Dying Light 2 Review: Taking The Series To New Heights
Dying Light 2 has been a long time coming. Announced at E3 2018, the sequel to Techland’s 2015 open-world survival horror RPG saw numerous delays and lengthy periods of radio silence over the course of its development. However, all of that changed last year when the Polish studio began showcasing the title in earnest, delivering a nearly non-stop stream of updates and deep dives for fans eager for more zombie-bashing, free-running excitement.
Now at long last, the game is finally upon us. And boy, was it worth the wait. Dying Light 2 isn’t just more of the same. With its updated mechanics, a tightly-woven narrative to drive the action forward, and an exciting new setting that makes the series’ signature parkour gameplay shine brighter than ever, Dying Light 2 is an undead thrill ride that no fan of the franchise should miss.
Getting To Know The Locals
Set 20 years after the previous game’s events, Dying Light 2 puts players in control of Aiden Caldwell, a pilgrim who has been wandering the wasteland for years searching for his missing sister, Mia. After receiving a tip that she may have ended up in the city of Villedor, Aiden sets off for the crumbling European metropolis to uncover the mystery behind his sister’s whereabouts.
One of humanity’s last strongholds, Villedor is governed by two warring factions: the Survivors, everyday people just trying to make it in a ruined world turned upside down by the viral upbreak that’s transformed most of the world’s population into flesh-crazed ghouls, and the Peacekeepers, an authoritarian group of former soldiers whose obsession with law and order borders on fascistic. Without going into spoilers, after arriving in town, Aiden quickly finds himself thrust into the middle of the conflict between these two rival parties. Throughout the game’s campaign, you’ll have to decide which of these two groups you’ll side with on your quest to find Mia, with your decisions not only ultimately shaping the game’s ending, but the city itself.
Structures such as windmills and electrical substations are scattered across Villedor. Once liberated, you’ll be able to assign them to either the Peacekeepers or Survivors to receive various rewards that make getting around town easier. Entrusting structures to the Peacekeepers generally rewards you with more offensive options. For example, you’ll be able to set off car bombs to eradicate groups of ghouls patrolling the streets or trigger electrical traps to unleash a shocking surprise upon your foes. On the other hand, Survivor bonuses tend to augment your traversal abilities. They’ll add more zip lines around the city, launch pads you can use to get a boost, and even heavy bags that you can snatch from atop a building and use to cushion your fall when you land.
Overall, I loved this feature and found it quite tough to choose which faction to help more. After all, I may not be crazy about the jackbooted PK’s ideology. Still, I’ll be damned if I won’t sing the gospel of a stationary cannon that can reduce even the nastiest Volatiles to twitching gristle.
I Hope You’re Not Afraid Of Heights
When it was released in 2015, Dying Light featured plenty of wide-open valleys and tracts of lush Turkish farmland to explore. It was a great setting and an absolute joy to traverse either on foot or in your trusty buggy, which was introduced in the game’s excellent DLC, “The Following.” Make no mistake, Dying Light 2 still offers a vast world to explore, but it focuses much more on verticality this time around. You see, the streets and sewers of the city are teeming with zombies, so most people have taken to the relative safety of the city’s skyline to survive. Above the corpse-littered streets on mossy rooftop terraces, children play and attend school; lush gardens grow crops of food and medicinal ingredients; and countless quest-givers loiter, waiting for a willing pilgrim to take on some task that inevitably requires the cricket bat to the head of some feral creature.
Because of the hazards on the streets, it’s best to stick to the high ground. And with countless skyscrapers and dilapidated tenements between you and any given objective, you’re going to need to put your parkour skills to work. Thankfully, much like Dying Light‘s super-agent protagonist Kyle Crane, Aiden is no slouch when it comes to the art of free-running. So whether you’re using your grappling hook to swing from building to building or wall-running across vast chasms, the sky’s the limit to your death-defying parkour abilities. Well, that and your rapidly-draining stamina meter, of course. But why sweat the little details?
And let me tell you, pinballing around the environment like a spider monkey on methamphetamine is an absolute blast in Dying Light 2. The team at Techland did a superb job of laying out Villedor so that the city almost feels like one massive concrete playground with all the slides, zip lines, and monkey bars around every corner to help you get around. However, my absolute favorite way to travel was with the paraglider. Unlocked about halfway through the main story, this handy tool allows you to use drafts of wind from vents and sewer grates to launch yourself high into the air and cover vast distances. Once I got my mitts on the paraglider, there was no going back.
Clubbed To Death
Like its predecessor, Dying Light 2 features a combat system built around brutal melee beatdowns. In fact, this time around, there are no guns to be had – save for a rather unreliable makeshift boomstick you can craft that’s best used as a last-ditch effort. At first, I’ll admit that I was a bit put off by the developer’s decision to ditch the firearms, as they’d gotten me out of some hairy situations in the original game. But rest assured that disappointment faded the second I lobbed the heads off two enemies with a single swing from my flaming war axe made from a lead pipe grafted to a buzzsaw blade.
Dying Light 2 puts a near comical assortment of similarly sadistic weapons at players’ fingertips. They’re generally pretty nasty by default, but buying blueprints to craft more vicious versions that do things like electrocute your foes or cause them to burst into flames with each swing definitely dial up the damage and make each encounter feel spectacular.
But it does take time before the combat picks up. Admittedly, the fighting mechanics in Dying Light 2 feel somewhat shallow at first. However, as you gain levels, you’ll gain access to a sizable skill tree that truly expands your combat capabilities. For example, you’ll eventually be able to perform a devastating windmill slash to hack away at enemies all around you. Or a power swing that deals massive damage, and even a dropkick that can send your enemies soaring through the air (and, more often than not, to a messy death on the pavement several stories below).
Further fleshing things out are several skills that help you take a stealthier approach. For example, knife takedowns allow you to quickly and silently kill your prey when you catch them unaware. Meanwhile, there’s also an ability that lets you deal death from above by dropping onto an enemy and smashing their head into the ground for an instant kill. Unfortunately, while these sneaky skills undoubtedly help you thin out the enemy’s ranks a little bit, I rarely found the environments or enemy A.I. behaved in such a way that stealth was ever a viable option – at least not on the game’s standard difficulty.
The City Never Sleeps
As generally satisfying as the combat and exploration are, Dying Light 2‘s story is what kept me glued to my controller until the credits rolled. Despite my best efforts, I never found myself invested in the previous game’s narrative. However, Techland has definitely succeeded in crafting a tale worth seeing through to the end this time around. Villedor is a compelling setting filled with interesting characters that will keep you on your toes.
Again, I’d hate to go into spoiler territory, so I won’t, but I found Lawana (voiced by Rosario Dawson) to be the star of the show, with some genuinely standout moments that almost had me fumbling for my Kleenex.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. While the story is undoubtedly one of the game’s highlights, some of the dialogue can be a bit uneven and clumsy at times, with characters sometimes repeating themselves or offering random lines that don’t really gel with the rest of the conversation at hand. But these issues are easy to overlook and do very little to hurt the otherwise exemplary writing the game delivers.
A few weeks back, Techland announced on their Twitter account that Dying Light 2 would take more than 500 hours to complete in its entirety. While the game is most undoubtedly immense, I’m not entirely sure about that. My review playthrough took me just shy of 40 hours. During that time, I managed to wrap up the main story on the game’s normal difficulty setting, complete a fair number of side quests, and even fill out most of my skill tree.
While I’m confident players hoping to find the rarest weapons and all of the hidden inhibitor capsules (which you spend to level up your character’s health and stamina) could easily double that time, I’m not too sure what would keep them playing for that long. However, the studio plans to support the game for the next five years. With that in mind, I suppose I may end up spending 500 hours in Dying Light 2‘s world when all is said and done. But will it be with the base game? Probably not.
With this review almost done, it’s time to address the 800lb elephant in the room. As most of you reading this have probably heard by now, Dying Light 2 supports multiplayer co-op for up to four players. Sadly, this mode won’t be available until the game’s official launch on February 4th, so I wasn’t able to give the feature a shot for this review. I can definitely see the appeal, though. According to Techland, players will be able to vote on narrative decisions, which should make playing with friends feel a bit more impactful than we often see in other games of this type. Additionally, rolling with a full crew to tackle the game’s dungeon-like Dark Zones and heavily fortified gang outposts should be a riot. However, we won’t know for sure for a few more days. If it ends up being a hugely compelling part of the package or is somehow utterly broken, then you can be sure I’ll revisit this review to add my two cents on this hugely anticipated feature.
The Human League
It’s been a long road to release for Dying Light 2, and at times its future seemed uncertain. However, having braved the ruins of Villedor for this review, I’m happy to report that Techland’s long-awaited follow-up to their survival horror RPG is a smashing success. With its mix of gripping narrative, hard-hitting combat, and exhilarating exploration, Dying Light 2 is a spectacular sequel that breathes new life into the franchise.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Xbox Series X\S (reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC; Publisher: Techland; Developer: Techland; Players: 1-4; Released: February 4, 2021; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: A Dying Light 2 review copy was provided by the publisher.