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Dying Light 2 Brings Back The Fun In Open-World Zombie Apocalypse Titles
Platform(s): Xbox Series (version reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
Genre: First-Person Action-Adventure Parkour Combat Title Set In Zombie Apocalypse
You have to hand it to a company like Techland, the Polish game developer known for sticking around the industry for a good amount of time since 1999. The company got their calling with large-scale games like Call of Juarez and Dead Island; first-person titles in different settings that are sort of grounded to reality; each game’s hook is having you in the forefront of the action, head-bobbing immersion and all.
The first Dying Light is exactly that, but takes the post-apocalyptic zombie premise and turn it into a game focused on movement and awesome parkour skills. The sequel? It definitely adds a lot more in terms of content, jump-time, and playtime, to the point where Techland’s PR was bragging about it at one point. But is it worth your investment and attention?
Well, we are in a different time where open-world action games in zombie-filled settings are less in quantity than usual. That means part 2 has this going for it.
Dying Light 2 pits you as a Pilgrim named Aiden, whose lifetime revolves around doing dangerous missions involving loads of travelling, on-foot racing and climbing, and zombie-killing with acrobatics and melee weapons. He’s also on a personal quest to find out more about his past and to search for his sister Mia. Turns out, the place that’s in your general direction is The City which is rife with its own politics between the Survivors and the Peacekeepers.
The former are just regular folks trying to get by in Old Villedor by any means necessary, while the latter are the City’s self-imposed police who are maintaining order and trying to protect everyone from outside threats. Narrative-wise, your choices in the game’s story missions do affect the state of The City when you complete the game, which should take you about 30 hours or so depending on how many things distract you.
And there’s a ton to do and explore! Dying Light 2’s city is not incredibly huge, but it’s packed and has a very distinct identity from most open-world titles. You can tell which section of The City you’re at with just a quick glance: the run-down yet rustic villas of Old Villedor, with its gardens intact, is laid out and built completely different than the incredibly tall skyscrapers and multi-layered concrete jungle of the Central Loop. Within the post-apocalyptic setting and colour choices, there lies a world that used to exist before the zombie epidemic got worst. Coupled with many side quests, audio log collectables, and story bits that flesh out The City’s history and its power struggle, you have a pretty fleshed-out albeit bleak place you can get invested in.
Traversal within and in-between the areas require different approaches, and Dying Light 2 gives you ample tools to do so especially if you’re looking for loot to power Aiden up. At the start, you’ll level up to get more skills that increase your stamina for climbing and parkour purposes, ranging from higher jumps to the ability to scale ledges faster than usual. Midway through, you’ll get a paraglider that lets you descend to higher areas from above. You even get a grappling hook later in the game to help you climb up large interiors.Â And depending on which faction you help more (via power plant electricity distribution), you also get more options to populate the city with equipment and traps to deter the undead as well as bolster your parkour lifestyle.
For example, distributing more power to The Survivors will have more hard-to-reach places equipped with rappels that launch you upward and landing bags that cushion your fall from high-rise spots.
Giving more power to the Peacekeepers let you use car traps for crowd control purposes and UV traps to stop hordes of Runners coming at you. These choices don’t affect the story much, but they do help complement your playstyle as how you see fit, as well as make your zombie-laden journey a bit bearable.
You’ll need a number of these additions, as most of the fighting and running in Dying Light 2 can get really tough on regular difficulty. Aiden can’t really take a punch or swipe that well, even with his health bolstered, so you need to rely on his guile to get through. You can make Aiden jump, climb, wall-run, monkey bar swing, and slide out of trouble, as well as perform a few melee light and power moves, block, parry, and even stealth kill enemies slow or quick (with the obligatory knife takedown on another target nearby).
This is provided you unlock the right skills on his Combat and Parkour skill tree. It’s not that complicated to understand: you collect Inhibitors that help bolster either your Health and Stamina. The more of either you get, the more options are unlocked for one or the other to distribute skill points onto. If you want Aiden to have more combat skills, level up his Health so he can do parry blocks (that stun attackers), have more heft & impact in his drop kick, and shoot better with a bow. If you want Aiden to parkour better, level up his Stamina instead. Personally, I distributed more points to Parkour than to Health, though I made sure he gets more Combat points in his dropkick potential. Your playstyle may very, but I had a more enjoyable time being a “flight than fight” kinda player. True, there will be many boss fights and enemy wave sections, but my bob-and-weaving and hit-and-run tech works well to my favour.
Controls-wise, movement takes some time to get used to, especially if it’s your first time playing a full first-person action game where parkour takes up 70% of the time. The other 30% revolves around you swinging your melee and figuring out the depth perception ratio so that your swings don’t miss. Don’t worry too much about that; when you get better gear and some cash via exploration and scavenging, you can craft and mod most of your weapons so that they magically have longer hitboxes and even have Poison/Fire/Freeze effects.
Yeah, there’s a crafting system in Dying Light 2 but it’s simple as “attach a buttload of weapon buffs and status effects onto your melee weapon” or “craft healing items and explosions” using materials scattered all over the city. You’ll need to do a lot of this and buy mod recipes from the game’s craftsmaster so that you’re well-equipped. Like I said, the enemies and the undead hit really hard, with the latter “faction” featuring an enemy type that’s super-fast and can two-hit kill you if you’re not careful. There’s even a Howler undead that calls upon Runner zombies to chase you if not dealt with, and these suckers also hit hard and can hit-stun Aiden.
And really, that’s the fun of Dying Light 2: exploring while avoiding and dealing with the many dangers in The City.Â Truth be told, I will never get sick of doing dropkicks onto unsuspecting bandits and packs of zombies -small and really big- just to see how far they’ll fly off a building ledge. Or even outrunning a horde of runners and see how long I can last in a maxed-out chase before IÂ get overwhelmed. Or just take a break from doing the story to just explore a Dark Zone at night for purple-tiered loot and treasures to deck out Aiden. When Dying Light 2 lets you faff about to explore both Old Villedor and the Central Loop whether it’s nighttime or day, you’ll get immersed for a long while.
The main story quests aren’t filled with duds either. Short of a terrible stealth segment in the last third of the game, most of the quests and action beats are solid and well-paced. The experience is exponentially enhanced by Olivier Deriviere’s score where he channels a lot of late 70s and 80s zombie film synth scores but adds his own flair into it.
You will also be presented with a bunch of story choices that affect how the city will end up. Without spoiling much, there’s a power struggle between two factions and it escalates from there, as well as gets complicated to the point where there are no real black or white choices here. It’s pretty engrossing, though it takes a while for the whole setup to take fruition; 4 hours or more give or take. Having said that, there are a few plot threads that aren’t resolved completely right at the tail end, though the main plot is wrapped up just fine.
Fair warning though: there is no option to jump to different chapters of the game to see different outcomes all the way to the end. If you want to unlock how the game and story bits unfold in a different manner, you will need to spend another 20+ hours going through the rigamarole; there’s also no New Game+ type option. And this being a Techland game that happens to be an open-world title, there are a number of bugs both minor and major during my pre-release playthrough of this title. Hopefully, the game’s Day 1 patch (and subsequent ones) can iron out some issues, but just be prepared to see a lot of unintentional clipping with NPCs, some audio issues that require a restart, and the occasional “story prompt that doesn’t work” unless you reload the last checkpoint.
Despite these technical issues, my time in The City as a Pilgrim is just really fun and in-depth.Â You’ll have an engrossing time staying human and sorting out whether you love the Survivors or rather let the law win. 2022 is looking bright if ambitious games like Dying Light 2, a title that goes back to the tried-but-tired zombie world trope, can reignite your love for narrative-packed and action-laced open-world games all over again.
Review copy provided by Techland.
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