Dying Light 2 - An Undead Playground
The road to Dying Light 2 has been a long one. It feels like Techland have been leading up to this game for decades. The idea first saw release with Dead Island and its quick follow up, Riptide. A troubled release that is known more for its excellent trailer than its gameplay, Dead Island nonetheless had an original idea at its core that clearly had the potential to explore further. Next up in Techland’s quest to bring this concept to life was Dying Light, a game that came very close to nailing it. The addition of parkour based movement, a day-night cycle and the subtle move towards Zombies being more of an environmental hazard than an enemy made Dying Light something of a cult hit. Techland supported Dying Light with years of content and as a result, quite the impressive community has built up around it. Despite this success, Dying Light had issues. The story was sub-par, the movement lacked precision at times and the balance, especially when it came to roaming at night, was all out of wack.
Enter Dying Light 2 after what seems like an age. Announced way too early, Dying Light 2 went through delay after delay to get to release. Techland, time and time again extended development to make sure this was the game that finally saw their original idea of an Action RPG set in a zombie-infested world come to life. It is with much joy and respect that I can tell you they have done just that, that the delays were worth it. Dying Light 2 is one hell of an achievement and is proof that despite the delays, PR hyperbole and constant questioning from their community, Techland is one talented group of developers.
Set in the ruins of our world, Dying Light 2 takes place many years after the events of the first game. The world is slowly crumbling as fewer humans are left, zombies roaming everywhere and safe havens few and far between. In this ruined world, one city remains. One place where humanity has adapted and continued to soldier on. It is a mix of survivors simply wanting to live, bandits who take what they want and Peacekeepers who are hoping to use military and police structures of old in an attempt to enforce order on this chaotic new world. Players take control of a Pilgrim, a wanderer who braves the dangers of the world to make a living, travelling from small village to small village, looking for any trace of a lost sister and the man who conducted sick experiments on him as a child. This search has brought the Pilgrim to the last city, hot on the trail of answers and hopeful of finding peace from his tormented past.
As far as setups go, it isn’t groundbreaking, but it is more than adequate to get things going in a surprisingly entertaining tale that has more than a few twists and turns. The mix of different factions and their interplay in the city is a large part of why it works so well. This is primarily due to the amount of choice given to the player. Simple things, such as allocating a safe zone to a particular faction or completing small tasks for one group over the other have an impact on the world. Support the survivors and the world slowly gets filled with items that make traversal easier, support the Peacekeepers and suddenly there are traps littered around the place to add extra damage to encounters.
The impact of choice only gets greater at key moments in the story. I won’t go into too much detail here to avoid spoilers but know this, very rarely has binary choices in a video game caused me such agony. These are choices that have a significant impact on the city and its inhabitants. What made it even more stressful was a timer, 30 seconds to make an irreversible call that will have unforeseen consequences and undoubtedly create difficulties for one faction or another. Perhaps the most impressive part of these choices is there are no clear “good” or “bad” paths, everything is morally grey. The two main factions are both looking to simply make the best of a bad situation, trying to protect and help people in their own way. This makes these choices even tougher and really encourages players to go with their true feelings as opposed to trying to find a good/evil binary result, something that video games have traditionally struggled to convey.
All of this world development and choice means nothing if the gameplay isn’t up to scratch, but I am pleased to say the gameplay is both unique and entertaining. It is no surprise that the parkour traversal is the star of the show here. Simply getting around the map is a joy in much the same way as it was in a game like Spider-man. The way movement feels natural, athletic and precise all at the same time makes the simple act of getting from point A to point B something to take pleasure in. The game does feature an unlockable fast travel system but I almost never felt the need to use it, traversing the world was always the preferred option. This only gets better as more skills and gadgets are unlocked. A glider and grappling hook give players more options in traversal, while skills such as wall-running and improved leaping ability add further fluidity to running over the rooftops. The traversal systems are a genuine reason to simply exist in this world and on more than one occasion I simply spent time tooling around, getting pleasure from the simple act of movement in this well-designed world.
Combat is a little bit more of a mixed bag. On the melee side of things it can be quite the blast, taking homemade weaponry to bandits and the undead alike. Swinging wildly against most zombies will do the tricks but against humans, more than a bit of strategy comes into play. Blocking, parrying, leaping and dodging are all important tools to master in combat situations. Stringing together the parkour movement with the combat sets up some truly satisfying results. Early on you learn to stun an opponent then use him as a springboard to fly kick someone else. It is something that never gets old and, depending on how close you are to the edge of a tall building, is a great way to take out enemies in a hurry.
Where the combat fails is when it comes to ranged weaponry. This is a world where guns long ago ceased to be so ranged combat consists of bows or thrown items. Sadly though the use of bows or throwing knives is unsatisfying and more than a little underpowered. The bow especially feels almost useless unless you are using crafted speciality ammo that uses resources that frankly are better used elsewhere. In the end, I gave up on using the bow at all, preferring to just keep a stock of handy melee weapons instead. It is disappointing as there is certainly appeal to be found in the idea of William Tell in Zombieland, but alas it was not to be.
In the first Dying Light, going out at night was a seriously risky proposition that more often than not resulted in death at the hands of the zombie horde, but things are a little different in Dying Light 2. Nighttime, while still significantly more dangerous than during the day, especially at ground level, feels much more manageable and therefore not as daunting. Don’t get me wrong, if you stuff up it won’t be long before you are hightailing it with a horde of hungry flesh-eaters hot on your tail, but if you are careful and choose your routes carefully, night needs to no longer be feared and exploration is not only possible but encouraged. Often the best loot and upgrades are found in buildings that are only manageable at night so it pays to be out and about after dark.
Much has been made about the size of Dying Light 2 in the lead up to its release. Some poor messaging from Techland’s PR department has given a somewhat warped perception of the length of the game. Well, I can say it took me just shy of 30 hours to finish the story with a fairly decent amount of sidequests completed along the way. But the thing is, I actually would have liked to take longer. This was a world I was thoroughly enjoying simply existing in and had I not needed to review the game, I imagine my playtime would be much higher. Probably not 500 hours worth, but certainly much closer to 50. This is an open world I wanted to explore, to engage with and that is something of a rarity.
As far as looks and sound goes, Dying Light 2 is pretty much bang on apart from a few occasions that suffer from rough edges. For the most part graphically the game is stunning to look at and runs as smooth as butter, but every now and then something happens that breaks things a little. A zombie stuck in a car or getting caught on the edge of a tree, small things, but worth mentioning nonetheless. The same goes for the voice acting, for the most part, the voice cast is great, capably led by Troy Baker and Rosario Dawson, but some of the minor parts and especially the NPC roles sound quite rough in a “translated into English” kind of way. Once again, it is a minor blemish, but one that stands out because the rest of the game is just so darn good.
What it comes down to is Dying Light 2 is the product of faith in an idea, determination, triumph over adversity and a whole lot of talent. With Dying Light 2, Techland has defined what an Action RPG in a world full of zombies should be. The movement is fantastic, melee combat a blast and the story entertaining while offering legitimately world-changing choices. Some minor issues with ranged combat and some presentation quirks do nothing to cool my enthusiasm for the game. I just hope that a new game plus mode is added soon so I can dive back in, make some different choices and simply explore more of this engaging and entertaining world. Dying Light 2 is a legitimate blast and one that shouldn’t slip you by, there is nothing else quite like it.
Dying Light 2 was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by Stride PR