When Dead Island 2 launched earlier this year, it turned out to be a better game than many would have expected. Rather than buckling under the pressure of its long and tumultuous development cycle, it delivered a focused, gorgeous, brutal, and enjoyable zombie-bashing experience, even if it wasn’t an extraordinary one in most respects. Unlike the base game, its first expansion, dubbed Haus, is not better than you would expect. It is, in fact, thoroughly unsurprising, in that, by and large, it’s more of the same. By that same token, however, it’s still a fun romp, because slashing and crushing hordes of the undead continues to be as fun as it was in the base experience.
"Thanks to the variety of weapons you get to use and the incredible feedback you get from each swing – thanks in large part to the gleefully visceral and gory FLESH system – mowing down hordes of the undead is still fun."
Haus doesn’t pretend to put much weight behind its narrative ambitions. As the expansion kicks off, you’re mysteriously transported to a villa in Malibu that, it turns out, is the headquarters of a cult that was formed by its leader to avoid the zombie apocalypse by seeking immortality. As you’d expect, things didn’t exactly work out the way they had anticipated, leaving you to explore its villa and sort through the mess it has left behind. The most that can be said of Haus’ story is that it does a decent job of providing a framework for the gameplay scenarios developer Dambuster Studios has concocted here, because beyond that, much like Dead Island 2 itself, the DLC isn’t too concerned with telling an engaging story.
What it’s really concerned with, also like the base game, is getting you to smash zombie brains, which is something that the game continues to excel at. The weighty and crunching combat of Dead Island 2 might not be the deepest combat system you’ll ever find in a game, but it’s still undeniably and mindlessly enjoyable. Thanks to the variety of weapons you get to use and the incredible feedback you get from each swing – thanks in large part to the gleefully visceral and gory FLESH system – mowing down hordes of the undead is still fun.
Haus also combines its pulpy B-movie action with little doses of horror quite effectively, as the Dead Island IP has been known to do over the years (or at least the years that it’s been active). Making your way through a dark and creepy house and hearing the constant shambling and moaning of zombies through the walls and ceiling, for instance, does genuinely feel unsettling. Obviously, it’s not an out-and-out horror game by any means, but the DLC builds up those moments quite well, before capping them off with explore, gore-filled combat encounters.
"Haus does introduce a handful of new abilities and a couple of new weapons, but they feel like granular additions at best, to the extent that you could play through the overwhelming majority of the DLC without having engaged with them in any meaningful way."
That core loop is not a perfect one, however. Given the shallow nature of the combat, the repetition sets in pretty quickly, especially if you’re coming fresh off of a playthrough of the base experience. If you’re hoping for some interesting new twists to the zombie-slaying experience here in the form of, say, interesting new enemy types, you won’t find that here. Haus does introduce a handful of new abilities and a couple of new weapons (like a crossbow), but they feel like granular additions at best, to the extent that you could play through the overwhelming majority of the DLC without having engaged with them in any meaningful way.
What doesn’t help is the objective design, which only adds to that feeling of repetition. Haus sees you going through a series of trials as you explore the cult’s villa, and everything you do throughout its runtime revolves around either combat, or solving menial little puzzles that barely require any proper engagement from you, even on a superficial level. By the time the DLC is done, it feels like it’s running on its last legs, which is surprising thanks to how brief it is. I did not expect a three-hour long expansion to feel stretched thin, but that’s certainly the case with Haus.
If there’s one area where the DLC deserves a ton of credit, it’s its visuals and art design, which, of course, was an area where Dead Island 2’s base experience shined brightly as well. The interiors of the cult’s villa sport an impressive amount of variety and visual flair, from technology-infused torture dungeons to decrepit houses filled with clutter and viscera to a forest that’s all kinds of spooky and more. The environments being as varied and consistently imaginative they are does stave off the feeling of repetition a little bit. Of course, it helps massively that the visuals are just as impressive from a technical standpoint as they are from an artistic one.
"The visuals are just as impressive from a technical standpoint as they are from an artistic one."
When all is said and done though, is Haus good enough to warrant a trip back to Dead Island 2’s HELL-A? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. If you just want an excuse to smash zombie brains again, then sure. Dead Island 2’s crunching combat is more than capable of providing short bursts of goofy, gory fun, and that continues to be the case here, even if it does feel like it’s wearing a bit thin by the time the expansion comes to a close, especially combined with the uninspiring mission objectives. On the other hand, if you were hoping that Dead Island 2’s first expansion would be a major chunk of content that would bring interesting new ideas to the table, you’ll likely be disappointed by what’s on offer here. Hopefully, the second of the game’s two expansions – SOLA Festival, which is due out in Q2 of 2024 – will be a meatier and more ambitious one, because Haus ultimately doesn’t do enough to justify a return to this zombie-filled world.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Brutalizing zombies is still fun; Stunning visuals and art design; Impressive environments.
Quickly gets repetitive; Uninspired mission design.