Zombies are an interesting piece of horror history. With roots in voodoo and the slow, decaying zombies of early cinema what made them so horrific was their resilience and sheer number. As the growing masses became desensitized to the shambling masses zombies started getting faster and faster. It took until Dying Light, and now Dying Light 2 Stay Human, to combine the idea of parkour and zombies to create a way to test players' use of their environments under high-pressure circumstances. But has Techland managed to pull it off again?
Dying Light 2 restarted the apocalypse
After the Harran strain of the virus was handled everything was peaceful in the world and no zombie outbreak ever happened again, the end… just kidding. Since the events of the first game, a new strain has emerged that quickly toppled the world. Aiden is a Pilgrim, a wanderer of the zombie wasteland, in search of his sister who he has intel might be in Villedor, a walled city filled with infected and humans alike. On his journey to rescue his sister, Aiden must help the locals in return for information he's after, not only on the whereabouts of Mia but also about the strange GRE experiments they were a part of as children. Throughout the story, you'll mostly be embroiled in local politics but the occasional flashback to these experiments adds a bit of spice teasing the player that there's a bigger conspiracy afoot.
The two local friendly factions, the Survivors and the Peacekeepers do well to help Aiden slowly move towards his goal but ask their fair share of favors in return. Someone is selling poisoned water? Aiden can figure it out. Do we need to find a murderer? Aiden can track them. Is there a group of five well-trained and well-armed humans not reporting back via radios? Better send one man we've known for a few hours, he can handle the job. Due to the number of unrelated tasks being asked of Aiden, it always feels like for every five quests you've completed you're only half a step closer to your goal. It's in this way that Aiden's agency seems to be robbed of him, the flip side though is that there's plenty of time to develop relationships with key players in the power struggle for Villedor. A lot of Villedor's conflict is meant to be between the Survivors and the Peacekeepers and who is in control of resources like power and water, but the game never truly demonstrates any of this conflict instead opting to "tell not show" leaving the player with little impact.
Why are you fighting again?
Between getting pulled away from your objective frequently, and the lack of conflict in this supposedly conflicted city, a lot of the key points of the story you just need to nod and move forward with because reading into them further would just lead to further questions. The ripples of this questionable narrative can be felt most when it comes to key decisions in quests. Both factions are filled with genuinely good people who all have the same ideals, it doesn't even make sense for a decision to be made one way or the other as there's no negative reaction either way. These choices were a core part of how Dying Light 2 was going to expand on what the original build but ended up feeling superficial, mostly resulting in the difference between area bases being painted blue or red.
These decisions also hold little to no weight on the overall story, there might be a few shifted lines but both routes will lead you to the very same place almost immediately. Picking the Peacekeepers there was a time in the story I had to investigate a tunnel and a party of Peacekeepers showed up to assist me, in discussing this moment with a fellow writer who took the Survivor path I expected Survivors to show up instead but I was informed the same party of Peacekeepers show up, they just have a few lines about not liking Aiden.
When you're not progressing through the story you can be exploring the different regions of Villedor. The starting region, Old Villedor, is filled with 1-2 story buildings packed tight among narrow streets. It's impossible to walk from point A to point B without having a number of activities pop up on your map. You can complete combat and parkour challenges to level up your skills, assist NPCs with missions ranging from delivering goods to trying to jumpstart post-apocalyptic dating services. Each of these different tasks is never a huge time sink and always leaves you thinking "Yeah, I can quickly go do that" and before you know it you've completed an entire region. Not just the external can be explored as you'll routinely come by open doorways and windows. There's all kinds of randomized loot that you can find in these apartments, not to mention the zombies, but as you keep playing you'll begin to see the interior decoration plans looping. The world manages to balance quite well between how full the world is of things to do, with the relative size.
Free running and traversal are where Dying Light 2 really excels. Whether hopping between low rooftops or scaling highrises the number of options for getting around the world is immense. With so many survivors running around all of the different pathways and shortcuts across roofs feel well used and planned. It doesn't feel like a parkour game where the world has been transformed to fit a movement system, instead, it feels like this is the way Villedor would be even without Aiden or the player's presence. What parkour you can do at the start of the game is quite limited, you can't even slide until you get the upgrade for it, but by the end, you'll be linking together all kinds of moves showing your mastery of the city. Much like Dying Light, you're really made to feel weak and helpless at the beginning of the game, but by the time you're even halfway through the horrors of the night is much easier to get around.
Run, Jump, and Fight
Combat in Dying Light 2 manages to get a lot right but still slips up in some important aspects. Mostly melee-focused the weapons you'll find across the apocalypse are a variety of cobbled-together weapons that look like they were pulled straight from Mad Max. You'll pick up a hubcap ax, or a hammer made out of bent and welded rebar and wield them with as much weight as you'd expect. Much like traversal, you start awkwardly before building up to all kinds of powerful weapons that you can add further modifications to and mow down your enemies. The sense of power creep was extremely satisfying, unfortunately, though it still couldn't break away from the clunkiness of first-person melee combat. Even at the end of the game with a 170 damage katana that breaths fire combat boils down to awkwardly strafing around while mashing the attack button as fast as you can. The parkour combat moves like drop-kicks and stunning dodges do add variety, but not enough to elevate combat overall.
The main mechanic that returns from the first game is how day and night influences the local undead population. By day most zombies are inside a variety of hollowed-out buildings, slowly shambling or laying completely dormant. This leaves you free to explore the world and complete your objectives, but as the sun sets the UV-sensitive zombies to come out to play. In the early game, while extremely underpowered, resting through the night is the safest way to stay alive, risking the dark does grant some benefits like additional progress towards upgrades. The most hectic aspect of nighttime freerunning is the risk of Howlers starting a chase, extremely powerful zombies will begin to charge at you. With as powerful and as fast as they are even during the postgame I would want to get back to protection as soon as possible. Even when you feel invincible in Dying Light 2 there's something bigger and badder ready to take you down a peg. The day/night cycle does a good job limiting the player's exploration by shifting where zombies are but also tempts players to take high risk/high reward chances. It's the perfect mesh of steering players and gameplay mechanics.
Whether you're looking for your sister, getting embroiled in local politics, freerunning across rooftops, or wildly swinging a machete one thing that is undeniable is that the game looks good. When you get to any of the high points in town it's well worth taking a look around and seeing the care taken in the details of buildings as nature has reclaimed them. Vines hanging down from the roof, furniture is worn from time, and cracks in the foundation where you can only assume a horde of zombies fell through. Dying Light 2 also shows off its flair in the transitions from day to night, UV lights turning on the city feels alive and terrifying.
As is due for the course with Dying Light 2 even though there are moments that show off the beauty of Villedor the game is also plagued with a variety of graphical glitches. There's the standard ragdoll stuck in object issues but also Aiden falling through geometry, animations playing off sync from one another, or other actions just not being performed when attempted.
Dying Light 2 is a really fun game that seems to suffer not from any particularly large issues, but from plenty of little ones. Much like a big-budget blockbuster film, it's fun to get into the world, help the people, fly across rooftops, and kill some zombies. When you start applying deeper scrutiny to the different aspects of the game though it begins to fall apart, most of all the story. If you come into Dying Light 2 Stay Human expecting choices that will make a large difference in the world and narrative you might be somewhat disappointed, but what you will get is a lot more Dying Light. If you were a fan of the original you'll certainly be a fan of its sequel, and if you're in the mood for a video game and light story then Dying Light 2 Stay Human will fill that need.
TechRaptor reviewed Dying Light 2 Stay Human on PC with a copy provided by the publisher. This game is also available on Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.
- Exhilarating parkour
- Robust worldbuilding
- Day/Night cycle
- Shallow Storyline
- First Person Melee