Dead Island: Riptide is the sequel to Dead Island and just like the original game it is an open-world action game with role-playing elements. After escaping the island in the previous game, the four immune survivors (Logan Carter, Sam B, Xian Mei and Puma) land on an aircraft carrier controlled by the Australian Defence Force. After meeting some other characters, the ship is overrun and after it crashes down the four land on the island Palanai, which is also affected by the infection. As the four survivors struggle to get off the island, they also become involved with finding out the cause of the outbreak through Frank Serpo, the local researcher, Dr. Kessler, and the WHO researcher, Harlow.
Players can choose any of the four survivors, each with their own abilities (even starting with a save game of the character from the previous title), or control the new character, John Morgan, who is also immune. He has a powerful kick attack that is very useful in close combat situations. The gameplay is largely identical as the survivor roams the surroundings, defeats enemies and gathers tools and weapons that can be customized and upgraded. The tropical setting is retained, but the surroundings are diversified through towns, cities and jungle. Water also plays an important role now, with large areas and cities that are flooded and many parts that can be traveled by boat. Characters can still move by foot or use a vehicle. Next to the regular quests that mainly require the character to fetch items, there are hub defense missions where a certain area needs to be barricaded and defended for a set amount of time. The game offers new weapons and customization options, as well as new enemies. Unlike in the first game, firearms are available almost right away. Thus, the player has the choice to play it as a first-person shooter rather than a brawler like the first game emphasized on.
Throughout the game, experience is gained to develop combat abilities through a skill tree next to the modified weapons. Characters also still have access to fury attacks that provide additional perks as long as the meter does not run out. Just like in the first game, the player is free to explore in any direction, but opponents level along with the main character to match the abilities. In addition to single-player, the game can once again be played cooperatively with up to four players.