Dying Light 2 Review

Stay human.
dying light 2 review header

One of the most hyped games of the year, Dying Light 2 Stay Human looks to build on the breakout success of Techland’s original wall-crawling, zombie-stomping open world survival game. This is a game developer that has really come into its own, propelled on a whirlwind journey since their 2011 hit, Dead Island, though never straying too far away from that original idea. Over the past decade, that Dead Island formula has continued to grow and mutate, sprouting a dynamic parkour movement system in Dying Light, alongside deeper narratives, and more satisfying combat. It all culminates in Dying Light 2 – an intriguing first person action game that leans ever closer into RPG territory. However, while it executes some of its evolved concepts perfectly, it’s not the open goal fans were likely hoping for.

Set 20 years after the events of the original game, Dying Light 2 transports us to the outskirts of Villedor, dropping us into the running shoes of new protagonist, Aiden Caldwell. Giving players a completely different part of the world and time period to explore has some immediate benefits when it comes to telling the game’s story. Techland is able to set up this new city as a war-torn battleground where human factions vie for power amidst an ongoing blackout and supply shortages. Oh, and there are the infected, too. By day, hordes of shambling zombies fill streets, but the real danger comes from the more menacing, plague-ridden variants that emerge as the sun sets. Survivors scramble for safety behind makeshift walls and UV lights illuminate Villedor’s streets with a harsh yet reassuring glow that keeps the monsters at bay.

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Despite touting a consequence-driven narrative that allows greater player agency, the story in Dying Light 2 falls flat. I found it almost impossible to care about Aiden’s quest as he navigates the chaos in Villedor, even as the plot twisted and wider conspiracies came into play. This was a weakness of the original game – bland, unlikeable characters whose dialogue fills the gap between gameplay sequences. That’s not to say Dying Light 2 isn’t without set piece moments, it’s just that the majority of these occur during gameplay, not when patiently listening to exposition dumps.

dying light 2 review parkour

Dying Light 2 is at its best when players are unleashed upon its labyrinthian sandbox. Boasting far more depth and verticality than Harran, Villedor is a city begging to be explored, from its subterranean metro stations to its towering skyscrapers. You can reach just about anywhere using Aiden’s parkour skills and new tools such as the paraglider. Getting around this perilous urban sprawl is by far the most enjoyable part of the game and you’ll always find there are multiple pathways to get where you’re going, whether hopping between lampposts, wall-running a billboard, or scaling ladders, usually combining a seamless sequence of various free-running moves. At times I forgot that I wasn’t playing a proper sequel to Mirror’s Edge.

Compared to the original game, you also have a broader range of options when it comes to combat. You’ll quickly learn to block, parry, and dodge attacks as you unlock more advanced moves to outmanoeuvre both human and infected enemies. Improvised elements, such as launching projectiles and drop-kicking enemies hundreds of feet off a building, add some much needed variety to these battles. Without deliberately injecting your own flare, combat is pretty boring as you swipe at foes until their health runs out or your weapons break. This is especially true of boss fights.

What’s particularly frustrating is how long it takes to wring some genuine enjoyment from Dying Light 2’s gameplay. Open world games of this size need a progression arc to keep players hooked, but you’ll spend close to 20 hours before unlocking the upgrades that are essential to experiencing the power fantasy Techland promises. Once you fill out both combat and parkour skill trees, it’s almost as though you’re playing a completely different game. Until then, you’ll feel annoyingly underpowered, with only a limited number of basic skills and actions available.

dying light 2 review combat

Dying Light 2 is far more accomplished than its predecessors, both visually and technically speaking. The drab beiges and browns of the original Dying Light are given life, light, and colour, rounding out some of those rougher edges. That said, there are certain eyesores that stick out. Infected hot zones are plastered with an ugly crystal-like substance, while the map’s edges are bordered by a toxic yellow hue that will kill players if they venture too far beyond the play area. Meanwhile characters can still appear awkwardly stiff, something that’s only accentuated when you inevitably run into bugs. Any open world game on this scale is almost guaranteed to have bugs slip through the QA nets, though here they can be particularly annoying – falling through floors and enemies attacking you in non-combat zones, to name a couple.

Those who find themselves hooked by the game will find plenty of layers to Dying Light 2, from its improved crafting and gear system, to increasing your rep with factions and the various bonuses this unlocks. Night-time incursions also have a bit more structure to them, offering big rewards, though only if you can avoid infected variants and keep your immunity topped up. This latter feature forces you to seek out UV lights and consume items in order to stay human as a timer ticks down.

Whichever parts of the game you enjoy most, you have freedom to pursue them and I suspect many – like myself – will revel in simply exploring Villedor, stumbling into side quests and activities, gradually filling out the game’s map while unlocking new gear and skills. It’s a far more enjoyable way of experiencing Dying Light 2 than blitzing the story missions, and lends credence to some of Techland’s claims about game time.

dying light 2 review co-op

We’ve yet to determine whether online co-op would improve this experience further. At the time of publishing this Dying Light 2 review, servers are offline but will go live once the game releases. We’ll report back on how well multiplayer is integrated and what (if any) tailored content Techland has on offer.

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Summary
Dying Light 2 expands and refines a formula Techland has been peddling since its breakout success with Dead Island. This sequel learns a lot from modern open world video games, its massive, zombie-infested sandbox rarely feeling empty, especially as you breeze through city blocks with a Mirror's Edge-like finesse. However, Dying Light 2 inherits the same problems - a dull story, tiresome combat, and character progression that’s a tad too sluggish.
Good
  • Dynamic parkour gameplay is a highlight
  • A huge sandbox with genuine depth in its environmental design
  • There’s scope for flare and silliness in the game’s combat
Bad
  • Gameplay feels limited until you fill out skill trees
  • A constant temptation to skip any cutscenes or dialogue
  • Not enough combat variety - relies on stamina more than skill
  • Bugs that too easily break your immesion
7
Written by
Senior Editor bursting with lukewarm takes and useless gaming trivia. May as well surgically attach my DualSense at this point.