Not gonna lie: I think weapon durability sucks. For all its supposed realism, I find the mechanic cumbersome and needlessly complicating. So you can imagine I haven’t been too keen to hear that Dambuster Studios just made extensive comments defending the mechanic’s presence in its upcoming Dead Island 2, saying it wants to present a game that’s both over-the-top and “grounded in reality,” so weapons must break. Grumble, grumble.
If you’ve played the OG Dead Island, you’d know that weapon durability was part of that game’s experience. All melee weapons had a finite number of uses, indicated by a white bar around the weapon. Use it too many times and poof, it’d crumble right in your hands, prompting you to scramble in the inventory (or in the world) looking for another bludgeon with which to kill zombies. While weapon breakage is a contentious topic in games ranging from System Shock 2 to Breath of the Wild, Dambuster Studios is bringing the mechanic back in its anticipated sequel.
In an interview with VG247, design director Adam Duckett said weapon degradation is integral to Dead Island 2, defending the mechanic as something that could add variety to the gameplay.
“Ranged weapons have ammo, so melee weapons have degradation,” Duckett said. “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.”
Art director Adam Olson (they have a lot of Adams) echoed Duckett’s sentiment, saying that the fact weapons break helps keep Dead Island 2 “grounded in reality” despite being over-the-top.
“I think [weapon durability] helps fit with our tone a little bit, too,” Olson said. “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.”
Both Adams agreed that realism is a key point of Dead Island 2, and this extends to its visual depiction of damage to both your enemies and your own equipment. In fact, even if you turn the HUD off, Duckett explained, you can still “see the weapon degrade in front of you, in various stages,” and thus know when it’s time to swap to something else.
“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,” Olson said. “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.”
In fact, they report that approximately half of the studio’s developers now play completely HUD-less.
I appreciate that the HUD isn’t necessary for gleaning important info in the heat of battle. Knowing when my weapon will break gives me some idea as to when I should look for another one. But I don’t always play games for realism, and a zombie-killing game isn’t real to say the least. That I have to worry about my weapon degrading in my hands while also avoiding an undead’s chompers surely does create tension, but it also could be frustrating if weapons break too often.
That was my main problem with Breath of the Wild, so we’ll see how Dead Island 2 fares. Sucks for me, but it seems weapon durability systems won’t be disappearing from major video games any time soon.
Dead Island 2 drops on February 3 for PC, PlayStation consoles, Stadia, and Xbox systems.