REVIEW – The first Dying Light almost completely reinvented zombie games: in addition to exploring a completely open world, we were able to use new parkour options that we hadn’t really seen in zombie titles before. Seven years and many delays later, developer Techland has finally delivered a sequel. Was it worth the wait, and did the game really revolutionise the first part?
The fact that Dying Light 2 Stay Human is even finished seems like a miracle. The game has been in development hell for so long that I’ve come to believe that, ironically, it’s going to turn off that flickering, “dying” light in the same way Dead Island 2 did. Now, almost six years after Dying Light, Dying Light 2 Stay Human has not only seen the light, it’s come out. And while the primary new focal point – the story – fell pretty flat, many other things in Dying Light 2 have been done very well.
Never without my sister!
Dying Light 2 takes place sometime after the events of the original game. You play as Aiden, an infected survivor in a world infected by a new version of the virus from the original game. Aiden is lucky – he has some sort of resistance to the virus – which allows him to remain human under the right circumstances. Throughout the game, we control him as he sets out to find his sister in the strangely non-specific “City” while also shedding light on events in his past that may explain his immunity. It’s a much more personal story than Dying Light ever was, but such a story would require much more careful storytelling.
The problem is that the overall plot of Dying Light 2 is simply not engaging. I found myself very often wondering if I even cared about Aiden’s personal quest to find his sister. It’s a shame, given that this is the most significant area the game tried to improve on from the first instalment, but sadly it didn’t quite succeed. Techland noted in a promotional material how much dialogue there is in this game, presumably to illustrate how seriously they take the story. But given the meandering plot, I didn’t see much point in the relentless amount of clichéd verbiage.
Parkour, grappling hook, paragliding
Dying Light 2 is essentially a first-person, open-world game. Like Dying Light, the clichéd, mediocre plot is compensated for by a unique, extremely well-paced gameplay that is the strongest the developer has ever released. The fundamental difference between Dying Light and its contemporaries is the parkour mechanic, which fits beautifully with the zombie chase system. Thanks to Dying Light’s engine, Aiden can run, jump and climb on almost any surface in the game world. This aspect was even more polished for the original Dying Light, so there’s no reason to complain in this area.
Dying Light 2 also replaces the city of Harran and its surrounding countryside with a completely new location, “The City”, a non-specific European location divided into two different regions. The first region appears similar to Harran in the original Dying Light. The second region is much more unique and looks more like an actual city – the tall skyscrapers and other metropolitan buildings create a veritable concrete jungle where the post-apocalyptic universe of Dying Light 2 really finds its place.
Tools such as the grapple and UV light return from previous games, but there’s also a brand new transport tool: the paraglider. Perfectly adapted to the new environment, you can fly from building to building using wind currents. The paraglider and the parkour mechanics combination gives you a great deal of flexibility in accessing locations, which further enhances the already great transport mechanics of Dying Light 2.
A fierce fight for survival
The combat has also been refined to make it more enjoyable. Weapons are no longer plentiful, so most action is limited to rudimentary bows and crafted melee weapons. Single-use shotguns can be crafted, but the most common is still the often bloody melee combat against zombies and humans. The combat in Dying Light 2 may be a little primitive, but it’s still gratifying: you’ll never get tired of mowing down the enemy with a variety of killing tools.
Weapons don’t last forever, of course, and they will break sooner or later from too much use, but resources are so plentiful that we never become unarmed. However, the previously rumoured information is accurate; weapons in Dying Light 2 can’t be repaired – so don’t hold on to anything.
Weapons can be enhanced with modifications taken from Dying Light, which give them extra damage: fire, poison, lightning, freeze, etc. It’s not very realistic, but at least it brings back the intense clashes of Dead Island and Dying Light.
So much to do here!
In such a vast open-world world, with so many missions and things to do, it’s almost inevitable that the quality of the missions will vary enormously. The main quests are full of exciting, interesting and tense moments of gameplay, although the last act became quite tedious, and I felt like I should have ended it a few battles earlier. Likewise, although there are many side missions on offer, they are often on a par in quality with the main missions, with some of the tasks or associated storylines feeling like they were idiotic or not suited to a zombie apocalypse.
Missions aside, there’s also plenty to keep you busy in the city. While they may seem a little outdated scattered across the map, the sheer variety here really saves the day. For example, there are climbing puzzles in the form of radio towers, water towers and windmills. These are actually related to the squatting element of the previous part, or Far Cry or similar open world titles, with the added bonus that here you can only get to said buildings in a tricky way. To be honest, I only enjoyed the first few of these, and by the time I got to many of them, they were an irritating time-waster.
However, I must also admit that I’ve never seen an open world game that rewards the player so much by changing the world they’re adventuring in. While this doesn’t have the far-reaching consequences you’d expect at the story level, gameplay-wise, it’s a nice touch to be able to shape the city to best suit your own play style.
In the original game, the day-night cycle was both unique and integral to the game, so it seems only fitting that it is developed further here. Whereas before, you’d flee to a safe house at the first sign of night, Dying Light 2 makes a serious effort to encourage you to stay outside. The chases themselves are now tiered in a similar way to Grand Theft Auto’s car chase levels, so you’ll know better when to escape. The new indoor locations are also easier to explore at night – as the infected will be on the streets at night, not in them. Finally, some missions can only be completed at night.
While I enjoyed the nights of Dying Light, there was little reason to stay too long when the sun went down and the zombies became more aggressive – Dying Light 2 addresses this problem quite well.
Blindfolding and gross bugs
Despite this, there are still some things that Dying Light 2 doesn’t do well. I’ve already detailed how the story is so formulaic, but the dialogue system is even more disappointing. While there are typically a variety of ways to respond during dialogue, there’s no significant difference in the consequences. Typically, difficult decisions rarely branch off too much, and we often get responses that can almost always be reduced to “this is extremely annoying to me, but I understand why you did it!” from our interlocutors, and the story moves on in the expected vein. I get that the development team had their hands tied a bit, what they were trying to achieve here. Still, I find the way the story “branches off in several directions as a result of our decisions” to be blatantly inconsistent and also a sound but meaningless marketing ploy.
The “chrome” engine performs well on PS5
Now it’s time for a few words on graphics and the performance of the in-house developed Chrome Engine, which runs quite well on PS5. The initial load time is the longest, with a wait time of around 30 seconds or more. However, respawn after death only takes a few seconds, and of course, there are no other loading screens, as the game is first-person and open world. There are three graphics options to choose from.
Quality turns on ray tracing and targets some level of 4K resolution with upscaling, although this mode spins through at the lowest frame rate as a result. In this mode, the game looks as good as possible, if not quite phenomenal for a next-generation console. The resolution option drops the ray tracing and always renders at or near 4K resolution at a faster frame rate. This mode shows a little more detail (especially for 4K TVs), but graphics are a notch down in effects.
Finally, Power mode strips back all the fancy texture and lighting tricks to render the game at a much higher frame rate. This results in a more continuous gaming experience, but those playing on 4K devices may lack visuals.
The sound work and music in Dying Light 2 is relatively fair: the eerie rumbles of the undead seldom cease as you run and walk around the city, interspersed with the sounds of distant wildlife, the terrifying but often somehow annoying howls and screams of human victims, and the scuffles of the inhabitants in the safe bases. The game’s music is also relatively atmospheric, although I somehow preferred the first part.
Finally, as for the dubbing: it’s funny that Aiden’s voice actor – just like the main character in the first episode – sounds precisely like Troy Baker, while this time we don’t hear the already busy actor…
The scariest monster: the bug
Unfortunately, I have to mention something else that negatively influenced my rating: the various bugs. These include some relatively acceptable bugs, and some that were left in the game in an outrageous, sloppy way, which should definitely have been weeded out before release. The former category includes various graphical bugs: textures that flash strangely when loading or even in-game, water being drawn in a very sloppy way, and so on. There aren’t terribly many of these bugs, but just enough to mention them.
Much more severe are the primary mission bugs, which almost fall into the game-breaking category. Specifically, the fact that specific missions are not refreshed when they are completed, so the game still lingers as if they never happened. If I don’t find it in myself to reload the game and complete the missions again, I simply don’t progress further because these are core missions. It is still highly annoying to have to redo a mission or kill a boss again because the game is buggy.
Is it “light in the night” or not?
Dying Light 2 is undoubtedly a step up from the equally excellent first instalment in many ways while still being highly enjoyable with plenty of parkour, combat and vast city exploration in this zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately, the end result is not flawless either: the main story is clichéd and rather uninteresting, and the abundance of bugs also detracts from the experience. Nevertheless, if you liked the first part or you like zombie games, Techland’s latest monstrous game is not to be missed.
+ A rich, vast and connected open world
+ Improved parkour with new extras (gliders)
+ Overall fair visuals
– Mediocre main story and uninteresting protagonist
– Graphics and other, more glaring mission bugs
– Poor artificial intelligence
Genres: action-adventure, zombie parkour
Publication: February 4, 2022