Dying Light 2 is an ambitious sequel, especially when compared to its predecessor. The awkward marriage between parkour and zombies may have been little more than a gimmick the first time around, but now Techland is taking risks thanks to a newfound faith in its creative ideas. Techland’s sequel is crafting a realized, living world that can see drastic changes at every story beat and the changes to parkour are only the icing on the cake. Sometimes, forgetting Dying Light 2 falls into a sub-genre as beaten-to-death as zombies is easy, thanks to gameplay that is so damn impressive.
During E3 2019, OnlySP was invited to take a hands-off, private look at the game’s latest demo build which featured nearly an hour of story content. Along with the expected newly fleshed out parkour systems, the demo gave a peek into a world that can be completely melded by a player’s decisions and actions.
The demo opens up with the series’s new protagonist, Aiden Caldwell, as he struggles with fighting the zombie infection. After pulling himself together, the demo gives a solid look into dialogue and interactions with NPCs. For the most part, the dialogue options are staying simplistic, likely so players have a clear idea as to what choices they will be making. Throughout the presentation, Techland ensured that the choices made in Dying Light 2 have deep, interconnecting effects on the world and narrative. With that idea in mind, keeping dialogue options to only two choices seems like a smart call for now.
Caldwell heads into a bar where he meets up with some of his friends and presumed clan mates to discuss their group’s plan of action to get water for their people. Though the acting and dialogue is only a slight step up from the previous title, this bar scene is the first step into a fully-realized, lived-in world. Upon exiting the building, the demo showcased rooftops littered with friendly NPCs as far as the eye can see. These people are building on pre-existing structures, cleaning, cooking, and even farming on rooftops in many cases. Dying Light 2 is not just full of hazardous brain-deads: the game is populated with living, breathing people that are all just trying to rebuild.
Before Caldwell travels too far out into the world, a rival faction shows up and starts stirring up trouble on the streets below. In an instant, chaos ensues, and the rival faction attacks a group of Caldwell’s allies. Caldwell leaps from the rooftop and lands on a member of the enemy faction to break his fall, leading to the first combat sequence.
With one exception, the combat looks to be mostly the same as it was in the first Dying Light. Combat in the original title was by no means bad, just a little uninspired. The exception, however, is the new beefed up modding system. During this first fight, Caldwell initiates an electricity amplifier to send bolts of lightning through enemies. Later, after the player runs out of ammo for their gun, a button can be pressed to flip the rifle around in order to use it as a melee weapon.
Back to the first fight, Caldwell is given the choice to help his wounded friend or pursue the enemy truck that got away in the hope of finding fresh water. Of course, Caldwell begins a near 15-minute romp over rooftops to cut off the escaping vehicle. Along with parkour systems that fit the architecture unique to Dying Light 2’s city, Caldwell has been given some new tools. First, a grappling hook can be used to swing from nearly any ceiling or rooftop, and a paraglider for slow descents to the infested streets below. As an added bonus for those paranoid of taking fall damage, Caldwell can also tackle zombies through windows and over ledges and use them to break his fall, nullifying any potential fall damage. In general, quality of life changes to the game’s movement options can be found across the board.
By the time Caldwell tracks the vehicle down to the enemy headquarters at a riverside plant, the ripples of past decisions start to make waves. The friend from earlier has died and he could have been saved. Angered, Caldwell sneaks into the building to confront the faction leader, the Colonel. The Colonel gives the player two options: Fight back to open floodgates that could bring fresh water to the city or heed the Colonel’s warnings that Caldwell’s so-called friends could be working in a plot against him. Ultimately, the demo opts to turn open the floodgates. What happens next bodes well for Dying Light 2, assuming the team can consistently pull off such a feat.
Opening the floodgates saves the player’s people from dehydration and certain death, but also reveals a horrible secret. The floodgates had been keeping a lower level of the city completely submerged, which is now free for the player to openly explore. Within the sunken city, though, is a new breed of zombie that will inevitably wreak havoc now that it has been set free.
Seeing the water level lower to reveal and entire area with its own missions and quests simply because of a split decision was staggering. Players who make that same decision will have fundamentally changed their Dying Light 2 experience. If Techland is committed enough, the end product could see Quantic Dream-levels of branching story paths.
Considering the wide story is coupled with tight-looking gameplay, Dying Light 2 is posed to be a strong contender at next year’s award shows. Even if the overall narrative in the launch product leaves something to be desired, Techland may finally put the same plans so many others have poorly executed into action. Time will tell if the game is set to redefine the zombie sub-genre like it so clearly aims to do.