Sequels are a tricky thing to handle. Do you iterate slightly and deliver more of what fans loved the first time around, or reach for the stars with new ways to play and mechanics? Both approaches work, but Dying Light 2 finds itself in the strange situation where it was pitched as the latter but actually resembles the former. Techland talked a big game in the years leading up to the sequel's release, promising meaningful choices and real consequences for your actions. Dying Light 2 is not that game.
Instead, it's a solid follow-up to the 2015 fan favourite. That intense melee-focused combat system is back for a second round along with those sublime parkour mechanics. They're enough to convince you to take up the activity in your spare time — it all feels that good. It's simple, really: if you enjoyed the first game, you'll also like Dying Light 2.
The problem lies in whether you've bought into what the Polish developer has been touting for its narrative. Decisions were said to be impactful, choices would have huge ramifications for the world and its characters. Having played the title through to completion, it now all feels like a bit of a lie. Story is certainly a big focus of the sequel — it actually has some semblance of a narrative unlike the first game — but it's all so uninteresting. With a largely dull cast of characters to boot, we have to wonder what happened during development.
You play as Aiden Caldwell, a Pilgrim (the name given to a group of outcast survivors) who has travelled to one of the few cities left in the world that has some sort of grasp on society and civilisation. While the undead roams the streets below, the living takes refuge on rooftops. Aiden's there to find his sister Mia, who he lost contact with during childhood. In order to track her down, he must get to know the various factions of the city and learn who knows what. Of course, this leads to Aiden getting caught up in their own squabbles too.
The story is... competent. It has a beginning, middle, and end. It has a few twists and turns here and there, characters hide their true intentions, and some wonky writing is enough to have you laughing at the game rather than with it. You know, classic video game stuff. It would be a satisfactory tale for a Dying Light game if it wasn't for Techland promising something so much grander.
You can make dialogue choices, but it's only on a handful of occasions that they'll change the course of the story. And when they do, their consequences aren't really felt. Pre-release footage spoke of opening up new parts of the city based on your actions — you can even see it in certain gameplay clips. None of this seems to be present in the final game. Either we were seriously unlucky with the choices we made or the feature just isn't there. We're leaning towards the latter. The most you can affect the world is by assigning facilities to either the Survivors or Peacekeepers, and all this does is paint the area in that faction's colours.
It's far and away the most disappointing thing about Dying Light 2. We can live with a forgettable story, but it feels a bit like the wool has been pulled over our eyes. What we have here is a 35-hour story (no, not 500 hours) with a smattering of high points. Your choices aren't particularly respected and decisions have no real impact on the open world you'll traverse. It's one of those games with such unremarkable characters that their names will go through one ear and straight out the other. Good luck remembering more than three faces after the credits roll. Thankfully, that's not enough to dissuade us from a recommendation.
Simply put: the game feels incredible to play. Once you've got most of the core abilities unlocked, the sense of speed and agility at your fingertips is unmatched. The first game established the free-form movement system and this sequel builds on it with new options like a paraglider and the returning grappling hook. Not only is the open world vast, but its verticality is off the charts — especially in the second part of the map. Skyscrapers are no longer an obstacle; they're part of the playground.
The new tool really does expand traversal possibilities tenfold: you can now gracefully take to the skies to avoid all the undead trouble on the ground or swing from lamp post to rooftop like you're the next Batman. Robert Pattinson might want a word or two, but style is the word that comes to mind as you glide through the air. Incredibly satisfying stuff.
Combat hasn’t received quite as much love, but it's still solid. Melee weapons are all the rage this time — guns are nowhere to be seen — meaning fights get bloody and personal. The usual mechanics are at your disposal: light and heavy attacks, blocks and parries, and that unique parkour spin where using an enemy to launch yourself into the air and kick another combatant in the face is fair game.
It's a different story for the undead horde, though. When the sun's out, guns out. The lifeless shufflers are easy prey for your arsenal of machetes, maces, and hammers. Although enemy density is a little disappointing at times, it's fun to manipulate the living into following you to zombie-infested areas and see them take one another on. Cleaning up the pieces, delivering a satisfying bludgeon to the back of the head never gets old.
Then the light of day is lost and suddenly you're bottom of the food chain. When the sun goes down, the special infected come out to play and their undead army has one job: chase you down and feast on your brains. The night sequences don't actually feel quite as intense as they did in the first game, strangely enough, but you've still got to keep your wits about you. At the height of a chase when you've got a horde of zombies on your back, the rush of adrenaline is what fuels you to find safety.
What keeps you out in the field in the dead of night, however, is the increased XP. Dying Light 2 strikes a great balance of rewarding you for your efforts when the undead are at their most dangerous, but also dealing a swift punishment should they get the better of you. If you want to knock off some of the side quests, though, then venturing out into the darkness is your only option.
As a whole, it's this loop that makes the game tick. The original game already nailed it; this sequel is all about refining and improving it. Aiden's paraglider is a genuine revelation: being able to glide about the city, drop down to ground level to kill a few infected and then take to the skies once more, feels so empowering. With the grappling hook on top, the possibilities are almost endless.
Another thing Techland wanted to do with the sequel is turn it into a bit of a full-blown RPG, which it has somewhat achieved. Weapons and gear now come with various stats and percentage-based perks as well as mod slots to supercharge them. Upgrade points then complement your build by unlocking various abilities. And while it takes a few too many skill points to get the parkour system properly up and running, you're golden once you're there. It's a lot like the first game: Dying Light 2 feels better and better the more you play.
There's even a very basic class system for you to dig into, with certain perks explaining how they'd fit different builds. You'd likely feel the full force of this during co-op, which wasn't available during the review process. It's our understanding you can play the entire game — except for the prologue — with up to three other friends. We never felt like we were missing out on anything by playing alone, however, so adding a few buddies into the mix only sounds like a net positive for the experience.
No matter whether you're playing alone or with friends, though, you'll always face the graphical mode conundrum. The title has three options: performance mode with a smooth 60 frames-per-second, and then two others labelled "quality" and "resolution". The former offers the best visual experience with ray-tracing enabled and the latter is all about that sweet 4K resolution — both aim for 30 frames-per-second. The big issue is not one of them feels optimal.
You can look forward to super-smooth gameplay in performance mode, but the graphics take a huge hit. And then when the quality and resolution modes are enabled, gameplay feels sluggish as the speed at which Aiden moves creates a pretty blurry image on screen. We won't go as far to say they're unplayable, but opting to bump up the visuals really takes its toll on interaction. At least you can look forward to some nice lighting no matter which mode you select, however.
But then there's the open world jank on top. This is nothing close to a Cyberpunk 2077 situation; don't worry about that. However, you can expect the odd glitch here and there like NPCs T-posing and hanging in mid-air, objects doing the same, and occasionally falling through the world. The menus are frustrating to navigate too thanks to sluggish response times.
Dying Light 2 is a super solid follow-up to the 2015 original, building upon its fantastic gameplay loop with new traversal options for even more parkour fun. It's extremely disappointing, however, that the narrative and open world promises Techland made in the lead up to launch haven't been realised. Your choices don't have nearly as much impact as we would like, and the map is much more rigid than pre-release footage would have you believe. Still, Dying Light 2 feels awesome and empowering to play, and that can go a long way.