Dying Light 2 Review

The original Dying Light proved to be a very popular game. Though I only played the main story of the original game, and didn’t really stick with it through all of the extra content updates, I really enjoyed it. It was also very memorable game among the open-word post-apocalyptic and zombie genres, particularly thanks to its brilliant parkour and combat.

Story

In Dying Light 2, you play as generic protagonist A (also known as Aiden), who is searching for his sister; they were both the victims of scientific experiments in their childhood at the hands of the main antogonist, Waltz, and Aiden’s search has led him to the walled city of Villedor. As a protagonist, Aiden has very little real personality of his own, but instead operates as a trampoline for other characters’ personalities to bounce off of. That sort of narrative device is fairly typical, but in a first person game, that does feel a little disjointed - seeing everything from a character’s direct point of view should help you feel more immersed, but when that character is just a generic video camera that has no personality stickers slapped to the side of it, that perspective loses some of its magic. In this case, I didn’t really find it to be a problem though, as it does allow the other characters’ personalities to shine through. And on the whole, the other characters in the game are varied and interesting. Sure, there are some boring and forgetful and some of the typical character archetypes in there too all as some amount of filler, which is always to be expected. But there are enough interesting characters for that not to matter.

I won’t get too much into the story details as I don’t want to put any spoilers here. The main thing to note is that there are lots of choices to be made throughout the story. A lot of the time these boil down to choosing between the main two factions: the Peacekeepers, who value structure and order, but are fundamentally fascists; and the Survivors, who are generally (but not always) peaceful and just want to be left alone to establish farms on rooftops. The decision making was pitched as having a big impact on the overall game, and while this is true, it’s only true to a certain degree. Some key decisions do lead to story differences, but these aren’t the radically different branching paths that people were led to believe. The branches that the main story presents, always lead back to the trunk of the tree. So they’re more like tangents really. And some of the decisions that set themselves up as being especially significant, really just control whether a certain character might be seen wandering around later in the game. Some of the tangents can be quite large though, so two people can still experience two largely different stories, even if they do retain the same cohesive thread.

Choosing between the Survivors and the Peacekeepers does also have an impact on the map. If you’re playing on easy difficulty, these won’t make a difference to you - they may even just seem like they’re cosmetic - because it really isn’t a challenge at that difficulty. But if you’re playing on hard difficulty, you might find them more useful. Giving more control to the Survivors will add traversal items into the areas they control, like extra zipwires and jump pads. Whereas siding with the Peacekeepers will add combat items, like carbombs and even turrets.

The story also isn’t necessarily the most engaging, as you never really feel fully invested in Aiden’s efforts, given that it feels like the efforts of a camera perspective, rather than an actual character. That being said, the story isn’t bad. It just isn’t great either. The inconsistent pacing is especially noticeable, as the game will often present you with some short and high-octane missions, to then follow those up with ones that feel artificially lengthened out to a point that doesn’t make sense. There are also a plethora of side missions that are decently varied, alongside a long main storyline. As long as you find the story engaging enough, that isn’t a problem. But you may get tired of it fairly quickly.

The different tangents you can experience based on the decisions you make along the way are good for replayability, but given that the story is about 30 hours long, not everyone will find the time to actually replay this several times. There also isn’t the option to manually save, so it isn’t possible to make one decision, then go back to that save point and experience the alternative option. If you want to experience all of the branching paths yourself, you’ll have to play the game through several times. I understand why the game does this, as it forces you to actually commit to your decisions, but as the length of the game may put people off from replaying it, most people simply won’t experience all of the different outcomes and consequences throughout the story, which is a shame. New Game Plus isn’t currently an option either. Hopefully they’ll add that in an update at some point.

The Sequel Treatment

So, it has to be said that this is very much Dying Light version 2. Compared to the original game, there are some more combat abilities now, and more traversal options. So even though there’s a bigger map now than the last game, traversing the world still feels great… eventually. The first few hours of the game feel slow, because you haven’t unlocked some of the core abilities that help the combat and parkour feel more fluid. Once you have access to a few of those skills though, the game really starts to feel great. There are small chance encounters around the map as well that make the world feel more alive now. Like zombies attacking another survivor, some people looting, or a bandit running away after having just robbed someone.

A noticeable difference from the first game though, is that night time simply doesn’t feel as dangerous anymore. Visibility at night is much better than in the first game. Which is admittedly very useful because there are more core missions that happen at night now. The day-night cycle does still feel significant, but just not quite as lethally significant as before. For me personally, that’s a shame. And I think that will be noticed by a lot of people that were fans of the first game. This is especially true once you’ve levelled up a bit. If you then return to some of the earlier areas in the game, even on hard difficulty, you’ll beat most enemies with a single hit. The game only scales the enemy levels to your level in those areas once you complete the main story.

There’s also a lot more verticality now - and I mean a lot of verticality - especially in the second part of the map, which certainly helps the setting feel like an actual city.

Combat

As I already mentioned, the combat only really opens up once you’ve unlocked a few of the abilities. So in the initial hours, the combat feels rather slow and awkward. Playing on hard difficulty, this also made the combat somewhat unenjoyable, with so little variation available. The main beneficial addition is being able to block and parry now, which seemed like a strange omission from the original game, so it’s good to have it here. Enemies do also have power attacks that can’t be blocked. And when you do parry and consequently stagger an enemy, you can use them as a pommel horse to get a powerful kick on another enemy. What this game lacks in combat compared to the original is ranged weapons. Firearms are essentially non-existent now except for some craftable single-use ones. There are bows in the game that you can get, that a number of enemies use as well. But the ranged enemies are mostly a nuisance when you’re trying to enjoy the melee combat.

Once you’ve unlocked certain key abilities - particularly the drop kick and stomp abilities - hard difficulty quickly transforms to feeling relatively easy. Especially with the added verticality in this game, you’re regularly able to drop kick tough enemies off the edge of a building, or into a conveniently placed wall of spikes. Charging around and drop-kicking enemies off of buildings in every direction somehow never gets boring. And having combat abilities that complement the game’s parkour is brilliant. If you’re in any way competent at combat in video games though, I’d recommend playing this on hard mode. Because of the combination of abilities like the drop kick, head stomp, and even being able to slide into enemies which knocks them down (immediately opening them up for a headstomp), the combat quickly becomes trivial, even on hard difficulty. If you generally side with the Peacekeepers, you can also unlock a semi-automatic crossbow, which is implemented in an extremely unbalanced way - you can use it to defeat most enemies at range without them ever standing a chance, so I’d advise never using the thing!

Despite breaking the game’s difficulty, the combat abilities certainly are cheesy and fun! And I’d always prefer the balance in a combat system to remain fun at the expense of appropriate difficulty.

Animations are also equal parts enjoyable and brutal. Killing an enemy with a critical hit, and seeing their head slice off in slow motion, for their arms to then flail around for a few seconds before they drop to the ground, might seem like overkill to some… but in the context of a zombie apocalypse, those sorts of gory animations feel appropriate, rather than excessive.

Parkour

The parkour and traversal has been expanded on with some new additions, like ropes, wall-running, airbags planted in the ground, and weird punching bags you can use for a safe landing from heights. The paraglider is the biggest change, letting you glide around with ease, particularly in the second area of the city which has a lot of focus on verticality. It’s not implemented in a realistic way - it can be taken out and put away instantly - but it’s an appreciated addition. The extra verticality here is also done well, thanks to the game engine having impressive draw distances that retain a lot of detail. You also get a grappling hook towards the end of the main story, that simply isn’t as good as in the first game, as you can’t use it to pull yourself up onto higher ledges; it only serves as a way of creating a swinging rope on demand. It is nevertheless still fun to use.

The changes to the stamina system are significant too. Stamina no longer drains as you’re running around, so you can just run infinitely. Instead, it drains as you’re climbing, jumping around, and pulling yourself up ledges. This adds a feeling of urgency to certain sequences which is great, but you have so little stamina at the beginning of the game that the system is mostly just annoying in the opening hours, as you’re falling off of things constantly.

Multiplayer

I can’t talk about this at all, as I haven’t tried the multiplayer. Real gamers have no friends.

Conclusion

It’s clear that I have some issues with the story and its inconsistent pacing. But I mainly find myself indifferent to the story, rather than actively disliking it. I also found myself a little overwhelmed by the amount of side-quests and markers that I ended up with on the in-game map, in the same way as I did with some of the more recent Assassin’s Creed games. That being said, I played Assassin’s Creed Odyssey through to 100% completion after about 140 hours because I liked the Greek setting. So I may end up finding myself doing the same thing here due to enjoying the combat and traversal so much. Although if their claim that 100% completion will take 500 hours is true, then maybe not!

That might sound like a deal-breaker, but it’s really not, because the parkour and combat are so enjoyable here. So I’d still recommend it based on the gameplay alone, even if you don’t connect with the story, especially these days where there are so many popular games out there that don’t have a story at all. And if you do connect with the story, then I recommend it even more.


Posted: February 11th, 2022
Categories: video games, reviews