Dying Light 2 Review: "Zombie Decapitations, Sick Parkour Moves, And True Next-Gen Graphics"

Dying Light 2 Review: "Zombie Decapitations, Sick Parkour Moves, And True Next-Gen Graphics"
Image: Techland

Written by 

Aaron Bayne

Posted 

1st Feb 2022 12:14

The first Dying Light took the well-travelled genre of open-world zombie apocalypse and introduced parkour to the mix, for a more exhilarating and less survival-focused take. Unsurprisingly, Dying Light 2: Stay Human is more of the same, but with so many promises on top of that. A world-affecting branching narrative, deep combat and traversal systems, and a dense, diverse open world to keep you engaged for hours were all pledged during development, but how many of those have been reworked or simply scrapped in the final product? When everything falls into place Dying Light is an excellent game, but it's also one you've played a million times before. 

A New World

Dying Light 2 Review: Villedor.
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Skipping 15 years down the zombie-filled timeline, Dying Light 2 follows travelling pilgrim Aiden, who arrives in the walled city of Villedor in search of his sister. Once its damnation, the restrictive border of the city is now its saving grace, allowing those lucky enough to survive the task of enduring what Techland describes as "the new dark ages". 

You barely need to be within Villedor's walls an hour to realise that a lot of the game's ambition has been put into world-building and lore. After less than an hour from arriving in Villedor, you'll feel entrenched in a new world filled with communities, factions, history, and of course, lots and lots of zombies. While it might be a tad cliché to say, Villedor really does feel like a densely packed and lived in city, with history seeping through each of its dilapidated streets. 

Make The Right Choice. Or Don't. Who Cares? 

Dying Light 2 Review: A woman points a crossbow at you.
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Joining the focus on world-building is an expanded effort in storytelling, as Dying Light 2 introduces a dynamic and branching narrative that you'll steadily become more involved in. You'll often be forced to choose between advancing your own cause or helping others, and the game likes to make a big deal out of each of these occasions. But while in many ways this approach to storytelling is a step forward, the result and surrounding content takes it two steps back. 

We were promised world-changing consequences, but Dying Light 2 has a real issue of letting you know what impact there actually is. Maybe a character dies or you betray a faction, but across over 30 hours with the game, I never once came to a devastating realisation that the wrong choices had been made or that the story had been impacted much at all. 

One series of missions saw me betray a community and kill a close member of theirs, only to be invited into a secret meeting without a single mention of the whole ordeal just a half hour later. Techland is clearly going for a dynamic system where you can chop and change sides, but more often than not the system proves to be lacking the nuance and complexity that it really needs. And even on a simpler level, having a Telltale-like "X will remember that" warning system would have been a warmly welcomed addition to help keep track of how your choices were impacting the narrative. 

This disappointing lack of obvious impact trickles down into side content such as electrical or water power points, which allow you to assign control to one of the game's two factions. Where it is supposed to indicate who runs each district, in reality it's just aligned with whichever perk you prefer from each offering. Siding with the Survivors is nearly always recommended, purely because it makes traversing the city that bit easier. 

Come For The Zombies, Stay For The Characters

Dying Light 2 Review: Aitor
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All of that isn't to say Dying Light 2's story is all bad. In fact, while the branching narrative is certainly flawed, it is a marked improvement on the excessively dull story of its predecessor. There are standout characters that you will begin to care for with backstories spanning years prior to your arrival in the city, and with optional dialogue, you'll often find yourself digging into their pasts to get a better sense of what came before. 

Oddly, however, many of these characters, some of whom are major players in the early hours, seep their way into side quests. Of the two important characters in the first half of my playthrough, one cropped up in a side quest which was completely ignorable and the other was never seen again. Depending on how you approach Dying Light 2, this may be a smart move from Techland. While side content is very easy to become disinterested in, by blending both the main narrative and side content, it makes you feel compelled to take part in it at times. However, it also bleeds into one of the biggest issues of the game. 

Too Damn Long

Dying Light 2 Review: A high view of the city.
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Some players love to sink hundreds of hours into titles that have enough content to offer, while others can experience the same joy from just 10 hours. Dying Light 2 is certainly a game that wants you to stay committed, as highlighted by the "500 hours of gameplay to 100% the game" claim from Techland. While I focused on the campaign during the review period, it still took over 30 hours to complete, and by that point I was out-levelled for the missions I was taking part in.

On top of the base campaign, players can work through side quests, parkour challenges, GRE bases and anomalies, bandit camps, windmills, military airdrops, and metro stations. Not to mention the weapons crafting, armour loot collection, and entire levelling system. There is certainly a lot in this game, and you'll be reading through tutorial screens a solid few hours into the game and beyond. This is where Dying Light 2 flies in the face of those ambitious claims, as you sort through varied versions of the content we've all been playing since Far Cry 3 came out almost 10 years ago. 

Hardcore Parkour In The Big City

Dying Light 2 Review: Paragliding through the city.
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Luckily for Dying Light 2, regardless of whether you are playing for 30 hours, 500 hours, or somewhere in-between, the game's shortcomings and misgivings are unanimously upended by a truly spectacular open world. As mentioned, Villedor is a sight to behold and rich with grizzly apocalyptic detail, and across its two explorable areas it's hard not to be impressed by the expansive verticality, and well-designed nature of every street and building. Even dozens of hours into the game it is still a delight to swing into a zombie-infested skyscraper, only to run straight through and jump out the other side. 

Every square inch of Villedor is explorable, and in all likelihood if you can see a building, you can go inside it. While that level of access may only be a room or two filled with loot and zombies thirty stories high, it goes a long way to immerse the player in its setting. In a way, it is what Night City in Cyberpunk 2077 promised to be, rather than just visually appealing set dressing. But it is how you explore all of these areas that really seals the deal.

What would a Dying Light game be without parkour? While the tricks of traversal haven't been changed all too much - and you can't blame Techland after getting it so right the first time - the surrounding sandbox is what brings this parkouring vision to fruition. Whether it be ropes to swing from, vents to glide above, building clearing pole vaults, or conveniently placed cranes, wherever you turn Dying Light 2 wants to ensure you can run around as effortlessly and stylishly as possible. By the time you've levelled up your parkour skills you will be sliding, wall-running, and leaping from buildings without even thinking about it. Mixed with the similarly refined combat, that makes it all a seamless explorative gameplay experience. You can believe me when I say fly-kicking a zombie off a skyscraper hundreds of feet in the air is just as fun as it sounds. 

Pushing Boundaries While Maintaining Tradition

Dying Light 2 Review: The city.
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Dying Light 2 is an enormously flawed yet fun experience that tries to stand apart while simultaneously blending into the crowd. When it works, it really works. Its cocktail of combat and traversal make it a delight to play, and with a giant, immersive world to let loose in there really are countless hours of enjoyment to be had. However, that enjoyment is superseded in some regard by a lacklustre delivery on its ambitious promises, and a myriad of content we've seen time and time again.

Dying Light 2 does little to shake up the open-world formula, because it could be so much more, especially after the initial reveals promised so much. With that said, if zombie decapitations, sick parkour moves, and true next-gen graphics are what you're looking for then Dying Light 2 certainly fits the bill.

 

7/10

Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by the publisher.