Break out the climbing shoes and duct tape — it’s time for parkour and zombies. Right away, as Dying Light 2’s marketing team eventually admitted, you’re not actually going to get 500 hours of actual content. Instead, you’ll get the same amount as in the original (which came in at 20-30 hours), because this is… pretty much the same thing, but with some more stuff added. I have a lot of thoughts about Dying Light 2: most of them are “oh, hey, just like in Dying Light”, while others are more along the lines of “oh no, this is worse than Dying Light.” Somehow, the writing and gameplay manage to be less coherent, the environment feels less varied and the atmosphere is so very bland. You’d think publisher/developer Techland could have dropped one or two hundred hours of “content” to fix the more glaring issues, but no. It’s very much the same thing.
Let’s get the story out of the way, because it’s not good, and none of the events or characters are going to stick in your mind for too long anyway. Following the events of Dying Light, in which a zombie plague was quarantined to the vaguely located city of Harran, the zombie plague becomes a pandemic and humanity is locked down in small, isolated settlements. Yay, escapism! Enter you: Aiden, a generic gravelly voiced dude delivering lines like a non-union Nolan North. Aiden is a “Pilgrim” — the in-world term for folks that walk between the last human settlements — with a dark and gritty backstory that has him searching for his sister, Mia, because the two were lab rats together in flashbacks.
You travel to Villedor, a city somewhere in Europe with a strange and distinct lack of non-English languages and accents (I’ll admit, that’s nitpicky), and get infected with the zombie plague. In Villedor, you’re given the option of siding with two factions, the anarchic Survivors and the authoritarian Peacekeepers. I’ll get to the mechanics of this in a bit, but through all of this you’re also tracking down leads about a mysterious mad scientist who had something to do with Mia’s disappearance. It’s a pretty straightforward story, if a little boring, but it gets more than a little confusing when you consider that this zombie plague can just be stopped by sunlight (I’m no doctor, but I’m skeptical about this).
Straight away, I should clarify: the story being bad doesn’t make the gameplay bad. However, when it’s your only avenue into the gameplay, and content is locked behind your story, you’d better write a story that’s worth my time. Dying Light 2’s story is not. Frankly Techland would have been better served by ditching or curtailing the central story. Techland uses something I hate seeing in video game writing — dropping you me straight in the middle of Aiden’s quest to find Mia leaves me with no investment beyond “quest”. I don’t care about Mia, I’ve never even met Mia. I’m sure she’s nice, but I don’t feel any reason why I should help her above anyone else. You could replace her with a cute cat the mad scientist stole, and the story wouldn’t shift at all. It’s a writing trick that generally comes off as lazy, and signals that there’s nothing interesting about the character beyond the most bland levels. This level of writing extends to most corners of the central questline. You could kill your way through half of a given faction, and the leader will sit there calmly and discuss an alliance, even welcome you in their territory.
The gameplay is fine. I’m never going to entirely hate gameplay that lets me dropkick a zombie off a roof, but I could get that from Dying Light. A sequel needs new features, or at least interesting iterations on previous ones. Dying Light 2 adds a paraglider. It takes a while to get the hang of it, but the paraglider does add a fun dimension. The problem is, it makes night-time zombie chases the easiest thing to handle. You just float gently away, like a leaf on the wind. Techland also added a timer for night time excursions. As mentioned, the progression of the zombie plague can apparently be stalled by UV light (again, not sure how that works), and Aiden is infected. So at night, outside of areas lit with UV lights, you have a limited amount of time before the infection takes you over. This seems like an interesting idea, but instead it feels more like compensation; the night zombies are a little weaker in this game, and they’re a lot easier to evade, especially post-paraglider, so the timer at early levels is just an arbitrary limit on exploration, and in later levels it’s a minor inconvenience at best.
The faction system isn’t a bad idea, hence why most games have it in some form or another these days, and Dying Light 2 does it well enough. Choosing to support the anarchist Survivors yields parkour upgrades, while supporting the Peacekeepers gives you combat upgrades. It’s perfectly fine, except some of these upgrades were available in Dying Light and they’re now gated off behind factions, levels and an interminable story. About half way through the game you’ll have access to the dropkick and the bow and arrow, and combat gets pretty easy after that. Dying Light had the Volatiles (those fast, angry, buff zombies) to provide a bit of a challenge, and while they do make their return in Dying Light 2 they’re mostly relegated to smaller niches and main questline areas. As such, Dying Light 2’s traversal and night combat feels about the same, if not less dangerous, than in the original. The map itself is really split into two distinct maps — Old Villedor and the Central Loop — which are both allegedly bigger than Harran was on their own, but that gives rise to the old Ubisoft paradox: if the same amount of content is stretched out over a bigger map, the map doesn’t feel bigger; it feels emptier.
On a more technical note, another thing that hasn’t changed from Dying Light is that Techland hates keyboards. I don’t know why, but I can’t think of another reason why Dying Light 2 won’t let me rebind keys. I’m not going to pretend to understand the technicalities, but if there’s an option to rebind keys, it should work. In both Dying Light and Dying Light 2, rebinding the crouch key, or even changing the toggle setting for crouch, causes a cascade effect. First, rolling doesn’t work, and then sliding, and all of a sudden anything associated with that key except for crouching stops working. And before anyone hits the comments suggesting that I buy a console controller for it, no. I have a PC, the game is being sold on PC at full price, and there’s no recommendation for a controller. Ergo, I don’t feel like it’s unreasonable to expect the native PC controls to work. In terms of stability, there was only one crash in my whole playthrough, which given recent AAA standards is pretty good (I hope my facetiousness comes across here). The crash did come in the middle of the final boss fight, which is less good. The loot system is a little spotty as well. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally you run into a loot object that, while ostensibly rarer, is statistically inferior. This isn’t the biggest issue, since Dying Light 2 showers you with enough weapons and gear to arm the whole city, but it’s another annoying issue, and when there are this many annoying issues in a game, it’s hard to be too positive about it.
Looking at Dying Light 2, you get the idea that it’s going to be this grand, incredible sequel that builds upon everything that made the original such a runaway success. I just wish it lived up to that.
Dying Light 2 is visually pretty, but doesn’t do enough to justify itself as a sequel and doesn’t stand well alone.
Callum reviewed Dying Light 2 using a retail PC code purchased on Steam.
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