Review – Dying Light 2 Stay Human
When it was first released back in 2014, the original Dying Light was a breath of fresh air for the survival horror genre, with some exciting new ideas that made for a unique and epic open world zombie slasher, combining Mirror’s Edge parkour with a Far Cry-esque open world to explore. It ended up becoming one of my favourite games of the now previous generation of consoles, despite having some rough issues that brought it down a notch. After a long development time, with plenty of anticipation, delays, drama and admitted concerns, Dying Light 2 is finally upon us. Now it’s time to see if it lived up to its gigantic expectations or if it failed to stick the landing.
Set over twenty years after the Harran Virus outbreak, the city bearing the same name has been destroyed. An organization called the Global Relief Effort has been experimenting on the virus for military purposes. This leads to a series of events resulting in the collapse of society. The last remnants of humanity are scattered in small numbers, but most survive in the city of Villedor, located somewhere in Europe.
You play as Aiden, a pilgrim who journeys to the last human city to look for his long lost sister, Mia, who disappeared after the initial outbreak. After arriving in Villedor, Aiden discovers that the city is divided between the peacekeepers who govern it with an iron fist, and the survivors who are just trying to get on with life by any means necessary. A war is brewing, and Aiden’s actions can determine who will eventually control the city.
Along the way, Aiden will meet a host of characters that are infinitely more enjoyable than his utterly boring self. Both the peacekeepers and bazaarian factions feature great characters that make siding with one over the other that little bit trickier. Then we’ve got Rosario Dawson’s character in Lawan, whose motivations and developments made me wonder if she should have been the main character instead. The main plot of Aiden finding his sister just isn’t much fun at all. There are some interesting moments and twists, sure, but it just didn’t do much for me. I actually wanted to avoid the main story for as long as possible.
Much more interesting, and where a lot of the game’s focus goes into, is the subplot within the city. When Aiden arrives into the old town district of Villedor, tensions are high between the bazaarians and the peacekeepers after one of their commanders is assassinated. As the newcomer to the city, you can pick sides, giving control of its resources to one or the other, whoever you decide will benefit you best. Whilst not a fantastic story in its own right, it is certainly the more interesting aspect of the game.
A lot of Dying Light 2‘s marketing centered around how decisions impact the story and world around you. So how does that live up? Well, it’s complicated, but the decisions are definitely there. Aiden’s personal story is very much set in stone, with the exception of a few choices that can hugely impact the ending. Instead, choices will change the look, as well as sometimes the feel of the world around you, depending on who you side with. It’s interesting to see that unfold, and despite this not being as impactful as initially promised, it is still somewhat tangible, also resulting in you wanting to play the game multiple times in order to witness different outcomes.
One of the original game’s biggest selling points was its Mirror’s Edge-inspired movement thrown into an open, zombie infested setting. Dying Light 2 improves on that in just about every single way. It has a much bigger, and more importantly, denser open world, with tons of rooftops, routes, and city streets to parkour around. With society being relegated to rooftops in order to avoid the infected threat below, it means they’ve had to adapt the city with makeshift structures, ziplines, and ladders to make their own traversal easier. There’s something to do on just about every corner. It’s a gloriously unique world that is a total blast to explore, with plenty of interiors and secrets to discover.
Much of my first ten or so hours into the game were spent exploring its initial area, as well as completing side quests. It wasn’t until about twenty-five hours into it that I reached the central city. This is where the high-rise buildings and the larger scope of Dying Light 2 really shines, with even more parkouring opportunities, as well as new gadgets like the new paraglider and the improved grappling hook. One of my favorite open world settings in years.
The overall movement is a total breeze, with Aiden being a lot more nimble than his predecessor, with tons more abilities to help you move around the city. There is a slight adjustment curve, as the movement feels floatier than before, but I eventually got used to it. There’s also a new stamina system that puts a limit on just how high Aiden can climb. This will initially have a huge impact on gameplay as Aiden will struggle to climb up as much as billboards, but finding inhibitors scattered around the world allows you to permanently upgrade your stamina and health meters. Out of everything in the game, it’s the movement that will keep me coming back to it. The act of simply running around the city is borderline addictive.
Combat has also been improved over the predecessor as well, but to a much lesser extent. At some point during an incident within the city, guns became outlawed. This left the survivors to fashion together and upgrade melee weapons with some (occasionally silly) modifications. It’s an improvement over the original’s gameplay, with a few more moves and refinement. Human enemies are lacking in variety, however, boiling down simply to heavy and standard varieties, which require much of the same strategies. They are fine to fight, but uninspired. They don’t even use some of the creative custom weapons that you will be crafting throughout your journey.
The infected, however, are much more interesting, with a bunch of special varieties that have their own unique talents. Their issues mostly boil down to mediocre AI that just can’t keep up to you. Now that I think of it, however, the dumb AI is not only applied to zombies, but humans as well. As such, I’d actually recommend cranking up the difficulty to hard. It won’t be that much of a challenge, to be honest.
Dying Light 2 takes its predecessor’s day and night cycle and pushes it to the next level. As the story explains, the infection is weak to UV light. As a result, during the day, the infected mostly hibernate inside buildings, making way for the survivors to perform daily activities. The zombies that don’t retreat indoors shamble around outside and don’t provide much of a threat. This is when the last remains of humanity strive, as enemy factions rule the streets. Nighttime is when the monsters come out of hibernation in larger numbers. Zombies are able to climb, jump, and hit harder, chasing Aiden across rooftops if alerted. As the chase drags on, the dreaded volatiles will eventually join it. Nighttime is a total blast, changing the overall tone of the game in a great way.
Not only does this make exploration at night more dangerous, but it opens up tons of new opportunities as well. As zombies pour out onto the streets, buildings become a much safer place to explore. Within these buildings, you will find tons of loot, resources, and most importantly, inhibitors. These zones still have zombies roaming or resting throughout them, and you can either power your way through or turn the game into a highly tense stealth section. Eventually, as you get more powerful and have more resources, you won’t need to worry too much about playing stealthily.
As the subtitle suggests, staying human is a vital part of this game. UV light becomes a safe haven, as when night falls, the only safety is within these safe havens. Do you reach your objective as quickly as possible, saving your precious resources, or do you risk these resources to hopefully find better gear? It’s this day and night cycle and how it changes the world and how you interact with it that makes Dying Light really stand out above the rest. However, during the later game you won’t need to worry about these issues too much as you will likely have much more time and resources to counter them.
It’s also worth noting that I’ve encountered a good number of bugs in my playthrough, but nothing was a complete dealbreaker. I’ve had enemies randomly disappear whilst fighting them and I’ve fallen through the floor a couple of times (though I was in a position where I could break back out). During co-op, which supports up to four players and allows you to progress your character level and loot (but not your save), I’ve encountered a host of other issues, namely with janky animations. I do have to point out, however, that patches have been released already, fixing some, but not all, of these issues.
The city of Villedor is beautifully rendered. It’s a post-apocalyptic cityscape, reclaimed by nature, with humanity slowly rebuilding on the rooftops away from the zombie infested flooring. It’s a brightly coloured and unique look that works amazingly well. You will quickly notice that each region has its own unique look and feel. To top things off, you’ve got the great gore system from the original game making its triumphal return, as well as over-the-top ragdoll physics that just work together for some amazingly chaotic moments. That said, it’s not quite the next-gen experience you would expect from a 2022 game, with some seriously rough edges, especially around the outskirts of the city.
Much like the graphics, most of the sound design is actually really good. Where it really excels is in the phenomenal soundtrack by composer Olivier Deriviere, the same behind the Plague Tale soundtrack, with some truly unique sounds that dynamically change throughout the game. With that being said, the voice acting does stumble. Sure, characters like David Belle’s (District 13) Hakon and Rosario Dawson’s Lawan provide some of the game’s highlights, but most of the other characters just fall flat, with some being outright laughable, most notably sidequest NPCs.
Dying Light 2 isn’t a massive reinvention of the original game, but honestly, it didn’t even need to be. It successfully manages to improve on the core aspects that made its predecessor so appealing, adding more content, set pieces, and improving on its presentation, whilst delivering that same thrilling feeling that captivated us all those years ago. The story may fall flat at times, but the fun of free running around the open world of Villedor will still keep me busy for many hours to come.
The city of Villedor is one of the most beautiful and uniquely designed open worlds in a while. Just with quite a few rough edges.
Dying Light 2 improves upon the original in many ways, namely in its phenomenal movement and world design.
Solid sound all around, but with some rough voice acting, especially from side quests characters.
Dying Light 2 was well worth the wait, with a stunning open world and some of the best movement seen in a first-person game. Though, admittedly, the story falls flat at times.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Dying Light 2 is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Switch (Cloud version).
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM.
A copy of Dying Light 2 was provided by the publisher.