Before this game came out and all we had seen was the heartbreaking CGI debut trailer almost everyone was excited for Dead Island. I remember reading a write-up on Joystiq, because I have an Android and don't get the Dtoid app (hint hint), and it seemed like a formula of game that felt necessary. Zombie game? Yes, they are fun! RPGs? Also fun! What about both combined? ...well that would be amazing! What could go wrong? Actually, what went wrong?
I don't know of any of you are like me and had to read Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens in high school. If you didn't then I applaud you, but that's not what I'm getting at. A point Dickens makes in the novel occurs when the main character Pip is mysteriously given a large sum of money, which leads him to believe that everyone expects a lot from him. Pip ends up counting on the money too much, which is never fully in his possession, and counts too little on who he truly is; a kindhearted lower class boy. I'll end it there to prevent more spoilers in case any of you are interested.
The point here is that Dead Island relied on that trailer too much, when it never really showed off the game. Therefore it relied on what it didn't have, and didn't care about what it did have. This led to great expectations and hype, which were ultimately exchanged for complaints and animosity. What did the game have though? It had originality. The idea, while not radical and genius, was fresher than another first person shooter. Techland had a zombie game, that was an RPG, that had shooting, that was a first person action game. The first reaction should have been to pat the guy on the back whose idea it was and strive to make it perfect. But that's not what happened, and that was the first mistake.
The Elephant(s) in the Room
So Dead Island comes out, and the secret that is was mediocre is revealed. What confused me was that the write-up on Joystiq said the game was on the right track early in development; that gameplay felt real. It still felt real, yes, but it wasn't true to reality. That's where the elephant in the room lies, the gameplay was so forced in to being real that it led to some of the chief complaints.
If you played Dead Island then you remember the weapons always deteriorating rapidly, the various bugs and glitches (though most of which where hilarious), and the story. Don't even get me started on the story. If you know me well enough, though my return to Dtoid is still fresh, then you know that I love stories and writing. This game, to me, felt as though it was building up to something larger than me. Something that my one character couldn't handle alone, which is where the other three characters would come in handy. Instead it was just another zombie, one that died relatively quickly for me. Then a cutscene, followed by credits.
I don't want to spoil the story so I'll just say that the story seemed to be slowly building up before taking a tip from Prototype, which led to a giant buildup that ended in a cutscene. I was deflated. The only redeeming factor was that the ending was open, leaving room for a sequel. Speaking of which, let's look at what Techland could do if these rumors of "Dead World" are true.
Learn Your Lesson
If there is going to be a game focusing on the world's struggles with a zombie apocalypse, then have a story that will work with that. Include multiple playable characters in different areas of the world, each with their own character struggles that we learn as we continue. Have these characters be aware of one another and maybe have a segment where a few band together to help each other out. Most importantly, incorporate every character as an integral part of the story. That way you can generate a response in the player if one dies, which means that your game has redeeming qualities.
There were a slew of problems with the gameplay in Dead Island. Learn from these mistakes and fix them calmly. Don't go overboard with the fixes, because ultimately you'll fix something that isn't broken. Take the most complaints and fix them, potentially through adding something that makes sense in the game. For example; the fact that you had to pay money to fix weapons was stupid. How about you pay someone to do it for you, and maybe if you tip him then he'll give you an item to fix it on the go? That way you aren't paying a workbench for you to fix it.
The great thing about Dead Island was that I could play with three other friends and have fun. Except that seemed like the only way you should play, almost as if single-player was out of the question. And if I did play single-player then I was truly alone, I never saw those other three characters in game. I'm not promoting having 3 friendly AI characters following you around, but instead considering that or featuring them in other ways. The former may be too much and result in more bugs or glitches, so it depends on how well it's pulled off.
Dead Island had a great idea, but along the way to release it got cocky and bit off more than it could chew. If it would have been the game everyone expected, then all the hype before the game's release would have translated widespread praise. Instead Techland is at a crossroads, interested in moving forward but nervous of the public reaction. Not everyone will fall for a trick twice, though others are open-minded enough to give it a shot and if they're wrong then it's their own fault for trying. You still have my support Techland, but you have to learn from your mistakes and progress if you're going to expand to a worldwide apocalypse. The ball is in your side of the court, so put forth the effort to hit back to me.