were plenty fans who enjoyed the mode, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It can be fun when it’s done right and when actual thought, time, and creativity were invested into making it unique in some way to the game it’s a part of. Bloodbath Arena just felt tacked on.
The second downloadable offering was the infinitely less enjoyable Ryder White campaign. Bloodbath Arena was uninspired, but at least that provided some enjoyment. Ryder White did not.
Ryder White’s biggest flaw was that it could only be experienced alone. Say what you will about Dead Island, but that is a multiplayer game. It becomes significantly less enjoyable when experienced alone, and that’s because it was built from the ground up as a co-op experience.
Did I mention they also removed the RPG elements? Y’know, the only other thing that helps separate this game from the dozens of other zombie games out there? We were stuck playing as the awful human being that is Ryder White, who also had the honor of starring in one of the worst boss fights in recent memory, and we couldn’t even customize him to fit our playstyle. This also meant everything you did in the add-on didn’t carry over to the main game.
I could also go into its more linear design — it’s not open world, so you’re going from point A to point B with no side quests — but what’s the point?
So what can be done to improve on all this with the next game? A lot, actually. The original set the bar so low that I’d be surprised, and actually genuinely impressed if its pseudo-sequel managed to do anything but improve on it.
One of this game’s most exciting new features is its dynamic weather system. The tropical island you’re exploring is prone to heavy storms, which can result in random storms and flash floods. A feature like that can be used in some really exciting ways, as seen in games like Gears of War, which tinkered with multiplayer maps that randomly flooded and the Hard Rain campaign in Left 4 Dead 2 that had rainstorms which became so intense you could barely see.
How about instead of barricading us in an arena filled with zombies, Riptide took a page out of Left 4 Dead’s book and introduced a mode that urged cooperative play by forcing you and your friends to work as a team? They could do this by adding a mode that’s about using a boat to traverse a flooded area. Your level of success is determined by how long it took your team to complete your primary mission, and your score can be improved by completing side objectives. Along the way you can pick up survivors, but doing so requires you to stop the boat in enemy-infested waters, which increases your score when you bring them to safety. Each map could give you a specific goal, like collect as many supplies as you can to help a group of people who are starving in a nearby building, or find some people who went out for supplies but never returned.
This forces players to work as a team, make tough decisions like making it to safety as quickly as possible or putting your team in danger by stopping to save survivors or collect resources (like health and ammo) along the way. You can even up the ante by making human-controlled survivors worth more to the team’s final “score” than NPC survivors. So if you stop to save an NPC survivor but one of the human players dies in the fight, your score is actually hurt, making the decisions even riskier. That way you’re taking some of the best new features — the boat, weather system — and creating a mode that revolves around those mechanics.
The gameplay footage that debuted back in January made a considerable effort to show off another of the game’s new features: the fortification and defending of bases against waves of enemies. I wouldn’t mind seeing something that expands on that too (because we probably will).
There’s a good chance this game will include a wave-based multiplayer mode. This time there are new ways to keep it from feeling as tacked on as it was in Bloodbath Arena. It’s a no-brainer to say that it should revolve around the aforementioned base fortifying system that’s one of the bigger new features in Riptide. From what we’ve seen of it so far, defending and fortifying these areas looks like fun, but there’s always room to expand on a feature like that with additional ways to fortify and defend your base.
If this is PDLC — that’s DLC they charge us for — it can’t just be what we saw in the latest footage, only on new maps. There needs to be new fortification options. For reference, look at what Gears of War 3 did with its Horde mode. The amount of new features in that over its earlier versions is ridiculous. I’d even suggest adding a competitive twist by separating the four survivors and placing them in four fortifiable areas on a single map and having them compete to see who can survive the longest. Adding a way for players to sabotage each other would make this ridiculously fun, like you can leave your base to sabotage another player’s defenses, but doing so means your base is left unprotected, or something like that.
DLC is important. It’s an optional way to extend the life of the games we buy, and it’s something we weren’t able to enjoy on the previous generation of consoles. Developers are still experimenting with it, and like all new things mistakes will be made, lessons will be learned, and designers will get better at it. I have faith in Techland as a developer and their ability to do a better job of extending the life of Dead Island: Riptide. These are just a few specific paths Techland can take with their DLC, and while I’d love to see one of these ideas make it into the game, if they don’t, I’d at least like to see the Riptide team do something interesting with it this time around.
What about you?