One of the scariest moments in the original Dying Light for me was running through a pitch-black neighborhood in Harram only to realize there was a deadly Volatile zombie right around the corner that had just spotted me. Adrenaline kicks in and all that mattered at that moment was getting to a safe zone where the low glow of UV lights offered me some shelter from the terror that loomed in the darkness.
These feelings return in Dying Light 2: Stay Human but are joined by more emotions thanks to the game’s more fleshed-out storyline, branching conversations, and characters that offer unique personalities. While not without its flaws, this sequel expands on the original in so many ways and offers us a beefy open-world experience with genre staples we have come to expect. On top of that, its massive world and free-flowing parkour controls make for an adventure that’s thrilling and frightening at the same time.
While the events in the first game are alluded to on occasion, Stay Human features an entirely new setting and storyline that takes place 15 years after the events in the original. Your protagonist is Aiden Caldwell, a “pilgrim” who works as a courier traveling to different settlements over large distances. His past continues to haunt him and his memories of his long lost sister lead him to the walled City of Villedor whose residents not only have to deal with the dangerous Infected hordes around them but also with factional conflicts that plague the city from within.
- Improved parkour mechanics that make for fluid controls;
- Impressive survival elements during nighttime gameplay;
- Branching missions that are born out of the choices you make.
- Certain mission choices don’t feel impactful;
- Combat is not that special;
- Certain abilities and environmental perks need to be unlocked in order.
Playing as Aiden, you will be faced with various story mission that get you one step closer to discovering your sister’s whereabouts and finding out what experiments were done to you as kids. Flashbacks will occasionally play to make you empathize with Aiden’s plight, but the true star of the game isn’t so much Aiden as it is the city of Villedor itself. Sure, his story takes time to develop and you will have to complete various missions to get to that resolution, but everything that leads you to the end also comes with branching paths that let you make an impact on the city and its residents.
Villedor, as it turns out, has its own set of problems and each character you run into will want something from you in return to clues to your next destination. Within the first few hours of the game you will meet the friendly Hakon who saves your life at one point and introduces you to the city’s main factions — the Survivors and the Peacekeepers (PKs). Your main missions will lead you to interact with both groups, but even in the beginning you will realize that both of these groups are not necessarily at war with one another. Sure, they may disagree on certain ideals and ways to live, but they are more akin to political parties than, say, rival gangs. Survivors are more for the people whereas PKs are more for the establishment.
(Some) choices matter
How you choose to complete certain events for them, however, does have an impact on the narrative so you will see things play out differently if you choose a particular side for each mission. During my playthrough, I tried a more level-headed approach and made choices that pleased both factions equally, but I started to realize no one seemed to care that I was helping “the enemy”. In fact, at one point in the game when I chose to side with the PKs, Aiden asks his Survivor buddy what she thinks of his decision and she brushes it off as no big deal. That’s not what I was expecting.
There are moments deeper in the game where your choices do shape the later events in the story, but many of them leading up to this point also don’t seem like a “big deal” to your allies. Instead, these choices tug on your emotions and make you choose something you think is right at the time. Aiden won’t be affected by it, the factions may not be, but you will.
There was one quest I completed for a survivor that led him to admitting he was letting innocent people be killed to save his brother. Because I couldn’t justify his actions, I chose to rat him out to his settlement’s leader instead causing him to attack me and subsequently get killed. If I had chosen to be more empathetic, I would have then been given a set of quests to further help him find his brother. There are various moments like this that can provide you with branching missions based on how you choose to complete them. This not only makes your experience a unique one, but it also makes you think carefully before making a choice as you won’t know what will happen until you see it play out.
I'm not one of the biggest fans of zombies, and the previous Dying Light was never an important game for me. But that has changed once I played Dying Light 2. This is a great game that will last for really, really long hours - a huge map and an interesting world to explore. We'll find plenty of side activities here. As in many other open-worlds, these activities are repetitive, but for some reason - unlike in, for example, Assassin's Creed or Far Cry - here, I did not felt tired of doing them even after several dozen hours.
Unlike Giancarlo, I played on PC. Not only that, I played only on the keyboard and mouse and I will tell you honestly that I had a great time - with the exception of paraglider. However, this is not a next gen. The graphics - even with ray-tracing on - are not a revolution. However, Dying Light 2 has its moments - especially sunsets and sunrises as well as rain and fog.
I agree with Giancarlo's final score. It's a really good game and a great opening for 2022. Techland stood up to the task, defending the honor of the Polish gamedev after the failure of Cyberpunk's devs.
Hanging, jumping, and climbing
Getting to all these requests and missions involves a lot of moving around so not only will you climbing buildings and jumping from rooftop to rooftop, but you will also be able to master some new parkour techniques that further improve your control over Aiden. Eventually you will be able to climb walls, throw yourself from ledge to ledge, and even glide through the skies on a makeshift paraglider. Perhaps just as scary as being chased by a killer zombie, scaling dilapidated skyscrapers and looking at the streets below you will send a shiver down your spine.
In order to unlock more combat or parkour skills, you will need to perform combat and parkour actions respectively to level them up. However, if you want to unlock further skills in each category, you will also need to upgrade your health and stamina by finding special containers to improve the stat of your choice. You have the ability to shape Aiden out to be the pilgrim you want him to be, but you do have some restrictions as certain skills are blocked behind other ones meaning you will have to unlock certain skill you may not always want first.
Combat is like that of the original game, and while it does receive some upgrades, it still feels rather bland and not as fun. Sure, some new techniques let you vault and drop kick enemies or smash their heads from above, but just engaging in combat disrupts the overall flow of action when you’re running outside during the day and destroys the survival horror element when you’re sneaking inside a building in the dark. The game also is super generous with the weapons you find and you may never have to worry about a weapon breaking because you will always find a better one to replace it with. Mods are a neat addition, but you don’t need them since just mashing your attacks and occasionally blocking will do the job for you.
Survive the dark
Instead, it’s not so much combat as it is your own health that you need to worry about. Aiden is infected by the virus so if he spends time outside in the dark, his immunity will start to wane and his only temporary cure is the glow of UV lights. This leads to gameplay at night that feels like you’re on a timer — because you are — and lets you push yourself to your limit if you dare.
Dying Light 2 takes the same survival horror route as the original but improves everything that made the first game so much fun in the first place by breathing life into its world, characters, and narrative. Its RPG elements and dialogue options are a noticeable upgrade and give weight to your decisions, even though they may not always be that impactful. Its greatest strength lies in how it reinvents the idea of survival in a zombie apocalypse. And that makes for a frighteningly good time.
This coupled with more dangerous enemies that prowl during the night means that you are taking a risk exploring the city once the sun goes down. Here is when hordes of zombies can start chasing you if you’re not careful leading to a nerve-wracking chase that is akin to the wanted levels of Grand Theft Auto. The longer you are being chased, the more likely you will die, but as long as you run towards UV light, you are good. However, if you’re inside a building and you have no idea where the nearest purple glow is, you will probably start internally screaming if you don’t have any recovery items that will save you from dying. It’s a risk and reward feature that continues from the original but in a scarier, more powerful way.
I am a cautious player - remaining undetected is a matter of honor for me, so playing at night makes me unbearably stressful - just like sneaking around opponents. For some reason, Dying Light 2 made going into dark alleys and eliminating more zombies one by one a pure pleasure for me.
The open world is fantastic and, above all, it is not boring, although it is noticeably repetitive in details. I admit - this makes me a little angry, because it makes the city seem less authentic to me. Side missions are not the same thing over and over again, and subsequent collectibles and everything in the world you can read are consistent with the plot and its world.
The soundtrack is a big disappointment - I initially praised it but, over time, I began to get the impression that it does not fit in the game. The themes for Peacekeepers and Survivors are actually the only ones I still love to listen. And that moment when I capture another windmill!
I'm glad I finally found a worthy successor to AC Valhalla. I spent more than 30 hours with the game and I know that I still have at least 3 times as much ahead of me.
A city of opportunity
Villedor itself is a huge city and the game’s map is at least four times the size of the original. There are lots of places to explore, missions that can only be done at night, giant windmills that serve as jumping puzzles to climb to create safety zones, and plenty of collectibles to find. The game is so big that there are thankfully a handful of fast travel locations scattered throughout the map. Though, don’t get too excited, as Techland still wants you to run, jump, and glide your way around first and foremost and doing so lets you discover the insides of building you didn’t even know had insides and all the wonderful loot within.
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In addition to these locations, you can also complete substations that grant water or electricity to certain parts of the city. Once you clear these jumping and mental puzzles, you then have to decide whether you want to give it to the Survivors or the PKs. They don’t have much toll on the narrative, but the number of substations you give to a particular faction, the more special tools you will unlock like two-way zip-lines, turrets, or even car bombs. Unfortunately like skills, these require you to unlock them in order so you can’t choose the one you want. It would have been more rewarding if each substation unlocked its own unique perk dependent on the faction instead.
Visually, Dying Light 2 looks both frightening and beautiful at the same time. Zombies come in different grotesque shapes and sizes, and the various people you meet show their emotions on their faces quite well. The game also has a Dark Ages-inspired motif so you will notice post-apocalyptic chain mail, cathedrals, and European architecture all throughout Villedor. While the game doesn’t suffer from any notable performance issues, I did experience multiple screen and audio glitches during the review phase which were later patched.
Dying Light 2 takes the same survival horror route as the original but improves everything that made the first game so much fun in the first place by breathing life into its world, characters, and narrative. Its RPG elements and dialogue options are a noticeable upgrade and give weight to your decisions even though they may not always be that impactful.
Its greatest strength lies in how it reinvents the idea of survival in a zombie apocalypse. While most games have you worrying about the enemies that lurk around you — this game does that, too — Dying Light 2 makes the real terror be inside you. Spend too much time in the dark, and you won’t “stay human” for long. And that makes for a frighteningly good time.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com