Whether you like it or not, weapon durability is here to stay in games. Whether you’re in the camp that thinks it helped make Breath of the Wild one of the standout games of a generation or not, you need to admit that the controversial system is a permanent fixture. Turn to pretty much any genre of game and you’ll find it there – Yakuza, Dead Rising, Fire Emblem, Far Cry, State of Decay, Minecraft, Zelda, Silent Hill. Weapon degradation is here to stay.
But it’s not a bad thing, is it? Sure, it can seem unrealistic – why would a katana cease to function as a sword after five or six goes? It’s not made of glass (in theory). Using a weapon that functions perfectly well, at full strength, until it breaks so catastrophically you cannot wield it at all is a little unrealistic, in my eyes; would it not dull, or jam, or lose some function first?
But, as a mechanic, I like it. Breaking weapons forces you, as a player, to adapt to the world you’re in. Far Cry 2 would have been far more boring if you could just waltz about with a gun that never jammed, right? Breath of the Wild would have lost a lot of its charm if you could just keep hold of that one early-game sword you loved so much.
Dambuster Studio, the (current) developer behind Dead Island 2 agrees. “Ranged weapons have ammo, so melee weapons have degradation,” says Adam Duckett, design director on the title. “We’re generous with it; we want players to explore the full arsenal of weapons – so we have so many great mods, and so many perks, and so many other things in this game that we want players to cycle through. It also helps that players can keep a wide variety of tools in their arsenal, so they’re never going to be without something they can use.”
Dead Island 2 lets you equip eight weapons in your immediate weapon wheel, and then keep another eight in reserve – so that’s 16 you can swap to with very little notice, depending on the types of enemies you’re going to be facing off against. You may come across zombies that were firefighters, back when they were human, and if they come at you whilst you’re wielding a fire axe (read: a fire axe that also spews fire, obviously), you’ll have very little impact on them.
“I think [weapon durability] helps fit with our tone a little bit, too,” adds art director Adam Olson. “Because this is a game that just keeps going, this is a game that’s over-the-top – but we want to be grounded in reality. Having one foot in reality – and having weapons that break – helps us push other parts of the game into that over-the-top mentality.”
Duckett agrees; having weapons break apart in your hands after you’ve sliced and diced a good 30 or 40 zombies is part of the reality of the quarantined Los Angeles you’ll find yourself in. “There’s nothing better than cracking a katana, looking at the hilt in your hand, and then seeing the rest of the blade embedded in a zombie’s skull,” he explains.
“You can quite easily turn off the HUD and be able to see the weapon degrade in front of you, in various stages. So players can look at their weapon and think ‘hm, that’s looking a bit crude’ and know they’ll need to switch it out.”
“That’s something we really wanted to do with this game; we want you to be able to turn off the HUD and know everything that’s going on,” adds Olson. “From our point of view, we want you to be able to tell the enemy’s health, how damaged they are, how degraded your weapon is, how long you’ve been in the fight… just from looking around you. We want everything to be obvious to you, with the UI or without it.”
Duckett goes on to say that this focus on realism – with everything being on-screen in front of you, obvious and readable without UI or HUD icons everywhere – was a key part of development; a philosophical pillar that Dead Island 2 adheres to at all times. “We want to make every hit feel like it connects with a zombie – so that you can see it on the zombie, and on your weapon. Weapon degradation and durability makes sense, from that point of view.”
The way your weapons and zombies show damage has actually lead “about 50%” of development staff to play the game completely HUD-less, too – that’s how effective Dambuster’s visual cues and detailing is.
“In the full game, players will be able to go between full HUD, dynamic HUD, and fully immersive HUD-less, and a lot of our game design decisions have been made around the fact that the world should be readable in that; if players aren’t seeing clothing or skin get torn or damaged or ripped, they should be able to tell that the weapon they’re using isn’t doing the damage they’d expect it to do. That connection to what’s happening on-screen should come through for people that want a more immersive experience.”
From what I’ve played of Dead Island 2 so far, I can’t complain – at all – about the way weapons work. They’re strong enough to last for a fight or two, then they start to weaken and break as you overuse them. Seeing your electrified bear claws sticking out of a zombie’s skull as it thumps in a frothing mess on the floor is satisfying, though, and suggests that maybe you should have switched out to a more effective weapon to kill this guy that was clearly, once upon a time, an electrician.
All these tells and cues are visible to you – if you’re paying attention – and Dambuster basically forces you to look at its richly detailed world, instead of just scanning over icons and drearily switching between weapons. I think it’s a great way to keep you on your toes, and keep you involved in this world that has clearly been meticulously pored over by a team of very talented graphics programmers and artists.
Dead Island 2 is coming to the Epic Games Store, PS4, PS5, Stadia, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in February 2023.