Techland's anticipated sequel is here and we have some thoughts after our time exploring its vast world.
It's been seven years since the release of the fairly well received first instalment in Techland's Dying Light series. I have to admit, it's been quite a while since that day, and as we all know in the gaming industry - the longer gamers have to wait, either the higher their expectations become, or the lower their engagement in the series gets. Even though Dying Light's developers managed to keep up players interest throughout the years, rumours of the game remaining in 'development hell' and the time and time again postponed release date soured the attitude of many towards this title. One thing remains certain: the more we are expected to wait, the higher the risk that the finished product fails to meet our inflated expectations.
As I was playing Dying Light 2 Stay Human, I often felt that it had been released a few years too late. Let's be honest, even the first game, despite it's brilliant movement system, was not a masterpiece of worldbuilding or storytelling. These aspects of the game were expected to improve in the next instalment and developers who worked on them certainly succeeded, although one has to point out the fact that the bar set by the previous entry wasn't placed very high. Moreover, an effort to deepen the game's conflict and expand on its narrative was seemingly largely spent on adding into the many elements taken straight out of bad sci-fi movies. It hindered significantly my immersion and ability to believe in the world presented to me on screen.
We find all the usual elements here - medical experiments, interpersonal drama, a revenge storyline, but all these things combined make for at best a mediocre kind of a story. I have to admit that I encountered a couple of interesting lines that stuck with me throughout the time I spent with the game. Generally, I feel that Techland looked in Ubisoft's direction when it came to creating Dying Light 2's gameplay loop and even if they succeeded at implementing a rival company's template of game creation, I do not believe this is the direction it should continue in. I wanted to ask my main character, "Dani, is it you?" after only a few minutes of accompanying him on his journey. Similarly to Ubisoft's last protagonist, Aiden is shown from the start to be a highly skilled specialist in pretty much anything and even if we can find an explanation for it in the story itself - details of which I won't spoil - it is still hard to sympathise with him without feeling some discomfort. Despite developers' efforts to make the story more palatable and moving, he still lacks a human side to him as a character, as he is stitched together with different tropes and bits taken from other media. The protagonist never feels like his own person with his own goals and motives.
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Following in Ubisoft's footsteps further, Techland's game lost some of its identity on the way and in many places became a sufficient, although still a pretty generic sandbox, in which we steadily tick off activities spread out on the map. The game's influences are all the more clear when after we take over windmills, which in this game play the role of settlements, we can see the same type of animation that we will certainly remember from games such as Far Cry. After some time I was slowly losing confidence that I am in fact not playing another Ubisoft title. Often encountered bugs and glitches certainly do not help the overall enjoyment of the game. Zombies had been seen spawning out of nowhere in front of the player's eyes, interaction buttons disappeared for seemingly no reason and small objects quite often made it impossible for me to pull off a correct sequence during combat. These small problems do add up, and sadly I have to admit, playing the smaller and more cohesive game of the first Dying Light was certainly a more seamless experience.
Especially since the reviewed product, however still pleasant to the eye, is certainly not pushing any boundaries performance-wise. We are allowed to choose between three modes of settings; Resolution (4K), Quality (Ray Tracing) and Performance (60FPS). It is already quite appalling that as a player we are forced to choose between those three, but even choosing the highest settings won't be blowing you off your feet. It should be kept in mind though, that the world we encounter is divided into districts of significant sizes each, and as we'll be quite often running away in a hurry from the hordes of zombies in pursuit, we won't have as much time to admire the views.
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Speaking of which - parkour, just as it was in the case of the first instalment of the series, remains the strongest aspect of the game. Even though we do not start with the complete array of acrobatic abilities unlocked, as we progress through the game we unlock more and more of them. All of these certainly make the fighting system and traversing through the giant metropolis that much more enjoyable. Without a shadow of a doubt, despite mediocre worldbuilding, jumping from one rooftop to the next and stitching my moves flawlessly with attacks aimed at incoming zombies was immensely satisfying. However, it doesn't bode well for the game if the best elements are just those ones that have been inherited from previous instalments and only slightly improved upon. Apart from parkour, we acquire a wide range of interesting weaponry, all of which we are able to modify as we please. We find recipes and blueprints for usable items such as first aid kits and grenades, all of which are craftable with collected bits and pieces. In that regard not much has changed since the first game and not much really had to. These are all solid pillars of gameplay and it's good to see that Techland is still building on them.
What would Dying Light be without it's nightly escapades? These of course return, although the main change implemented in this mechanic is a detriment in my opinion. After sundown, as long as we are not hiding in brightly lit rooms, we have limited time for night exploration around the city. We can increase the time on our timer through collecting certain items, so it's not like after first five minutes we will meet our immediate death, however the sheer presence of said timer brings new pressure into this mechanic and we have to act much quicker than we were expected to in the first game. As with many different gameplay decisions, this one is also explained in the storyline, but I can't say I was entirely convinced by it. In my opinion, Dying Light's strongest aspect was this feeling of being trapped in hostile environments during the night, beyond the walls of safety. Here, in the second game, I quite often had to traverse through the city at night, but rarely was it my own choice. At least during those initial few hours the whole thing is, honestly, sometimes quite annoying.
Choices. Are these really as strong? Sometimes, yes. The world can visibly change due to your actions. I don't only have things on the macro scale here in mind, as our decisions will influence the lives of NPC's around us. These things certainly leave a stronger mark on our character than the whole saving-the-world business on its own. There are a few factions around and it's hard to say for sure which are good and which are not. The player's belief system and moral compass will play a large role in determining the answer to that question. Each one of the factions has their own merit and wants in it's own way to survive in the brutal world around it. There is no time for half-measures when death strolls slowly around the corner. In the world of Dying Light 2 nothing comes free and easy. I liked this uncertainty, this greyness of moral decisions made by characters in a dark world, especially since we see so many other games embrace more black and white distinction to such things.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human is a game full of contradictions. On one hand we have a story that is at best sufficient, and yet it shines by rarely giving the player easy answers to arising questions. It provides the player an excellent movement and combat system and yet introduces mechanics that restrict time during which the player can enjoy it. The game delivers us an interesting and original world that it then stretches out so it is able to contain all the elements taken from other titles. In the end, I enjoyed my time with the game, however not in the way I initially expected to. I hope Techland will in the future rely more on ideas of their own, because with the path forward based on Dying Light 2's impact, this series will remain just a Far Cry with zombies.
7 / 10
Excellent movement system; satisfying combat; solid crafting system; attention to detail in moral choices; few decent, memorable lines
Mediocre story; plenty of small scale bugs and glitches; endless sea of repetitive side missions; problems with identity as a game.