At Night, The Monsters Come to Play
HIGH Every time I dove off of a skyscraper and activated my paraglider.
LOW The last boss fight is a s-l-o-g.
WTF I think they accidentally created the same mission twice.
In its own way, Dying Light 2 is coming out at both the best and worst possible time. The story of humans trying to survive during a global pandemic feels very relevant today. Humans doing incredible or diabolical things as they work to help people or consolidate power during a crisis is a universal theme, and one that the world is literally struggling with at the time this review is being written.
Dying Light 2 picks up 20 years after the plot of the first game from 2015. In this sequel, the zombie virus formerly contained to the fictional city of Harran has now escaped, and the whole world has been overrun by the dead.
The player controls Aiden, who works as a Pilgrim – essentially a parkour-themed messenger who carries notes and small objects from one settlement to another. He’s haunted by memories of fleeing from a medical facility where he was put through horrific tests, and also desperate to find Mia, the sister he left behind. His quest takes him to Villedor, a European city which may be the last bastion of civilization anywhere on earth. Once he arrives he’ll have to battling the infected while navigating the shifting politics of the city.
As in the previous installment, first-person parkour is the focus of play here, and it’s magnificent. Unlike Harran, which was mostly made up of sheds, shacks, and a couple of multi-story buildings, Villedor is a notably vertical setting, with most structures in the first area being at least three stories tall, while the newer parts of town are absolutely packed with towers. The developers have also filled the environment with narrow, obstructed streets that force the action to the rooftops, where it belongs in a freerunning game.
The ease of climbing in the city is one of Dying Light 2’s best features. While there are yellow flags scattered around that mark safe traversal routes, the player is under no obligation to follow them – nearly every building has awnings and ledges that can be scaled, provided the player’s stamina has been upgraded enough. As the campaign progresses, tools unlock that make exploring even more satisfying. A paraglider which keeps falls from being fatal and a grappling hook that can cross wide gaps changes the movement flow to such an impressive extent that I found myself never bothering to fast-travel. Why would I ‘teleport’ when dashing, swinging, and gliding is such a pleasure?
In terms of gameplay, Dying Light 2 uses the same structure as its predecessor – missions are built around finding items, killing people, or unlocking facilities, but there’s now a larger focus on traversal-based puzzles. While the first game had a handful of sequences where the player had to climb some absurd structure with death-defying leaps, DL2 is absolutely loaded with them. Beyond the fact that ziplines are still inexplicably difficult to attach to, this is some of the best parkour I’ve ever seen in a videogame, and whenever play focuses on it, the results are stellar.
Along the same lines, Villedor is a truly interesting location to explore, and the day/night cycle does a great job of completely transforming the experience. During daylight zombies hide from the sun, making it a great time to get the lay of the land and to figure out how to climb imposing edifices. At night the zombies come out and look for food, giving players the opportunity to raid their nests while they’re gone.
This lair-raiding in particular is consistently thrilling. While most of the zombies are roaming elsewhere after sunset, there are always plenty of creeps hiding at home base, forcing the player to move quickly and quietly while grabbing what resources they can. It’s always incredibly tense — one wrong move can alert a whole crowd that will tear Aiden apart in just a few seconds.
While these aspects are all solid, the same can’t be said for the melee combat — it’s awkward at best.
Early on, players are introduced to the concept of ‘parkour combat’, in which they can use perfect parries to stagger opponents, and then instead of getting a free hit for critical damage, they can use that enemy as a springboard to drop-kick another enemy. While that might sound cool on paper, in practice all it does is fling the player around the map while robbing them of situational awareness and forcing them to turn their back on a staggered enemy who always starts swinging just as the player is finishing their attack.
Even worse is that human enemies do unblockable power attacks that must be dodged. This wouldn’t be a problem except that power attack animations are supposed to flash red as a warning, but they don’t often look meaningfully different from regular attacks most of the time. It’s also tough to know where to dodge safely when surrounded by five enemies and a limited ability to visually track more than two at a time due to the first-person perspective. On the upside, battling zombies works great, and the boss fights tend to be one-on-one affairs, ensuring they’re at least fair and playable.
The fights may be problematic, but where DL2 excels is in making the player feel like they’re in control of the narrative. The end of the game always offers the same beats but the route Aiden takes to get there and the characters involved along the way can vary widely based on key choices the player makes. They can even control the city’s development in meaningful ways — for example, the map has a number of ‘key structures’ that the player can unlock and assign to a faction. Do they want to empower the people who live in Villedor, or the cops who want to control it?
Not only do these decisions affect the flow of the story, each time the player supports one side or the other, new structures are added to the city streets. Side with the cops, and traps will be scattered everywhere, giving the player an easy way to take down huge numbers of zombies. Side with the civilians, and parkour tools will appear, allowing the player to springboard around to their heart’s content.
Technically speaking, Dying Light 2 was pretty rough at the time of review. While it’s inevitable that a game on this kind of scale is going to have some bugs, I encountered more than a few truly bad ones. Getting stuck in level geometry was a frequent occurrence, as were mission icons suddenly disappearing from the world. Worst, though, was a bug that caused cutscenes to skip all character dialogue – since the game doesn’t offer multiple save files or autosaves, once I’d missed a few lines, they were gone forever. This even happened while I was supposed to be making a pivotal choice, forcing me to make it without any conception of what the outcome might be.
DL2 is also strangely hostile to players who want to play in a more casual fashion. One of my favorite activities in open-world games is to get to the epilogue with a full-power character and then go back to wrap up side missions with over-leveled weapons and abilities. Dying Light 2 goes out of its way to prevent players from doing it this way, though – not only is there no NG+ option, but once the final story mission is complete, the game automatically switches to Nightmare difficulty with no way to go back to Normal. This ruins the save file for anyone who wants the game to be anything other than torture – it’s a bizarre choice, and one that I hope is patched out along with the bugs.
Despite the issues I’ve highlighted, Dying Light 2: Stay Human is an improvement over the original in nearly every way. While there’s plenty to complain about, the world is more interesting, the parkour is fantastic, and the story has more weight — of the two, it’s absolutely the superior game, and the thrill of rocketing through a crumbling city with monsters in hot pursuit is unparalleled in the genre. It’s not perfect, but it’s as good as parkour action gets.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Techland. It is currently available on PC, XBO/S/X and PS4/5. Copies of the game were obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBX. Approximately 60 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completed. No time was spent in the game’s co-op mode.
Parents: This game was rated M by the ESRB, and it contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language and Suggestive Themes. No kids allowed. The game has constant, unimaginably brutal violence that no one under 18 should bear witness to. In addition to that, there’s plenty of swearing, implied and referenced sexual assault, and people getting drunk all the time. No kids, no way.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled, and subtitles can be resized. Enemies approaching from offscreen are marked on the game’s HUD, preventing nasty surprises. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.