Dying Light 2 is an ugly game. The story takes place roughly 15 years after Techland’s parkour-powered 2015 open-world original, set in a world completely ravaged by a viral outbreak that began in Harlan, where a rusty iron pipe was used Disputes were settled, and the few medieval settlements where people hid to block a breakthrough was far beyond hope (and in many ways a terribly prescient thing).
With streets lined with crumbling concrete, patrolled by traitors in hockey masks and spiked leather jackets, and gruff survivors with wardrobes that appear to be entirely from Wickes, Dying Light 2 has an aesthetic straight from second-tier Xbox 360 games. It’s focused on innovation, but Dying Light 2 has the scope and breadth of a modern AAA-level, system that goes with the flow and bulky. It looks and feels like the most ambitious Xbox 360 game ever made, and I’m pretty sure I mean high praise.
Seven years after the original game’s release, and now with a new and often outrageous scope, it’s a modern blockbuster in many ways, including a bulging system distilled from the AAA success of recent years, Like so many other games, modern blockbusters have been mired in turbulent developments, high-profile departures and poor management reports. It’s a broad and brutal thing, rough at times, but despite its many missteps, it’s a lot of fun.
A lot of it boils down to the fundamentals of the original, they provided the foundation, and here’s a new improvement. Dying Light 2 is based on the same apparent day-night cycle: in the sun, the streets are filled with infected stumbling blocks, and the interiors of buildings are teeming with them; at night, they come out, and those streets are still more ferocious, in the sun. Surviving before you get out becomes your priority, and safe houses and places exposed to UV rays can serve as respite.
These crazy safety sprints at midnight are where Dying Light 2’s system comes into focus, and it’s Dying Light 2 at its best. The first-person parkour is simply amazing, it blends into a vast, dense open world and the act of going from A to B is an absolute thrill.
Like the original, the parkour moves are slow to develop, with most abilities unlocked through the skill tree – it took me about 20 hours to unlock simple slides that let me slide in tight spaces, and then Dozens of hours with a full set of wall-piercing skills – but by the end you’ll be jumping from wall to wall like a black panther, strapping dizzying runs from roof to roof. This is sublime.
It’s a rugged Mirror’s Edge with knuckles, and to Techland’s credit for successfully serving the action in their open world – DICE unfortunately stumbled upon it in Catalyst at this point. Trapped in the quagmire of the streets, you may trigger an escalating GTA-style chase where you’ll jump from the hood of your car to the fire escape and escape to the roof in rapid succession. The number of traversal options available at any one time is simply staggering, and the fact that it all comes together is a remarkable achievement in itself.
As a first-person platformer, it’s hard to imagine anything comparable to what Dying Light 2 achieved (though OG, PlayStation darling Jumping Flash will always have a place in my heart). During various stages of the campaign, it may be necessary to climb windmills to unlock new safe areas, or climb TV towers, which provide a comforting platforming challenge. Yes, someone was kind enough to paint every windowsill you could grab bright yellow, but still some ideas for planning your upward path, the best challenges and parkour runs to keep you in mind the fast-footed prince of persia : The Sands of Time.
It’s not flawless, and the persistent stickiness to the zipline and ambiguity to the movement take away some of the momentum. There’s also a sense that ambition doesn’t always match execution – there’s a slight Metroidvania touch in Dying Light 2, and countless other effects as you collect inhibitors scouring around the map to unlock more health or stamina, So that you can accomplish feats of athleticism and scale-building more easily, but it’s a gesture, not a full realization.
The dexterity of time travel is in stark contrast to the clumsy ferocity of Dying Light 2’s combat — on purpose. It’s a game without guns, forgiven in the narrative by a world that has lost its weapon-making expertise, which means that to get things done in Dying Light 2, you have to get your hands dirty. In its own way, it’s as satisfying as parkour; the melee combat has a cathartic crunch that can be given a fierce edge with blueprint-modified weapons. Because in this game, there’s the axe, and then there’s the axe, and there’s the hissing shock module on the shaft, and there’s flames spewing from the edges.
Combat is served by its own skill tree, unlocking equally slow new sets of moves through a specific combination of XP and your available health. There needs to be a thoughtful choice of how to shape your characters, pushing them towards athleticism or naked savagery, a choice that can even extend to the open world itself. In Dying Light 2, you can form alliances with a few factions, and cities change based on those choices. Pick one side and they’ll likely bolster defenses against infected lower floors; pick the other and you’ll unlock more options on rooftops, installing parkour gear or placing large yellow trampolines on the streets, propelling you into the sky (why? You don’t choose trampoline, I can’t understand).
Choices are at the heart of the story, with protagonist Aiden Caldwell’s basic task of finding his sister Mia providing the main thread, and Dying Light 2 spins so much from it many. It’s a story told mostly in shades of grey, presumably to make room for your own opinion, though unfortunately the results tend to be inconsistent rather than morally ambiguous. Caldwell himself is a non-entity – again, presumably by design – although that’s more up to the writer than the voice actor Jonah Scott.
Dying Light 2’s story moments have too much guts and enough characters — and there are plenty of them — to land, but what’s there at least gives a human heart to Dying Light 2’s sprawl, Jonathan Forbes’ excellent twist on and off Push ‘Hakon and Rosario Dawson’s Lawan. There are some big story choices that make a big difference – there are branching dialogue moments where your own plotline will change, even if it still feels like it’s going to flow to the same end. It’s straightforward but still impactful, and the overall effect is like a Fallout-lite.
Away from the main quest line, there is still a lot to do. I guess the measure of an open world is how easy it is to get distracted, and Dying Light 2 excels at that. Some of the best nights I’ve had with it have been leisurely runs through the city at night, saving stragglers and raiding nightclubs, while occasionally picking up a side story thread to pick from, or just sketching out numerous parkour challenges.
This is also a blockbuster blockbuster, and only perseverance can blossom. The prologue is a bit too long, and the first area for the first dozen hours or so is a bit dull, but with some heavy pacing pushed forward, Dying Light 2 is bright at its core. In the expansive map around the city center, there is an abundance of variety and colors. It’s a post-apocalyptic one that’s just as rich in The Last of Us, and can even be a very pretty thing.
There are missteps everywhere – including uncommon technical issues, which again seems to be synonymous with this kind of scope play, where models rarely bump into each other awkwardly or levitate a few feet off the ground – but they rarely happen to be overwhelmed by everything else Overwhelmed by the ambition to play. Dying Light 2 isn’t exactly an innovative game, but it packs so much enthusiasm that it’s infectious, if you forgive the pun. To its credit, it held up most of the time.
I can’t pretend to be an expert on blockbuster games — the bloat and exaggerated breadth isn’t quite to my taste — but Dying Light 2, with its various systems wholesaled from elsewhere, is a welcome reminder , how interesting they are. Can. There’s a brutality to its breadth and the vastness of the world – it’s a AAA experience, served with the subtlety and grace of a modified hammer to the head. It’s rarely elegant, but definitely delightful.