Developer Techland first tried their hand in the open-world zombie melee genre with Dead Island back in 2011. Four years later they followed it up with a far more polished and mature take with Dying Light. After seven long years, they have finally released its sequel. I think the best way to describe it is “better”. Set 20 in-game years after the original, it improves in every single area possible over their previous efforts. The movement and combat have never felt better. The writing, voice acting, and story are a bit more hit or miss but even there things are much improved over the original. This is a game full of choices that (seem to?) matter, so let us find out if you should choose to give this one a shot.
Your Move Pilgrim
You begin your journey out in the wilderness as Aiden who is a Pilgrim. They brave the infected infested wilds bringing deliveries/information/supplies for a (normally short) career. The tutorial for this game is lengthy and comprehensive. Cooperative play was not enabled during the review period, so I’m not sure exactly when it opens up, but once you make it to the game’s main location the tutorials were still popping up for me almost 25 hours in. This is a big game, though you can choose to mainline the story if you prefer and complete things more quickly.
It’s a big, messy plot with convoluted twists, loose ends that were never resolved, motivations that were never explained or made no sense, and some incredible highs. Even with seven years since the original this game still feels like it has a lot of elements that were left unfinished story-wise. I’ve had the end-credits roll yet over half the game’s story threads still feel unresolved to me, and I do not understand the main protagonist’s motivations for his actions fully. The main characters are generally well written and accompanied by solid voice acting. Your character, Aiden, is by far the best in the game and only matched at times by the character Rosario Dawson voices (and provides the likeness for). This is a damned good thing because Aiden talks a lot, he’s quite the chatterbox but his voice actor was so fantastic that I never minded it for a second.
Saying much more about the plot would ruin some early reveals so just know that the main character’s motivations are nice and clear, and I felt that the choices I had to make throughout the campaign seemed to really matter. I’ll need to see what other players chose and how things turned out differently, but I came away satisfied with the ending I got even if it was odd being dumped back in the game world to finish off side content and having every main character in the game just stand around like a mannequin with nothing to say seemingly forever. Dying Light 2’s story may have some major issues but its gameplay certainly does not.
Urban free-running is the heart of this franchise and thankfully unlike the first entry, you start out already rather capable. There is a leveling system for both Parkour and Combat, but they add to an already great feeling system instead of slowly building it into one. Both work on an experience system and are tied to your overall Health and Stamina upgrades (which come in the form of story context-sensitive consumables). Everything you do contributes to these meters in some small way and the constant dopamine hit of numbers going up never gets old. There is also a much slower overall level system which is tied into how difficult each area of the map will be and what strength weaponry and gear you can find or buy from the various vendors around the city. As you progress through the main story you’ll unlock various tools which assist in your movement, while also keeping things fresh as running from rooftop to rooftop always feels good but can get a bit old when you’ve done the same path 100 times in a few hours.
‘Jump’ is on the right bumper, which took some getting used to, but after a few hours, it felt natural. Combat will be familiar to anyone who played the first game, though much like with the movement you are far more capable from the start. Everything difficult that you do ends up being dictated by a typical stamina meter. Running, climbing ladders, and jumping are not, which helps as you are rarely forced to slow down. Climbing up walls, hanging on ledges, and swinging quickly drains the meter and certain parts of the map are inaccessible until you’ve upgraded it enough. The movement flows together magnificently and the upgrades which unlock things like wall running add spice at the right times as well. Overall it’s one of the best feeling first-person games I’ve ever played.
Combat-wise, there is a heavy emphasis on parrying (by blocking right as the attack is coming at you) and dodging then following up with counter-attacks. Weapon variety isn’t really much of a thing. There are blunt one and two-handers and bladed one or two-handers along with bows for ranged attacks. Durability is still a thing, and attaching mods can restore a chunk of it, but in the end, everything you find or buy will eventually break. You get so many drops that I didn’t mind it much, but some way of repairing on the fly even if it was costly would have been appreciated (unless I somehow missed it). Your armor is tied to a light class system and features items suited for Medics, Tanks, Brawlers, and Rangers. There are no set bonuses, the system simply determines which stats your gear will feature depending on the role. I barely paid attention to it in the end and just went with the highest quality piece the majority of the time.
The default difficulty here feels far easier than the original title, thanks in large part to just how much more capable your character is. To offset this there are incredibly hard areas of the game littered throughout the map which require you to visit them at night. Nighttime itself is far less scary, with the volatiles that terrorized me in the first game only seeming to exist near the end of the campaign or when I set off a chase by getting too close to a howler. Those of course are part of the decent-sized menagerie of special infected, as their name would suggest they yell like a maniac and get seemingly half the planet to start running after Aiden until you can get far enough away or into a safe house as you bathe in its UV lamp goodness.
Resource Management Simulator
In this post-apocalyptic world of everyone is infected there is a constant worry of the disease progressing when you’re not in the sun or under a UV lamp. To keep an eye on this everyone wears a biomarker that keeps track of your infection and lets you know how close you are to turning. For large parts of this game you’ll either be out at night or indoors where the sun can’t reach and to start that timer for turning is very short. I had what felt like a little over half of the health and stamina upgrades which each add a bit more time to this on every use and I went from roughly 2 or so minutes to over 9 minutes on my “turn into a zombie” timer by the end of my 31-hour playthrough. There are a large number of consumables that refill this meter as well, so what was quite a nuisance at the beginning ended up being something easy to manage not long in.
The main dynamic of this world is the push between the two factions you’ll be working alongside. Through your choices, you’ll determine who takes over what parts of the city as you progress, and this is where those choices I mentioned matter quite a bit. I remember an early pitch for the game mentioned how one area of the city would become flooded if you made a certain choice and therefore be inaccessible. I didn’t see anything like that it felt a lot more cookie-cutter in nature and less bespoke.
There are various utility stations for water or electricity that you can traverse to turn back on. Once you get them up and running you are then asked which faction to assign them to. Each has its own linear path of unlocks to help you out, but story-wise I don’t think it made much of a difference. The main story-changing decisions happened only during main story missions themselves, and these other choices were made in the open world and only locked behind a stamina requirement. It feels like an area where scope creep could have come into play and their original vision had to be toned down quite a bit, but it works well overall.
Highs and Lows
The writing and story are as previously stated heavily flawed but contain some real emotional highs. A lot of this comes down to the incredibly unbalanced voice acting. Jonah Scott’s work as the protagonist Aiden is fantastic and I hope he becomes a mainstay if the series continues. The humanity and humor he’s able to bring to lines that should sound cheesy saves what would have otherwise been a completely forgettable character. The only other performance of note is that aforementioned Rosario Dawson. She pours a lot into her character and her interactions with Aiden were the highlight of the story to me. The majority of other characters, main and side alike, are very mid-2000s sounding. Truly awful accents, over the top “bad guy snarls” or “crazy murder yells” during combat. It would fit well in a Z-tier Eurojank action film, and it contrasts terribly when compared to the main character. You can skip every single voice line at the press of the B button, which I found myself doing often after reading the lines through the subtitles.
One of my favorite parts of this game though is the soundtrack. There is some licensed music on hand but I’m talking about the background music. If the voice acting is a C overall the music is an A. There is a track that crops up when things are at their most hectic and epic that has been stuck in my head for days. Overall the OST added a level of quality to everything that elevated the emotional story beats significantly for me.
Graphically things stack up quite nicely as well. There are three modes on offer here which feels almost standard in this cross-gen period. Resolution mode aims to keep up the native resolution while offering 30 frames per second. Quality adds in ray-traced lighting and relies on a dynamic resolution while offering that same 30 FPS. Performance mode is where I spent 99.9% of my playthrough though as it offers up a much cleaner looking 60fps experience, and for those lucky enough to have a variable refresh-rate capable display the framerate is unlocked offering counts that felt far above that 60 in practice. The quality and visual modes look draped in vaseline in comparison and felt far more sluggish gameplay-wise as well. It’s not a technical powerhouse, but the scope of the city is large enough that the graphics get the job done.
I did run in to quite a few bugs, mostly associated with movement or sound. Far too often I found myself stuck floating an inch above the ground and only repeated presses of the jump and dodge buttons would dislodge me. The other main bug to hit was a sound one where the game would still play fine but all audio would be gone except for an incredibly loud buzzing which persisted until the game was turned off. Quick resume seemed to work fine on my Series X, but as online was unavailable during review I have little hope that this will be the case once the game is looking to be in an “always online” state for co-op play.
Dying Light 2 is a messy, brilliant game. For all my issues with it, there is no denying just how fun it is to play. Some of the best movement in a first-person title is matched by solid combat and choices that helped me shape the narrative how I wanted. It doesn’t always hit, but boy, when it does it hits hard. Literally and figuratively, for as many times as I picked myself up after taking a beating, I had to pick up my jaw up off the ground after an incredible set-piece. Alone or with friends I’m not sure there will be a more fun time to have, at least gameplay-wise, this year.
|Played on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Playstation 4 & 5, Windows PC|
|Release Date||February 4th, 2022|
|Rated||M for Mature|