Dying Light 2: Stay Human had been plagued by delays, and reports of a tumultuous development cycle had only exacerbated the situation. It was supposed to arrive in 2020, but that deadline had long passed. While it has a somewhat contentious history, the final product must be judged on its own merits, and this is where we see how Techland’s most ambitious project has fared thus far.
Dying Light 2 promises a massive open world, a dynamic parkour system with a first-person camera, and a story that is influenced by our choices. To be honest, it manages to cover almost all of these bases, but does the execution shine or fall short? The game’s first impressions are generally positive, with an incredibly versatile parkour system and a rewarding combat system that relies on timing with dodges and parries. As we spend more time with the game, its flaws become clear.
The sequel’s story picks up after the events of the first game. The Harran Virus may have been stopped, but it was not eliminated. While a vaccine ended the pandemic that swept the unfortunate city, Global Relief Effort (GRE) developed a mutated version of the virus in secret, and just like the beginning of modern horror, this mutated virus escapes a lab and starts a second pandemic. This second one is even worse than the first, threatening humanity’s extinction in a series of events known as “The Fall.”
The opening movie is quite informative, as it details the background and explains what happened after “The Fall” began. The game is set fifteen years after “The Fall,” and the player assumes the role of Aiden, a protagonist whose job it is to act as a pilgrim, a sort of messenger between the various settlements around the world. They are the only ones capable of navigating the perilous landscapes teeming with mutating zombies and other dangerous creatures. Aiden is looking for his sister, Mia, who has been missing since he escaped from a science lab. The story moves through various settlements on its way to the European city of Villedor, which remains the only city on Earth to exist in its entirety.
Dying Light 2 shines when you’re free to explore its sandbox world. It takes some time to fully introduce the players to the scope of the gameplay. Some gameplay mechanics are still restricted until you progress further in the story, and new things are constantly introduced into the game, making it a lengthy journey. It is possible to lose interest at first, but if you stick with the game, it is often a lot of fun.
Tutorials teach the player the fundamentals of combat and parkour at the beginning. The story moves at a glacial pace, with a mix of flashbacks in which Aiden tries to remember what happened to his sister and present-day events in which he tries to find the scientist who he blames for his sister’s disappearance. While the game has been chastised for being too long as a result of a viral social media post, it has a reasonable length that never outstays its welcome. But perhaps the most significant issue is the pacing, which is slower at first, but once the full playground and movements are unlocked, it is one of the most enjoyable open-world sandbox games I have ever played.
The combat is skill-based, with parries and dodges taking centre stage. It’s entertaining if you can master the parry move, which allows you to vault over enemies and kick another one from a rooftop or hard enough to stun them. It is possibly the focal point of this combat system in which weapons have a durability metre and can easily fail. Their durability can be improved with mods, but since the game is constantly distributing new weapons, it doesn’t matter.
There is a good skill upgrade system that is rewarding. It is yet another area of the game in which progress is slow. It takes time to unlock skills, but each unlocks can feel rewarding and well-earned rather than just another point to spend. Weapons have unique properties that throw a risk vs. reward dynamic into play. The majority of the combat may take place with zombies, which can range from normal to brutes capable of pounding the ground. Some zombies have unique abilities, such as howlers, which summon other zombies to the player’s location. Other enemies in the game are faction members who provide the most interesting methods of killing them.
One of Dying Light 2’s intriguing dynamics is that its world feels alive. The daytime is mostly free for those who enjoy parkour because the zombies stay inside the building, but at night, the difficulty of the world increases as more agile and dangerous zombies emerge from the building. This interesting dynamic helps to keep the gameplay fresh and encourages the player to try new strategies. It also gives us a sense of freedom because our choices have an impact on the difficulty of the game.
Throughout the story, the player has the option of supporting one of two opposing factions. The outcome of events varies depending on their choice, adding to the replay value. These choices also affect the world, with some giving players a better chance of survival and others assisting them in traversing the world. The world can adapt to the player’s choices, and the same is true for the story, allowing you to play the game multiple times and have a unique experience each time.
However, not everything is as rosy. As I spent more time playing the game, I ran into some quite distracting bugs. I was unable to progress in a quest at one point because the NPC was nowhere to be found. I also noticed that some of the NPCs had jerky animations, and some of the gameplay feels janky at times. It is not a perfect game by any means, even though it is technically quite beautiful, with the ability to play at 30 and 60 frames per second. I stuck with 30 frames per second because I preferred to have the ray-tracing enabled for shadows, which does improve immersion. I believe a replay would be better with the 60 FPS option.
The story, on the other hand, is the game’s biggest letdown. The writing isn’t all that terrible, and it hovers somewhere between good and bad. It’s adequate for a game that thrives on the zombie apocalypse, but it could have been better if the characters were fleshed out a little more. This is especially true for the main protagonist, who often feels like a soulless husk, which is unfortunate. For me, the ending was also a huge letdown, but this is entirely subjective.