Zombie games over the years used to be a dime a dozen. That being mainly because everyone jumped on the bandwagon, and during that phase everyone made one. Over the years they’ve stuck around, but definitely slowed after early successes saw too many cash grabs. The original Dying Light was an example of a great zombie game, a spiritual successor to the team’s previous Dead Island (another zombie title that came out of nowhere to be a sensation). After several years in development hell and quite a few delays, Dying Light 2 Stay Human is finally here, and zombie killing is still as much of a blast as it was in 2015.
There’s a ton to go over, so let’s get right into it. You start out as Aiden, a Pilgrim (or, outcast survivor), who is roaming the wasteland of Europe looking for his lost sister. There’s not a lot you know at the start, most of your knowledge of your past is given via flashbacks and dreams, and even though I’m a bit miffed it takes so long to get substantial information about why I’m in this world, the game is so massive I’m unsurprised it does. This slow burn continues throughout the first half of the story, and it’s of the utmost importance that you keep wading through the slog.
Why? Well, because Dying Light 2 has a pretty good story underneath it’s early annoyances. I really didn’t care much for Aiden in the beginning, and I didn’t understand half of what was going on- I know Aiden is looking for his sister, but I don’t have much beyond that to go on. His Pilgrim status seems to give him a leg up in the world (my guess is just being a roaming survivor), and people seem to trust him more than they should. Especially given he gets bitten quite early in the introduction, leaving you to inject yourself with inhibitors that keep the virus at bay. For a little bit at least. There’s definitely something behind Aiden’s existence, and if you can weather the drudgery of the initial eight hours you’ll be alright.
Right around the time you run into Lawan is where the story picks up. She is played by Rosario Dawson and is one of the best characters in the story. Her character suffers from an abusive past similar to yours, and the toils of this war between zombies and survivors have definitely caused her plenty of grief. She didn’t start out that way mind you, and was a bit too aloof as we traversed into the second area, but as you keep doing missions involving her she becomes all too vulnerable for reasons that make a lot of sense. She might be the most human character in the game, although Alberto comes really close. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Alberto becomes really near and dear to you really quickly, and his part in the story plucks at your heartstrings.
That’s not to say everyone is well done in the narrative. I don’t know why, but Hakon, who you meet at the beginning of your time in Villedor, is just off to me. There are some story implications to it, but I’m speaking mainly to his character in general. As for the main bad guy you’re after, Waltz, he sounds like a stiff businessman almost every time you encounter him. The voice acting is almost laughable, with him being largely devoid of emotion until the final encounters. Honestly, many of the characters’ portrayals, with the exception of the previously mentioned, seem like cardboard cutouts. Aiden thankfully is done well, and kudos to Jonah Scott, I legitimately thought Troy Baker was voicing him.
The second half of the story is where you really start to see the effects of everything going on, with political turmoil rending the districts in half. You’re going to come upon two different factions, the Peacekeepers, or PKs, and the Survivors. As one would assume, the PKs are more of a military government, ruling by enforcing stricter guidelines, while the Survivors are more of a symbiotic society, with everyone pitching in to help each other. I couldn’t tell you that one is more right than the other, I’m not here to make political statements with my reviews, but corruption exists in both areas. You get to see this first hand being in everyone’s business but also in the decisions you’re forced to make as a third party.
These come through as dialogue options. While most of what you say results in moving the story forward or pieces of lore, you will make choices that will affect not only the people involved, but possibly the entire city. Given many of the questions you’re asked aren’t going to be black and white, you’re going to have to move forward and deal with it, sometimes with a faction being frustrated with you, and other times realizing hours later what your choice has wrought, even if it felt correct in the moment. Even though I don’t always like the “lesser of the two evils” approach it sometimes contains, I really like how Techland went about this, and its influence in the last third of the game leaves me wanting to play again just to see how some of my choices pan out. If you didn’t already know, Dying Light 2 does contain multiple endings, so it’s worth another playthrough or reloaded save.
The other way the factions influence the game is in the side missions. Doing different things obviously gets people to like or dislike you, but, given the world is a wasteland, things like turning on electrical or water plants really matter. They matter even more because you have to decide who gets them, and if you choose one side or the other you’ll have tangible benefits in the world from said faction. For example, because I gave the Survivors water, they put up more zip lines around the city for me to use, where giving electricity to the PKs added mounted guns. Unlocking areas for the PK’s also gave me a few boots on the ground in that vicinity, ensuring I’d get a hand if need be from a bunch of zombies. A lot depends on what you need, but trust me, you’ll be reminded who didn’t get something from your efforts by that faction.
Even though the second half of the game is the strongest for the story, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending. The battles you have with the final antagonist are way too long. In fact, they overstay their welcome for quite some time. I’m not sure if it was done for padding or what, but it should have been about half as long as it was. Besides that, the choices you have to make in the end aren’t very satisfying. I’m probably using this term terribly, but it feels like a catch 22, I can’t move forward for going backward. The ending I got was bleaker admittedly, but some of it felt like it would happen anyway. C’mon people, I would like to see some hope in this world that I just fought so hard to improve.
While the story has plenty of things going on that keep it interesting, the gameplay is engrossing, and that is where Dying Light 2 excels. Let me preface this discussion with two things. One, I didn’t play a lot of the first game, and that was seven years ago, and two, you may have noticed my Skyrim tagline. Sure, that’s become a meme with video game comparisons just as Breath Of The Wild is beginning to take that crown, but I think it’s a very apt juxtaposition. Essentially, I don’t remember much of the first game besides some mechanics, and it reminds me at least in a way of what it’s like playing Skyrim.
I’ve got to back myself up here. One of the reasons Skyrim resonates with so many people is an unfettered freedom to go where you want and do what you want. Dying Light 2 may not exist in the same genre, but it certainly behaves in this manner. From the moment you jump into Dying Light 2 there’s a feeling that anything is possible. If I want to climb that building, I can, if I want to go to this district and just fight zombies, I can. Dying Light 2 may not give you as many tools as Skyrim does, I mean, not many games do, but the liberty to explore is one plenty of games don’t allow. I may be stuck in a specific district for a bit for story reasons in this game, but it doesn’t take away from my freedom to do whatever the heck I want.
Not to mention, the game continues to grow even more massive still. After playing through a story mission that opened up the map exponentially, the buildings got taller to accommodate the glider I’d received, making the game grow vertically as well. The wasteland you traverse in Dying Light 2, whether old buildings, rough hillsides, dark tunnels, or jerry-rigged shelters, also just feels right, immersing you in a universe that’s been destroyed by a zombie apocalypse. It’s tough to put into words exactly what Dying Light 2 does to make the world so enveloping, but Techland has a finger on the pulse of how to pull you into their environments. They somehow have made it where everything feels so dead, yet so alive.
I know that’s kind of a paradox, but it’s definitely interesting when you have games like Fallout where you’re running around a barren space, while Dying Light 2 manages to fill your path with survivors, zombies, and bandits. People often forget, you don’t have to be undead to be a pain, and the bandits in this game certainly fit the bill. It’s not as simple as just avoiding them either, because Techland litters both passive and aggressive characters on ground and roof levels. Sure, you’re going to encounter more baddies running on the street, but it keeps you from feeling safe unless you’re in a safe zone.
When you come upon these foes, the game wants you to… well you know, kill them. This is going to be done in plenty of different ways, and it’s going to be pretty brutal. A huge change from the original Dying Light is that you aren’t going to be picking up guns at all in this game. Makes sense, given fifteen years has passed since the first one, most guns won’t be useful, as well as the loss of manufacturing limiting the availability.
While I’m firmly against the use of degrading weapons as a mechanic, Dying Light 2 at least makes it bearable. Just like the last one, your weapons feature a durability meter, so the more you smack or cut things with your melee arsenal the closer they get to breaking. There’s a lot of good news here though, the better the weapons you find, the longer they last, and you’re going to find plenty of them lying around. I’ve constantly come across table legs, broken shovels, and more, so if anything breaks you’re generally going to have something in reserve to use, even if not as good as the previous one.
Another interesting part of the weaponry is using mods, which add things like an electric shock to your slices. My only qualm with this in a game such as Dying Light 2 is that the second I improve my weapon to where I like it, my weapon is almost broken and ready to hit the trash heap. I just wish there was a way to repair them, even if it was a harder or more expensive way to do so. To me that takes the bite out of the system that it should add. In addition, the clothing/gear system feels like an addition not fully realized. It’s pretty small, and even though I picked plenty of stuff up, I only had a vague understanding of the “ranger, medic, brawler, etc” categorization applied to the items. It’s not fully fleshed out, and while that’s okay I’d rather it just not be there in favor of simple cosmetics. Even if those areas don’t work as well as I’d hoped, scavenging for loot helps you tackle the crafting system, which is simple but extremely useful. Especially given you don’t have to hit up a specific table, making building a molotov at a moment’s notice appreciated.
Where Dying Light 2 really shines, and who is surprised here, is the parkour. Let’s get this straight, it’s not a perfect system. It opens up similar to the story, coming off the line slow before heating up. Before you begin to upgrade it via the skill tree, it’s honestly pretty clunky, as is the combat, but don’t let that trick you. It gets much better as the game progresses. By the time I was about halfway through, I was generally jumping around rooftops with ease, sliding under or fast climbing over obstacles, wall-running on billboards, and generally flying around the map like I was shot out of a cannon.
This applies equally with the combat as mentioned above; once I did some upgrades, I was able to handle more than one or two foes at once. Being able to dodge into a slow-mo counter, or tossing a molotov to give me the time to charge up a big swing of my bat is a mechanic I’ll never get tired of. Oh, and you need to get the dropkick as soon as you can. The regular kick works, but launching a zombie or dude off of a rooftop is extremely satisfying.
Working all of these things together, your weapons, your parkour and combat upgrades, accessories such as DIY grenades and throwing knives, and the final piece of health and stamina upgrades via inhibitors creates one of the most enjoyable gameplay loops you’ll find. When I came upon mission areas, I’d be on the lookout constantly for the best way to approach it, choosing between high ground, stealth attacks, or just launching myself in head first. The exploration is almost a puzzle, but with multiple ways to make things happen. This applies to the missions involving climbing especially, although some buildings are going to require a lot of precise movement to keep you from falling to your death and having to restart.
On the plus side, two pieces of equipment certainly help with ascending and descending, the grappling hook and glider. The glider may be the most immediately useful of the two, with the benefit of catching yourself in the second area if you fall off a building, but it can feel a bit unwieldy. Now, I didn’t go after a better blueprint for it, so I’m sure I could go farther, faster, and more cleanly if I had. But between the two, the grappling hook definitely felt better, even though I got it two thirds into Dying Light 2 during a specific mission. Swinging around like a monkey is a lot of fun, and using it in combat encounters to get an edge on someone is a blast.
One of the things everyone is going to ask is if the game is 500 hours long. Well, I don’t exactly have that kind of time to put into it, but I can say there is plenty to do in Dying Light 2. Besides talking to random people in the hubs for missions, you’ll find plenty of things to do, like encounters outside the city that just all of the sudden pop up. These are usually simple, killing a specific zombie or bandit, or letting a person loose from a cage bandits stuck them in. Besides this there are tons of buildings to explore for loot (some of which are home to specific objectives), and the fast travel is tied to exploring old subway stations and turning the electricity on in them. I’ll be frank, I wish fast travel was introduced a bit quicker, with more points, and that the puzzle-like structure of unlocking them was a little shorter, but overall the system works fine.
With that in mind, you can only do some of these errands at night, when the zombies exit from their daily sleep. Zombies are their nastiest at night without the sun’s UV rays hindering them, and even though they’re a pain in the day time, the night holds much worse. Timing your missions correctly means you won’t have to fight the horde along with bandits, just like going down to clear a dark zone in the subway will be easier at night when they’re gone. Working the day and night cycle is important, and it will make a big difference in your survival.
Continuing my earlier Skyrim comparison, I had plenty of bugs hit as I played Dying Light 2. Thankfully, none of these, save one, cost me a restart. These exist mainly in Bethesda fashion, and you’ll probably laugh at them more than anything. I had a guy levitating in his spot, zombies flailing around that were stuck halfway into the ground, and once had a motionless NPC randomly spawn into my fight with a few bandits before disappearing. The one time I had to restart by killing myself was in the final fight, where the boss jumped to a platform and instead got stuck in what looked like a large propane storage tank. I sat there for a moment, hoping to cheese the fight and shot at him with a few arrows, but after a moment that didn’t work. I wasted a few more useful items like a molotov before jumping into some chemicals, and respawned with everything correct, although I didn’t regain my items. Even though that issue was there, I can’t be too mad, as I twice cheesed Demolishers (big hulk-like zombies), standing above them and wacking away while they just stood there, not knowing how to fight this magic man in a spot they couldn’t reach.
Those issues aside, my time in the world was largely clean. The performance of Dying Light 2, at least where PC and current gen consoles are considered, is impeccable. The world loads in relatively quickly (like, almost no hiding it through the old dev tricks of pushing through a narrow space), and the environments look great. For being a game developed for past consoles (PS4 and Xbox One), there isn’t a lot holding it back, with some tremendous scenery and impressive character models. I played in performance mode, and there were only a few times I noticed the frame rate dropping, and usually when a lot was happening on screen or I was gliding past a lot of buildings where details were catching up. When parkour and precision are key parts of your game, smooth performance is important, and Dying Light 2 handles that wonderfully.
BONUS: Co-op preview
As an additional part of our coverage, Techland arranged for us to play the co-op for Dying Light 2 a little bit early. Thankfully, you won’t have to wait very long, as it’s going to be a part of the day one patch. We got the chance to play along with some of the developers, and the results were honestly quite impressive. To start off, you are going to need to jump into the game and run through the first hour or two in order to unlock the ability to play co-op. Unfortunately, this means if your buddy Jimmy picks up Dying Light 2 and runs home in order to play some co-op before he goes to bed, he might have to wait until tomorrow. The other thing to remember is that enemies are going to scale in difficulty the more players are in the game (up to four total), so it’s best that Jimmy learns how to play anyway.
Once you’re in, here are the ground rules. The host is the only one who’s going to get story progress, and that’s fair. That doesn’t mean if you joined though that you’re missing out on much. You’ll bring your gear, upgrades, and level over, and everything you pick up during your session, be it any of those things, will follow you back home to your version of Villedor. This even extends to the smaller side things, just because you climbed and powered up a windmill doesn’t mean the one in your instance will, and so on and so forth. It’s honestly the best of systems, and even though you may have already played through things, or you’re behind, recent games like Far Cry have proven this is a better mechanic to use.
Where this co-op is absolutely fantastic is the functionality and performance. I was very worried that this was going to crash my game out the gate. But not only did it work pretty flawlessly, the frame rates held steadily and everything performed about as well as it did in single player. There are the obvious things you run into with the “how the sausage is made”, like the artifacts left over of the rope when someone went down a lift line and other clipping issues, but it all works extremely well.
Even better is that you’ll be able to play the entire game besides the opening prologue with your friends, including the epilogue. This functions really well, with the host making the important decisions like skipping cutscenes. Something I really liked was the ability for co-op players to vote on dialogue choices. This didn’t matter a lot in our playthrough, where options only generally led to moving forward or some backstory, but being in those moments in the narrative where a choice will change the entire course of your playthrough will be interesting. That being said, the host has all the power, and makes the final say.
A few other things I want to mention before I go back to playing Dying Light 2 revolve around how wonderfully the co-op flows. In the end, it’s just the regular game, but fully open to four people running around, and that’s amazing. It’s so open that you don’t have to stick around with your friends, you are free to roam Villedor and get into trouble. If you die, you’re admittedly going to spawn closer to them, but you can still run around at your pleasure. One way the game has been built to keep things from messing up in the meantime is that your entire party must be in proximity of the mission objective in order to launch it. It’s a smart move in my opinion, as that way my friends aren’t off looking for more scraps as I accidentally start a mission fighting a Demolisher. On that note though, I love the system in place to help you if a teammate gets a bit of open world ADHD. If your party is in the vicinity of said objective or a safe house, you will get the option of fast traveling to them. It’s quick, it’s seamless, and it’s a fantastic piece of design work. Great job Techland.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human
Dying Light 2 Stay Human may begin like the shuffling corpses you run into during the day, but evolves into the ferocious horde you encounter in the shadows of night. With an engaging gameplay loop of parkour and combat, the exploration of Villedor is something you’ll enjoy for hours on end, and with up to three friends at that. Yeah, it may take a little bit to get hooked, but once you’re infected, it’ll be all you can do to stay human.
- Captivating parkour
- Puzzle-like level design
- Limitless exploration in a massive, living world
- Co-op feels pretty seamless
- Strong second half of the story…
- …But the first half can be a drag
- Subpar voice acting, especially Waltz