Dead Island Epidemic

A MOBA With A Zombie Twist
by Cameron Koch on Apr 01, 2014 at 11:37 AM
Platform PC
Publisher Deep Silver
Developer Deep Silver
Rating Rating Pending

Favorite entries in the MOBA genre like League of Legends and DOTA 2 each have millions of players. With such large player bases come equally large profits, so it’s no wonder then that the genre is exploding as developers seek to capture some of that success. MOBAs are here to stay, and plenty more are on the way, including Dead Island: Epidemic.

Deep Silver and developer Stunlock have the unenviable task of trying to set their MOBA apart in what is quickly becoming a sea of similar titles. So, what does Dead Island: Epidemic do differently? I played some of the closed beta to find the answer to that question.

In many ways, Epidemic is more akin to an overhead action/RPG than a MOBA, but it borrows mechanics and ideas from both genres to create an entertaining experience. For starters, your solitary hero character is controlled directly with WASD rather than clicking on the ground and having your character move to that location. You also have a roll ability that recharges over time. Instead of auto-attacking, you get to dish out the pain personally, manually aiming your melee or ranged weapons and clicking to swing or shoot. 

Tried-and-true features of other MOBAs, like minion farming and item shopping, are absent. Instead, Epidemic draws from past Dead Island games by allowing players to craft and equip unique weapons. You can bring a combination of melee and ranged weapons into a match, and the variety is good so far, ranging from rifles and shotguns to road signs and sledgehammers. The more you use a weapon, the more powerful it becomes, unlocking new perks.

Differences aside, Epidemic is still a MOBA. You still secure objectives, defend points, and defeat enemies. The heroes you pick from come in three varieties: survivors, mutants, and armored. Each hero has four abilities, and depending on which version of a hero you pick, your appearance, abilities, stats, and roles are different. Killing zombies and enemy players levels your hero up, allowing you to improve your abilities over the course of a match. Like any good MOBA, Epidemic puts an emphasis on teamwork, whether or not you play against human opponents. 

Two game modes are currently available in the closed beta: Horde and Scavenger. Horde is a PvE cooperative mode that has players racing against the clock to secure points and defeat a boss. Scavenger is a competitive PvP mode that pits three teams of four against each other to control supply points and bring those supplies back to their respective vehicles. Each mode is currently played on a handful of maps that utilize the tropical resort theme of the franchise. 

Thanks to the clock and the rewards attached to it, playing PvE means you are always trying to push ahead as fast as possible. Zombies constantly swarm your position, and capturing supply points causes even more to spawn. Special zombie types previously seen in earlier Dead Island titles make appearances, and have a variety of unique abilities perfectly designed to ruin your day. In some ways, Horde mode feels like a top-down version of Left 4 Dead. Depending on how quickly you complete the stage you are awarded with extra experience points, currency, and crafting components, which can then be used to create new weapons and items from blueprints.

The PvP mode is similar; zombies litter the map and must be dealt with, but human opponents are also thrown into the mix. You are still trying to capture supply points, but as the name “Scavenger Mode” implies, you must pick up the valuable supplies and deliver them to your team’s base. Zombies occasionally drop supplies when killed, and the first team to a certain number of supplies wins. Throw in two other teams of four vying for resources and the results are heated battles over certain points. Dying causes you to drop any supplies you are carrying, which can then be picked up by enemy players. Boss zombies also spawn on each map periodically, attracting members from every team as they battle over the large stash of valuable resources these creatures drop.

Zombies are a key part of Epidemic and serve as a fourth team to compete against. The standard zombies that populate the map follow you for long distances, and unlike minions in other MOBAs, these undead can in large groups deal significant damage to your character. Ignore these zombies at your own risk. Special zombie types really throw a wrench into your plans; I can’t tell you how many times I got pounced on, spat on, or dragged away by a special zombie breed while fighting another player. Using zombies to your advantage, and cooperating with your teammates, is the key to victory. If you can ambush an enemy player while they are dealing with a horde of zombies, your chances of coming out on top are much greater. 

From a pure gameplay perspective, Epidemic is a good time. My only complaint so far is the game's WASD control scheme clashes with ability use. While the ability keys can be remapped, because you’re using WASD to move, no matter what keys you map your abilities to you are going to have to remove a finger from movement. As a result, I found it a little difficult to maneuver my character in fights while also trying to activate abilities. There is a reason characters in most MOBAs are controlled with the click of a mouse, but more dexterous players might have less trouble than I did.

Epidemic also makes a few smart design choices that help to eliminate some of the more stressful mechanics seen in other MOBAs: character select and the item shop. The sense of being overwhelmed or rushed in other MOBAs is made a non-issue here by simply allowing players to choose their characters and items prior to entering a match, rather than during it. Overall, the game is an enjoyable combination of cooperative and competitive, and the game’s two modes allow for both. 

As a free-to-play title, Epidemic needs to make money somewhere. There are currently three types of currency used in-game: Character points used for buying characters, coins used for purchasing crafting components, and cash. Character points can be earned by playing, as can coins. It's unclear what will be available for purchase with premium currency bought with real money; the majority of items and features of the store are currently unavailable. That being said, many free-to-play titles have been ruined by allowing players to liberally spend money to get an advantage.

At this point, the monetization system looks to be fairly standard compared to other titles in the free-to-play sphere, provided that obtaining items and non-premium currency happens in a reasonable amount of play time. If Deep Silver can manage to walk that fine line between pay and play, Dead Island: Epidemic looks to be a welcome and unique take on a rapidly expanding genre.

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