The first Dying Light was many things. It was dark and dread-filled zombie-infested action game, it was a parkour playground full of swift navigation and exploration activities, it was even a thrilling and and expansive co-op adventure for the zombie slayer with friends. What it wasn’t, however, was a particularly sophisticated narrative experience. Despite some intriguing characters and a unique setting, not many people remember Dying Light for the story. With Dying Light 2, Techland aims to make sure that character and story are at the forefront of every decision you make in the game.
Our E3 2019 demo begins with our new protagonist, Aiden Caldwell, refreshing himself at the sink of a dusty tavern called The Fish Eye. As society rebuilt itself in the shadow of a zombie apocalypse, new groups formed and started to vie for power. Aiden finds himself in the middle of the many conflicts that aim to shape the way civilisation recovers in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. At the same time, he has his own struggles to keep in mind, because he’s infected with the same virus that has turned so many people into these mindless creatures. People like him have bands around their wrist that track and show how far along the infection is. For him, his infection is steadily spreading, meaning he’ll have to balance keeping the peace in society with keeping the peace in his own body.
For now, though, society takes priority. There’s a man named Frank at The Fish Eye who’s working with Aiden and a couple others to try and bring water back to their district. The source of water is controlled by a powerful group called the Renegades, and they aren’t a very agreeable group of people. When Aiden and Frank attempt to peacefully negotiate with them, Frank is hit with a bullet and left for dead before negotiations can even really begin. Aiden rushes to his aid, but the Renegades are already fleeing back to their base, taking the last chance for fresh water in this district with them.
Aiden and the player are both faced with a big choice here. Do you stay to help your friend Frank and tend to his wounds? Or do you leave him with the others while you rush off to go tail the Renegades? In our demo Aiden decides to follow the Renegades, but the developers running our demo assure us that staying with Frank would lead to a very different mission progression.
Aiden swings, climbs and slides through buildings and rooftops to tail the Renegades fleeing by car, showing off the incredible acrobatic parkour system of the game. Not much seems to have changed from the first game, but then again, not much really needed to. The first Dying Light had some fantastic feeling parkour and the movement of Aiden in the sequel is just as sharp.
Along the way, Aiden stumbles and crashes into the bottom of a decrepit building, finding himself surrounded in darkness by a horde of zombies. We get a mild taste of combat here, which looks a noticeable touch more fluid and weighty than the melee action of the original. More interesting, though, is the mechanic of using Aiden’s high-powered flashlight to stun and fend off the hordes, giving him time to climb up and around the building in order to escape.
Eventually Aiden manages to find his way onto the car of the Renegades to take them out and strong-arm the driver into bringing him to their base. You can be tough and threatening with him, or understanding and convincing. Aiden decides to cut the crap in our demo and coldly threaten the driver into bringing him to their base, though. At this point, we’ve made a few choices that have changed the path of our mission. Techland promises that, with the various branching paths each event in the game can take, a single playthrough of Dying Light 2 will offer up just about half of the possible content in the game.
Once you arrive at the massive Renegades facility, they’re on high alert, meaning Aiden needs to sneak his way to the top floor to get a one-on-one with the leader of the Renegades. When he arrives, he’s faced with one last major choice: the leader of the Renegades insists that the two of them are being played by a third group, and he can help Aiden with the water as long as he trusts him and helps deal with this third party. Alternatively, Aiden could decide that this is a big lie, and take the water pumps back by force.
Again, Aiden takes the forceful option, fighting off the leaders henchmen to make his way to the pumps. We get to see an encounter with a massive armored enemy, which feels more like a boss fight than a regular encounter with the way Aiden needed to carefully avoid and outmaneuver him to get in some solid hits. With the enemies defeated, Aiden turns the pumps on, restoring water to the district. Redistributing the water has wider ramifications, though; the emptied dam reveals a brand new district to explore, full of further missions and equipment for Aiden to discover.
Dying Light 2 takes everything from the original that worked so well, and strives to bring the weaker aspects up to the same level. Parkour and combat looks as crunchy as ever, along with gorgeous visuals and lighting that complement the carnage beautifully. Most importantly, though, is the fact that the massive narrative at the heart of the game truly feeds into every aspect of your experience. Every choice and action ripples in a way that truly matters, and I can’t wait to see how the full experience evolves with these ambitious narrative mechanics in play.