‘Dying Light 2 Stay Human’ review: undead, not loving it

A lengthy marketing campaign for 'Dying Light 2' promised plenty, but it's shambled into launch feeling a bit underwhelming

It’s no secret that a lot of games got tangled up in the pandemic and copped a delay. However, Dying Light 2 seemed further away than most. In fact, you would have been forgiven for wondering if the open-world zombie game, promising to be bigger and better than its cult-classic predecessor, would ever arrive at all.

But, like a zombie in a shopping mall, it’s crept up on us from nowhere. All 500 hours of it, even if the results are seriously below par. Dying Light is a series largely about dicking around on rooftops and leathering zombies with a bit of rebar, and yet manages to make both the parkour and combat feel oddly weightless, locking away abilities – such as a power attack with a melee weapon, or the ability to run along walls like in Mirror’s Edge – behind an uninspired skill-tree. Factor in a sluggish XP grind and playing Dying Light 2 can feel like hard work.

While the Eastern European city of Villedor is indeed a beautiful digital tapestry, and in another life probably well worth a weekend away with EasyJet flights and three-star hotel, Dying Light 2 is so desperate to be an AAA game that developer Techland has achieved overkill here, littering this fictional city with a barrage of loot for you to pick up to craft objects you won’t care about, with locations you don’t want to visit in order to get XP for skills that you don’t want to use. It’s stuffed to the gills, meaning you’ll start to notice the repeated indoor areas or grimace quietly as you dive onto yet another mattress marked with a cross for a safe passage down to ground level.

Dying Light 2 E3 2018 Screenshot
Dying Light 2. Credit: Square Enix

With systems layered upon systems, there is indeed a lot of content in Dying Light 2, with the majority of it sucking as much joy out of the game as possible. Combat feels agonising, and a lot of the enhanced mobility you get in combat is to help you deal with groups of enemies. However, to make this work you’ll need to stagger an enemy for a lot of these abilities to come into play, which involves perfectly blocking their attack. This is nearly impossible to do (or at least I sucked at it) when you’re being flanked by the undead.

One cool new feature is the bio tracker which you’ll find on your wrist. A novel zombie conceit in this game means you can’t ‘turn’ if you’re under UV light, i.e. the sun, so providing you’re not murdered by zombies or bandits you’ll be fine until nightfall, but at night or down in the darkness, a timer will start ticking down until you eventually turn into a zombie. I’ve never run down the bio tracker’s clock the whole way, but I’ve gotten a real kick out of the way my pulse quickens whenever I get down to the last minute or so of immunity.

Dying Light 2 UV torch
Dying Light 2. Credit: Techland

This, combined with the fact that being spotted at night quickly turns the entire game into a recreation of Aliens’ coolant tower scene, with zombies charging at you from all directions, an endless tide that will continue until you die or get to some UV light. When time does tick down and you’re desperately trying to avoid scores of zombies, it’s a really engaging experience. But then reality kicks back in and you notice not only the game’s weak writing and even weaker voiceover work, but the fact that a large majority of the quests you take on simply don’t matter. You’re only doing it for the dubious reward of getting a few more experience points just so you can unlock the basic skills that feel like they should already be in the game. Did you know the ability to sprint is something you have to unlock in Dying Light 2? Now you do.

Early parkour is a clumsy affair, with protagonist Aiden feeling about as agile as the zombies that doggedly pursue you throughout the game’s darkness. If anything, it’s a fairly bad parkour and melee game where the melee feels unsatisfying and the parkour makes you feel like you’re drunk. Weaving to and fro across high beams does admittedly become quite engaging when you get a few skills under your belt, including rolls and acrobatic springs, but it took so long to get this part of the kit that my patience for aerial hijinks had long since eroded.

Dying Light 2. Credit: Techland.
Dying Light 2. Credit: Techland.

This is a game where you can get separate combat and parkour xp – for leveling up your combat and parkour skills – although the XP gain is so slow in both combat and parkour that your only real choice for progression is to do a bunch of shaggy dog quests which are very meat and potatoes: someone has gone missing; water supplies have been tainted, an area needs clearing of zombies. Some of these could lead to nice character moments if the writing were a little sharper, but very rarely do any of these side quests feel like you’ve changed much of anything after you’ve closed the loop. The in-game morality, meanwhile, often defaults to the Skyrim style “which faction do you like more” as you choose between the militaristic peacekeepers and the refugees. In quests though, it comes down to often deciding whether to do the bad thing and get more rewards, or to do the good thing – which will often involve having to fight the person that wants you to do said bad thing.

If you enjoyed Dying Light, you’ll probably manage to get a kick out of what has been achieved here, but outside of major style points for the franchise’s relocation to Villedor, what I saw here was more of the same, with a couple of neat ideas buried under a ton of odd junk. This was where Dying Light found itself at launch, so perhaps at some point in the five years of future content the game will live up to the promises outlined in its original marketing, but right now it would appear the game has squandered that promise and replaced it with so much drudgery. Dying Light 2 is exhausting, to its own detriment.

Dying Light 2 launches on February 4 for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, and PS5. We played on PC.

The Verdict

It’s more Dying Light but at what cost? A marketing campaign promised the world but a production hamstrung by constant delays and shifts in key personnel has delivered a joyless game that lacks the spirit of exploration of its predecessor and strips out a lot of the joy.

Pros

  • The City is visually stunning
  • Dying Light 2 is exciting when it puts you against the clock
  • If you enjoyed the original Dying Light at launch, this will probably scratch the same itch

Cons

  • Combat and parkour feel weightless
  • The writing and dialogue can feel a bit hammy
  • A sluggish XP grind locks some of the better skills away for awhile
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