Deep Silver is mutating its open-world zombie series with a new twist on multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs). Dead Island: Epidemic is still very early in development, but developer Stunlock Studios (Bloodline Arena) is offering fresh changes to a formula that is quickly growing stale.

The first thing I noticed when settling into a PC to play through a match is that, unlike traditional MOBAs (Dead Island: Epidemic is technically a "Zombie Online Multiplayer Battle Arena" or "ZOMBA"), the WASD keys are used for movement. This gives Epidemic a feel closer to a twin-stick shooter than an RTS.

Instead of minions, Epidemic uses zombies to harass the three teams of surivivors.The goal structure is also significantly different, as players fight for capture points that award resources (victory points) on a timed schedule. Resources can also be collected from dead players and zombies to be manually delivered to your base or an occupied flag.

Familiar Dead Island zombie types and weapons make appearances, and a crafting system is under development right now. Each player has four weapon slots (toggled with the 1-4 buttons) and four different abilities (Q, E, R, F). Each character has a resistant and infected form, and instead of turning into a zombie, the infected survivors manipulate the virus to give themselves unique powers and mutations.

For instance, Sledge (likely a temporary name) is a big, slow tank. However, his resistant and infected forms play off that base archetype in different ways. His virus-ridden form gives him the ability to heal allies, taunt foes, and slam the ground after a massive leap. In order to streamline the demo, skills were automatically unlocked and upgraded when points became available.

Each map also offers a boss fight, and these are instances when cooperation with another group of survivors might outweigh open conflict. There is the potential for backstabbing and, for the third, forgotten team, an opportunity to move around the map quickly to capture real estate and vital resources.

This title feels like a part of the Dead Island franchise (down to the use of character John Sinamoi as an announcer). The maps break away from the traditional lane structure, and the landscape is the same destroyed tropical paradise that the first-person games showcased.

There's much to do on Dead Island: Epidemic before the public can jump in. When asked about a release date, Deep Silver and Stunlock told us they wanted to make sure they had enough time to get the systems and balance ready, so the title will be available in beta at that point. It's already differentiating itself in a crowded market, and I'm interested to see where the title goes once things become more refined.