Written by Jeffrey Alleman
If Dying Light 2 seems to have flown under the radar, it’s because it has. With titles such as Cyberpunk 2077, Avengers, and Final Fantasy VII, it is completely understandable to have everyone focused on them. However, after a behind closed doors look at Dying Light 2, this game should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Dying Light 2 is set 15 years after humanity lost to the virus introduced in Dying Light. The setting is being touted as a “Modern Dark Age,” where society has become violent, primal, and unforgiving. The city is split by numerous factions, all vying for control over vital resources such as water. These factions roam the city by day, with the night controlled by the infected. As far as the game’s characters are concerned, they are living in the last great human settlement still standing. You play as Aiden Caldwell, a survivor in the city boasting some impressive agility and brutal combat skills. It is up to you to decide which factions to help, and how the world can be shaped in the end.
The city is made up of seven truly unique regions: each introducing new parkour abilities, new enemies, and new gameplay mechanics. A new mechanic introduced in Dying Light 2 is the ability to make game defining narrative choices: with every choice you make comes its own set of consequences. You can uncover or erase whole locations, choose to save or sacrifice key characters in the narrative. The developers at Techland assure that the consequences of your actions result in drastically different results; so much so that you will want to invite your friends to your game so you can compare just how different your cities have turned out.
The demo starts in a meeting at the Fisheye, a tavern in the center of the city where survivors meet. It is owned by Frank, a friend of the protagonist, who thinks that the only way to solve the city’s water shortage is to make a deal with The Colonel, the leader of the Renegade faction who works from the city’s pumping station. Frank sets a meeting between the leaders of the Renegades, the Scavengers, and the Peacekeepers, all factions in the game. Right as Aiden is meant to join this meeting, things get off on the wrong foot. One of the soldiers from the Renegades shoots Frank in the gut, so naturally Aiden parkours down the side of a building to jump into the fray.
This is when we get our first look at the combat in Dying Light 2. To say that the brutality of the first game returns would be an understatement. There seems to be heavy emphasis on dismemberment and beheading, because, from my experience, I’m not sure any of the enemy combatants died completely intact. The combat seemed to be a rhythmic dance of dodge, parry, counter. The parry felt especially heavy when the combatants’ weapons meet, resulting in an unexpectedly satisfying sound. It all flowed very smoothly and was over just as fast as it had begun.
With the enemies dispatched, we turn our attention back to our friend Frank who had been shot. This is where we get our first narrative decision to make: we can either stay with Frank or chase the Renegade who had escaped in their van, hoping to reach him before he gets back to their base and warns the rest of the faction of what went down at the meet. In this playthrough, we chose to chase the van at the urging of the leader of the Peacekeepers, who seemed overly insistent that we do so. So off we go.
The parkour mechanic that makes the Dying Light series stand out among other zombie survival games is back and better than ever. Aiden can sprint, jump, slide, and mantle like a world-renowned gymnast, squeezing through the tightest spaces and climbing buildings that seemed unclimbable. Two new gadgets that were showcased to help Aiden traverse the city are the grappling hook and the para glider. The grappling hook can help Aiden to traverse those areas that seem just out of reach, while the para glider helps cross those gaps that may be just a little too far. One thing to note is that while traversing, there is a stamina gauge on screen that depletes while performing feats like climbing and para gliding that I assume means you will need to replenish it before moving on, lest you fall to your death.
While traversing a building, Aiden finds himself crashing through the floorboards of a building and into a dimly lit basement teeming with infected. He quickly spots a route out and wall-runs past one group, then uses the head of another to reach a ledge and pull himself up and out of harm’s way. Later, in a more densely packed room of infected, Aiden pulls out an ultraviolet glow stick and cracks it, illuminating the immediate area around the player and keeping the infected back. The player can use these to buy some time and escape when necessary.
As we continue through the demo, we learn that the choice we made to chase the van and not stay with Frank and help him has resulted in his death. We are presented with similar choices throughout the demo, such as confronting the leader of the Renegades: The Colonel. We are given the choice to either believe his story that the Peacekeepers just want him out of the way so they can control the water, or we can go through him and turn on the water ourselves. These choices are plentiful, and although the demo is too short to gauge the significant ramifications of these choices, it gives off the feeling that they will change your game world in dynamic ways.
In a Q&A with the developers after the demo ended, we learn that there is a full day and night cycle with infected becoming more ravenous at night, vehicles can be driven but are not the focus of the development team, and 4-player co-op returns with the host player’s city being the city in which the players find themselves.
Techland seems to have created a massive sandbox in which the player’s choices dynamically shape the narrative, leading to drastic differences in storytelling between yours and your friends’ games. The brutal combat and acrobatic parkour make for incredible sequences that let the player feel powerful, yet vulnerable at the same time. The game is set to be released in Spring 2020, adding to the already incredible lineup of AAA games slated for that same time early next year. If the story is as good as it seems, I believe it’s going to be one of the standout games of 2020.
Jeffrey Alleman is an aspiring games journalist currently pursuing a degree in Computer Science with a minor in Video Game Studies. You can watch him stream at https://mixer.com/IRownanI