In mid-November of last year, I was given the opportunity on behalf of CG Magazine to participate in a hands-on, remote preview event for the PC version of the long-awaited (and much delayed) sequel to 2015’s Dying Light. And despite some slight performance limitations imposed by the nature of streaming technology, I came away rather impressed with the new game’s increased ambition when compared to its prequel. Make no mistake, Techland, the Polish developer behind the original Dead Island isn’t out to fix what was never broken.
Dying Light 2: Stay Human promises much more of the franchise’s now familiar first-person, parkour-combat action, weapon crafting mechanics that continue to border on the ridiculous, and the open-world exploration and loot-hunting we’ve become accustomed to from, not only the first game, but also competing IPs as well (Far Cry 6 says hello). This time, however, Techland’s latest magnum opus of the undead is set in a much larger, zombie-infested world four times bigger than the original and is not only governed by a newly improved day-night cycle but also transforms both visually and narratively as a consequence of player choice, offering drastically different story paths depending on whom the player chooses to help or harm. So, after six long years in development, does Dying Light 2 live up to Techland’s bold ambitions?
Dying Light 2′s premise definitely gets things off to an excellent start. Clearly, it isn’t a spoiler at this point to say that things haven’t improved for the world since the events of the first game, despite the heroics of its protagonist, Kyle Crane, leading to the successful development of a vaccine for the Harran Virus (a.k.a. THV). Surprising no one, continued THV research by the corrupt “Global Relief Effort” (GRE) for military applications ultimately resulted in a new strain of the virus escaping into the world once more.
This time, there would be no stopping it from spreading across the globe in a matter of months, plunging all of humanity into a full-blown zombie apocalypse. 20 years have now passed since “The Fall” and what remains of civilization are a scant number of human settlements that have managed to successfully wall themselves off from the outside world but are on the verge of collapsing from within.
“This time, however, Techland’s latest magnum opus of the undead is set in a much larger, zombie-infested world four times bigger than the original”
The largest of these settlements, formerly known as Villador but now simply called “The City” because it is the only city to anyone’s knowledge that is still standing, is THE last remaining bastion for mankind. ALL of its living citizens are infected, and those who don’t have a biomarker to help them monitor and stave off becoming turned are either immediately put to death or cast out into the street to survive against the undead on their own. It is into this mad world that Aiden Caldwell, a wandering pilgrim who survives by travelling across the wastelands between settlements ferrying information, bravely enters hoping to find his long-lost sister.
As already covered in our preview, Dying Light 2 lifts much of its control scheme directly from the original Dying Light, with a few tweaks here and there to seemingly accommodate the game’s larger repertoire of combat and parkour moves. The dedicated Kick button is gone, replaced by a multi-function button (set to LB by default on Xbox), which performs different actions depending on the context. For instance, a well-timed LB press will block or deflect a normal enemy strike, pressing the button while in midair above an enemy will perform a drop-kick (once learned), and a double-tap from a running leap will perform a running drop-kick (again, once learned).
If you just want to kick an enemy off a building with a good ol’ standing kick, you can still do that, but you’ll need to hold down the Block (LB) button and then press Attack (RT). The basic kick is much weaker than before, so don’t expect any “This is Sparta” flashiness. Multiple awkward follow-up kicks may be required.
“Dying Light 2 lifts much of its control scheme directly from the original Dying Light, with a few tweaks here and there to seemingly accommodate the game’s larger repertoire of combat and parkour moves.”
The inventory management and crafting system from the original game has also made the trip over to Dying Light 2 mostly intact, but some notable changes have been made. All found weapons now have more memorable names (like “Bad Gal,” “Dirty Katana,” “Thirsty Axe,” etc.) and are each represented in one’s inventory with detailed illustrations and stat data (much akin to The Witcher 3’s inventory system), rather than just lines of text and generic symbols of old.
An even bigger change that veteran Dying Light players might find surprising is that, at least to my knowledge, weapons in Dying Light 2 can’t be repaired or broken down. Applying an upgrade like electricity or fire damage to a weapon will increase its max durability beyond its original limit, thus “repairing” it and effectively killing two birds with one stone. However, not all weapons are upgradeable and those that are, have a limited number of slots for upgrade mods.
This creates an interesting new dynamic that did not exist in the previous game; to repair a weapon requires the use of valuable resources. Since a fully upgraded weapon can’t be repaired further or broken down into reusable parts, players are forced to carefully consider each weapon’s utility, longevity, and eventual disposability each time they upgrade it. It all ties nicely into the lore of the game, as 20 years on into the zombie apocalypse, resources are understandably far scarcer. Welcome to the Modern Dark Ages, my friends!
Much talk has been made by Techland about how player choices can visually transform The City, but what impresses me far more is how Dying Light 2’s improved Day-Night cycle and brand-new biomarker Immunity systems feed into the game’s other mechanics to create a compelling gameplay loop as well as address a common problem of the original game – nighttime gameplay wasn’t all that much fun and too easy to skip.
“Welcome to the Modern Dark Ages, my friends!”
As a newly christened member of The City’s human infected, Aiden wears a biomarker to monitor the state of his THV level whenever he is not in the presence of UV rays (in other words, not exposed to sunlight or a source that emits UV radiation, such as a UV spotlight or flare). Represented in the upper-centre of the HUD as an Immunity Timer that is constantly counting down to zero, the biomarker indicates how long Aiden can remain in darkness before his THV level can no longer be contained and runs rampant, causing him to turn into a zombie. This timer can be turned back by temporarily by stepping into daylight or UV rays, consuming “UV shrooms” (mushrooms), inhaling immunity boosters that can be crafted or purchased from merchants, or injecting oneself with powerful THV Inhibitors that can only be found in old, abandoned GRE containers and facilities.
Finding as many inhibitors as possible early on in the game is crucial to Aiden’s survival, as they not only permanently increase Aiden’s maximum immunity and grant him improved THV resistance over time, but they also allow the player to permanently increase Aiden’s max health or max stamina by one level for every 3 THV inhibitors found. Obviously, the more health Aiden has, the more damage he can withstand from both humans and the undead, and the more stamina he has, the higher he can climb and the longer he can perform strenuous activities like sprinting, dodging, or flying a paraglider.
In the end, however, once the player has run out of consumables that can suppress Aiden’s THV, the only way to completely reset the timer is to either get Aiden to a UV light source (which are few and far between outside of base camps) or find a way to survive the night until sunrise, a feat which will grant the player bonus Combat and Parkour points. These points, which are constantly awarded in the background for performing related actions and completing objectives, in turn accumulate into Skill Points, which can be used to level up and unlock new fighting and traversal abilities, such as using a zombie to break one’s fall when diving from a great height, or wall-running.
“Obviously, the more health Aiden has, the more damage he can withstand from both humans and the undead”
The genius is how these progression systems lean heavily into the game’s day-night cycle, which influences zombie behaviour. As covered in our preview, zombies encountered outside in the daylight are mostly weak and fairly easy to avoid, while those found inside buildings are much greater in number and can swarm and overwhelm players, making indoor exploration during the daytime far more dangerous. When night falls, however, the streets become filled with the undead while indoor spaces are largely left deserted, giving players far fewer zombies to deal with as they scavenge The City’s seemingly hundreds of bespoke interiors for loot.
Consequently, players are regularly encouraged and rewarded for playing during the night and surviving, which is a significant shift from the original Dying Light. For instance, several of the game’s missions can only be completed at night. Many GRE containers are located in buildings that are teeming with the undead during the day, making a nighttime approach the most realistic option. And as mentioned earlier, surviving the night provides bonuses that will allow players to level up faster.
Of course, nighttime also translates into many more zombies in the streets, swifter, deadlier variants hunting the player down both indoors and outdoors and situations where players will only have the limited visibility of Aiden’s flashlight available to engage with them, but the satisfaction of making it to yet another sunrise alive with a haul of valuable loot, crafting materials, and parkour/combat bonuses often makes the risk worth taking.
“Of course, nighttime also translates into many more zombies in the streets, swifter, deadlier variants hunting the player down both indoors and outdoors…”
Moving on to the question of whether player decisions to help one faction over another truly transforms The City and the direction of the narrative, to be frank, I’ve only had a week to play the behemoth that is Dying Light 2, and have managed to see just one of the possible scenarios, but I’d still hazard to say the answer is “yes.” When I started my playthrough I believed that I would, once again, align myself with the rooftop-residing Survivors faction, just as I did during my preview experience. However, after encountering a principal member of that faction that I truly despised for an excruciating second time, I decided to throw my weight behind the street-level based, militaristic Peacekeeper faction. To my parkour-loving heart’s dismay, this meant passing on an improved Survivors network of ziplines that would have made rooftop traversal faster and easier.
It should be noted that players can return to captured utilities like electrical power stations and water towers and change their alignment to a different faction if they wish, but I decided to stick with my PK friends and hoof it through the streets with the assistance of PK-built car traps and the like. In any event, Techland has gone on record to say it will take most players 20 hours to finish the main story, 80 hours to finish the main story and side quests, and up to 500 hours to complete everything in Dying Light 2, so if you’re keen on seeing multiple or all the narrative possibilities play out I’d strongly advise clearing some time in your upcoming calendar and approach the game more like a meaty action-RPG (again, like Witcher 3) as opposed to a straight up first-person action-adventure.
Of course, Dying Light 2 isn’t what I’d call perfect. In fact, there are a host of small visual and gameplay issues that lend the game a “rough around the edges” feel that’s hard for me to shake off. The most irritating on the visual side is definitely Aiden’s flashlight, which, for some reason, always shuts off during in-game cutscenes, plunging well-lit characters into darkness as they are talking and interacting with you. It’s extremely distracting. Why not just leave the flashlight on?
“Techland has gone on record to say it will take most players 20 hours to finish the main story, 80 hours to finish the main story and side quests, and up to 500 hours to complete everything in Dying Light 2…”
Also, I’ve noticed that while the game supports a refresh rate of 60fps or above in Performance mode, certain objects in the distance noticeably refresh at much lower and jerkier framerates, such as power windmills and their moving parts. Once again, it’s an annoying visual distraction, but hardly a dealbreaker. Oh, and it’s easy to get caught on objects in the environment during exploration, which can be a bit annoying.
That being said, small, fixable bugs like these shouldn’t be a reason to overlook the greatness that Dying Light 2 manages to accomplish. The City and its many districts are simply massive, vertigo-inducing and filled with countless areas to explore. The camera is always in first person during cutscenes and characters that you engage in full conversation with are extremely detailed, lock eyes with you convincingly and animate with impressively natural gestures as they talk and/or listen to you, which can’t be said of the first game. The combat is as gritty and gruesome as it has ever been, and midair moves like vault-kicks and dive-kicks now auto-guide to the nearest target within range, making fights with multiple agile opponents a little easier.
Finally, the level of storytelling appears to approach what Techland was originally striving for all those years ago with its original Dead Island reveal trailer, striking a fairly serious tone with only sparks of dry humour here and there, which is fine by me. Let the insane electric samurai sword decapitation kills be the main source of comic relief, I say. And while the servers are not up and running yet as of this writing, the game also promises online multiplayer with up to three friends through the entire campaign, from the end of the prologue right through to the game’s epilogue.
If Techland’s post-release support for the original Dying Light is anything to go by, gamers who purchase Dying Light 2 and end up loving it can look forward to a whole lot more content before this year is out (in fact, Techland’s already announced a minimum 5-year roadmap). But you don’t need to be a franchise superfan or even to have played the first Dying Light to appreciate how much of a feast the base game offers on its own. If you’ve managed to read this far, consider yourself an ideal candidate and go pick this game up without hesitation.