I lost count of the number of beautiful sunsets I saw during moments of respite in Dying Light 2. The relative safety of daylight gradually sinks into a puddle of blood orange, as warning bells toll across the city. I catch one last glimpse of trees peacefully swaying in the wind, the skyscraper I scaled hours earlier, and the bakery I helped bring back to life.
Then, as the infected come out to play, I’m off on another journey through a dark basement in search of valuable trinkets. But while there’s a lot that Techland’s sequel gets right beyond its atmosphere and visuals, it remains a game shackled by repetitive open-world design and a story that doesn’t quite know what it wants to focus on.
In Dying Light 2, you’re a Pilgrim named Aiden. A hardened survivor accustomed to traveling across long distances, his search for his sister takes him to Villedor, one of the last cities still standing in the game’s post-pandemic world. Society as we know it crumbled long ago under a lack of resources, unrest, and a tidal wave of infected, but remnants of humanity fight on.
“Fighting infected often turns into a visceral ballet of flying limbs as you button mash while maneuvering around numerous foes.”
Soon into your journey, you learn that Aiden is very nimble on his feet but also able to use almost any ledge, wall, and surface to get around. It’s easy to develop an eye for yellow markings or approximate if you can climb unmarked walls. Later on, you’re given a paraglider and a grappling hook that further opens up parts of the world, letting you take advantage of the high amounts of verticality on show.
The paraglider itself does wonders for traversal, even if it can trivialize certain tasks like climbing windmills or simply getting around at night, when more dangerous infected prowl the streets. It’s so freeing to ride a gust of air skywards, then fly to your destination, to the point where I didn’t find myself relying on fast travel all that much.
At the same time, it doesn’t completely replace the game’s fluid parkour system. Certain quests and timed challenges put your entire skillset to the test. As you level up, you become even more mobile, navigating obstacles more easily. It’s a joy to sprint, vault, and slide your way through tight spaces, especially since each action is backed up by animations that do a good job of translating Aiden’s effort past the screen.
Against Dying Light 2’s enemies, however, speed is only one part of the equation. Fighting infected often turns into a visceral ballet of flying limbs as you button mash while maneuvering around numerous foes. Bladed weapons leave infected crawling around without legs or trying to attack with their remaining arm, making the damage you deal feel more tangible. You can hack off your human opponents’ arms, too, but will have to chain different moves against them, since they’re more reactive against repeated attacks.
You’ll also encounter a few special types of infected that charge at you, attack from afar, or use their hulking mass to smash everything in their path, but they rarely amount to more than simple distractions. In addition, using bows can trivialize quite a few encounters on normal difficulty, especially if you’re overleveling them. The infected aren’t usually good at climbing buildings, while humans have a tendency to slowly walk towards you, oblivious of how it turns them into easy targets.
Things really come together when you tap into parkour combat, which lets you unlock and pull off a handful of special moves. You can charge up a power attack and press Caps Lock to have Aiden spin around, hitting everything in a circle around him. You can also time dodges and blocks perfectly to stagger opponents, which lets you use them as a ramp to dropkick their peers.
These kicks can be chained and empowered, enabling you to launch enemies off rooftops or into spiked barriers that do instantly kill them but lack any sort of feedback. Small blemishes aside, Aiden is a capable fighter with plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
Dying Light 2 mostly sees you relying on a makeshift arsenal of axes, scythes, knuckle dusters, hammers, and other deadly implements that have their own rarities, durability, and levels. If you’re struggling against a swarm of infected blocking the way to a convoy you want to loot, a two-handed weapon’s wider swings let you strike several targets, as opposed to the more surgically-inclined one-handers.
Crafting grants access to a variety of tools and gadgets, from Molotov cocktails to throwing knives and one-time use guns. You can also attach mods to weapons, imbuing their attacks with fire, frost, or blast damage that sends foes flying away in an epic display of ragdoll physics.
To craft anything, you’ll need blueprints and resources, the former of which are sold and upgraded by craftsmasters. The latter you can purchase from vendors or obtain by venturing into Dark Hollows and other facilities across the map, uncovering airdrops on high buildings, and looting destroyed convoys. They make up the bulk of Dying Light 2’s side activities and, although there are a few different types to tackle, neither of them is varied enough to warrant clearing them all out.
These activities are also tied to the game’s day/night cycle. During daylight, the streets are safer, but the locations hiding valuable loot are overrun with infected, making them impossible to pierce through. At night, the infected and their special counterparts come out to play, which is when you can go in.
The problem is that whether you’re out to collect materials, valuables to sell, or precious Inhibitors that upgrade health and stamina, you’re going through the same repetitive process of stealthing past or chopping up zombies while emptying individual drawers, lockpicking containers, and opening chests.
“Chases are greatly elevated by the sound design and overall darkness of your surroundings, which manage to create the impression that you’re hounded not by just Tim and his 14 infected buddies, but entire legions of hellspawn, all of them eager to tear the flesh from your bones.”
The majority of Dying Light 2’s loot only offers boring stat increases that try to suggest certain playstyles but never really shape an actual class system around them. Sooner or later, this relegates side activities to the sole role of grinding combat/parkour experience, which also increases passively. Normal difficulty doesn’t push the survival aspects all that much, either.
You don’t have to worry extensively about keeping your infection at bay while you’re in the dark – although you certainly need to keep it in check using UV mushrooms and consumable boosters – while, somewhere around the halfway point, I had enough resources to comfortably see me through the rest of the game.
Despite the failings of its side activities, Dying Light 2 has some of the best chases in video games. At night, Howlers can spot you, attracting ever-growing swarms of infected to your location. These are fast-movers that climb anything to get you. The more time you spend out in the open, the more infected come your way.
That’s why you have to bolt towards any area with UV light on the map. But knowing there’s a ravenous swarm on your tail makes for one of the most intense parts of the game. Chases are greatly elevated by the sound design and the overall darkness of your surroundings, which manage to create the impression that you’re hounded not by just Tim and his 14 infected buddies, but entire legions of hellspawn, all of them eager to tear the flesh from your bones.
Far from the intensity of chases, Encounter markers point at rooftops where you sit by a campfire and listen to the tales of NPCs, recounting past exploits, close scrapes with death, or simply playing a song. The city itself offers plenty of opportunities to save others from attacking zombies, rampant infection, or beat up bandits trying to open up chests as you roam around. You can also decide whether you’d rather give control to the city to the Survivors faction or the Peacekeepers.
The former is a ragged band of individuals who look up to leaders preaching faith, ideology, or simply trying to hold on. The latter are a more organized, better equipped militaristic group that treats order and hierarchy as vital. It’s not a choice between good and bad, as human nature inevitably shows its dark sides in both camps. Aside from whose views you may prefer, giving them power over the city also comes with gameplay benefits.
The Survivors aid you with traversal by installing zip lines, trampolines, or helping you up when you die in their territory. The Peacekeepers offer more combat-focused upgrades, including electrical and UV traps, mounted turrets, and a semi-automatic crossbow.
Having picked the Survivors, their upgrades offered limited use in the long term. This happened, in part, due to how easy it is to get around using the paraglider and how you unlock it relatively early. You can also give both factions some districts and, as far as I could tell, this decision doesn’t come with other consequences.
Dying Light 2’s side quests are also a mixed bag, not taking too long before they become particularly rote. Mechanically, they run on a limited budget. You go to a place, press a button or finding an item, maybe getting into a fight, then talk to an NPC. Some of these conversations do throw some neat curveballs your way, but you’re gambling your time as you search for the better ones.
A similar gamble – although a mandatory one that’s far more rigged against you – is the game’s unfocused narrative. Aiden’s search for his sister gives off the impression of being the character’s main drive, guiding his every effort, but it’s actually very easy to forget about. The story flicks through characters before you get to establish any connection with them, hurriedly telegraphing motivations and never committing to either Aiden as a Pilgrim or Aiden as a selfless, chummy guy.
I also got a strong sense that Dying Light 2 doesn’t trust the player enough with its choices. There are these supposedly big decisions that do seem to influence the story, but they are shackled by this constant jumping between helping people and pursuing Aiden’s goal, ultimately giving the narrative a very shaky footing.
Choosing the greater good didn’t have all that many tangible consequences that rippled through to the ending. Regardless of how much I pushed back Aiden’s personal pursuit, there was always something that conveniently kicked things back on that path. Worse yet, the game’s final moments are a feast of missteps laden with clichéd melodrama leading up an annoying confrontation against the game’s mysterious but mostly absent villain.
On an i7-8700K, 16 GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080@1080p, Dying Light 2 ran mostly fine, dropping below the 60 FPS mark during first visits to areas and certain crowded locations or fights. Using ray traced sun shadows and flashlight didn’t impact performance, but turning on ray traced ambient occlusion and global illumination made the frame rate considerably more unstable, chopping as many as 20 FPS in certain zones, enough to warrant keeping the option turned off.
Dying Light 2 features a colorblind mode with one setting (Deuteranopia), alongside several subtitle options, including size and color, as well as a pick between tapping or pressing buttons during quick-time events.
DYING LIGHT 2 VERDICT
Dying Light 2 was my first contact with the series and it can certainly be an exhilarating open-world game. Its gorgeous city, intense chases, fluid parkour, and visceral, meaty combat are well worth experiencing. Although they never completely overshadow its accomplishments, boring gear, repetitive side missions, and a story that never finds its focus do, unfortunately, keep it away from greatness. But, if you keep some of your expectations in check, all these missteps can easily be drowned in an ocean of freshly-cut zombie limbs and peaceful paragliding.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Taking to the skies in my paraglider, riding it around the city’s skyscrapers, then ending the journey by firmly planting both my feet in a bandit’s fleshy face.
Visceral, meaty combat
Fluid parkour system
Great sense of freedom once you unlock the paraglider
Day/night cycle drives home the point that humanity no longer fully owns this world
Intense chases that greatly benefit from excellent sound design
Great atmosphere and visuals
Unfocused story, forgettable characters
Repetitive side quests and activities