Set in a world marred by death and destruction, Dying Light 2 is the perfect blend of the zombie apocalypse genre and open world universe, but it lacks the polish that could elevate it to greatness.
Coming in hot with Dying Light 2, Techland made promises of swathes of content (500 hours to be exact), parkour perfection and, of course, hordes of bloodthirsty zombies – many of which they have delivered on.
While the rotting vistas of this post-apocalypse ooze charm and danger in equal measure, the game struggles to make its core systems feel as seamless as players would like them to be. With unpredictable parkour controls and the irritating ‘Immunity’ system at night, the story pulls you in while the mechanics push you away.
Dying Light 2: Key details
- Price: $59.99 / £54.99
- Developer: Techland
- Release date: February 4, 2022
- Platforms: PlayStation / Xbox / Switch / PC
Dying Light 2 trailer
It’s cliche, sure, but Dying Light 2’s real star is its huge cityscape that acts as equal parts terrifying escape room and parkour playground. An Eastern metropolis that has fallen into ruin following the post-Harran outbreak, there’s an eerie majesty to these decrepit streets.
I spent hours wandering around the rooftop groves and inside abandoned buildings, allowing my inner Ezio Auditore to run wild. The attention to detail is meticulous, with thousands of references to the way the world once was before calamity struck. From once-bustling underground transport tunnels to the vibrant roof gardens that you can imagine being the site of thousands of summertime garden parties – the knowledge that this dystopian universe once looked like ours is genuinely chilling, and Dying Light 2 feels like it nails environmental storytelling in a way its predecessor never quite could.
Then there’s nighttime. Bathed in an ominous UV glow that paints the town purple, the ambiance Techland has created leaves the hairs on the back of your neck standing on edge. Screams echo in a deathly chorus as unfortunate victims meet their gory demise, and the glistening pools of blood and flesh make the streets run red. If you’ve played the first game, you’ll know the deal here — once the sun goes down, it’s time to run.
If your daytime adventures conjure up images of humanity’s past, daring to go out at night is a stark reminder of why The City isn’t the sun-bleached paradise of old. The duality of experiences assimilates you into Dying Light 2’s hopeless universe, and it will keep you coming back for more. For a game that’s all about moving fast, it’s impossible not to want to slow down and admire the details of Dying Light 2’s world.
A story that hits like a spiked baseball bat
Although I’m not going to talk a lot about Aiden’s story specifically for fear of spoilers, the narrative is the soul that weaves Dying Light 2 together. While it follows the typical horror movie-style plotline, Dying Light 2 forces you to ask yourself the one question you don’t want to answer: ‘would I survive in a zombie apocalypse?’
In the opening sequences of the game, you’re tasked with looting a once-proud mansion that has fallen into a state of disrepair. Cautiously making your way up the stairs, you’re greeted by a plethora of rotting corpses, all of whom were attending an ‘end of the world’ party.
Framed by a brooding symphonic masterpiece, Aiden can inspect each body in turn. One has collapsed on the bar next to a note that simply reads ‘sorry Dave, goodbye,’ while a male and female body sit side by side on a poolside chair. Next to them is a photo of how they once looked, prompting Aiden to note ‘at least they had each other’ upon inspection.
From the onset I was plunged into a virtual reality I hope never becomes a real one – heck, I even shed a few tears. There’s a sense of hopelessness and, perhaps most importantly, that crushing feeling of being eternally alone.
Fantastic storytelling marred by irritating mechanics
Despite the whirlwind of emotions that hit during scenes like this, the illusion is shattered by a slew of irritating features that ruin any attempt at immersion.
For me, the most irritating of these was the ‘Immunity’ system during nighttime missions. At night, you have to keep an eye on your character’s state of health, denoted at the top of your screen. If it falls below a certain level, you’ll need to find an inhibitor or risk transforming into one of the Infected.
Once you fall below that level, though, it feels like you can never fully achieve a decent state Immunity. In a system reminiscent of Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few, you’ll have to either consume swathes of UV mushrooms every few minutes (which I don’t imagine is great for you either) or find inhibitors. Often, these are in darkened areas, leaving you in a vicious cycle of the infection progressing to critical before you can actually get these life-saving drugs. Think Far Cry 2 malaria, only when it’s already tough to see where you’re going.
Things are made worse because a lot of the missions rely on stealth so as not to awaken sleeping enemies or attract a Howler. When you’re running around in a panic trying to sort out your Immunity bar by scavenging some funghi, it’s hard to be stealthy.
It often feels like if the hordes don’t get you, the infection will. Sure, I like immersion and the aforementioned feeling of utter desperation – but this system simply isn’t fun to play with.
The parkour loses its charm very quickly
Equally frustrating is the game’s parkour system, one of its major selling points. While the idea in itself works well, and initially free-running across the top of buildings feels like a dream, as you progress up the parkour ladder things start to get very, very janky.
While the fluid combat mechanics lend themselves to this acrobatic style, tricks feel incredibly hard to aim and pull off. A slight misclick sends you off in the wrong direction and right into the waiting arms of either the hordes or bandits, meaning most of the time it’s just easier to run in with a bat and hope for the best. That, though, isn’t really what I signed up for.
Battling the hordes can sometimes feel like swinging for the fences and hoping to land a few hits, but if you can keep your composure there are all sorts of flashy moves to unlock. Leaping from one stunned enemy to another, before setting into a sprint to make a getaway always underlines the odds Aiden faces, and in that regard it captures the scrappy tone of survival.
When running from enemies, though, Dying Light 2’s platforming issues come to the fore. Playing on PC, I found even looking slightly in the wrong direction could send Aiden spiraling off whatever you were scaling into the pits below, and juggling Aiden’s stamina with how long structures take to scale often meant you’d only get about halfway up before dropping.
Additionally, although a lot of the platforms you can jump to are marked out by Far Cry-style items hanging over the edge as a prompt, distinguishing intractable sites from design ones isn’t particularly easy. The whole system just feels like it needs a bit of refinement to truly mirror the smooth mechanics of Assassin’s Creed or Mirror’s Edge, but I believe that it’s something we’ll see in time.
While the perfect fusion of the integral post-Apocalyptic tropes with spectacular bloodsoaked vistas are enough to keep you coming back for another bite, I find myself only wanting to play for short periods of time due to the flaws with some of the core systems.
Messy parkour and the constant need to pop shrooms like nobody’s business is particularly infuriating, making stealth gameplay somewhat impossible and detracting from the overall experience.
I hope that, following a few updates, these creases can be ironed out. Until then, though, I’m not sure how often I’ll be diving into Techland’s neo-dystopian universe – but there’s an allure that does entice me back. While the future remains dark for Aiden and his accomplices, I believe that, with a few upgrades, the sun won’t be setting on Dying Light 2 just yet.
Reviewed on PC