Techland’s love affair with first person open world zombie action RPGs began with Dead Island back in 2011, and in the time since then, that love has only grown. With the launch of Dying Light in 2015, the Polish studio delivered a bold new IP- an ambitious open world game that would focus as much on survival mechanics and horror vibes as it would on traversal built on thrilling free-running and parkour. Dying Light instantly carved out a solid identity for itself with that unique mix, and now, its sequel, Dying Light 2 Stay Human, is looking to build on that foundation with even grander ambitions. And though it’s often held back by noticeable issues, there’s no denying that it is, for the most part, an enjoyable romp from beginning to end.
Dying Light 2 is set 20 years after the events of the first game, and puts you in the shoes of a new protagonist in a new location. You play as Aiden Caldwell, a man with a mysterious past who travels to the city of Villedor, also known simply as the City, in search of his sister. Villedor, however, has problems of its own- a rising rebellion and rumblings of a power struggle are threatening to tear the city apart, while swarms of the Infected continue to wreak havoc within its walls as well. As luck would have it, Aiden soon realizes that his personal quest is tied intricately to the fate of the city and the secrets it hides.
It’s a solid enough setup that doesn’t take long to begin gaining momentum, and those who’re already fans of the series will find it particularly easy to get invested in the story. Dying Light 2’s world in particular is one of its biggest strengths, because world-building is an area the game excels at. The twenty-year time jump from the original game is a choice that pays off, and being immersed in and learning the ins and outs of a city that has been surviving the apocalypse for two decades is one of the highlights of this experience. Villedor is portrayed as one of the last bastions of humanity, and a city that has essentially regressed to the dark ages, and the game does a great job of selling that in several ways.
"Though Dying Light 2 is often held back by noticeable issues, there’s no denying that it is, for the most part, an enjoyable romp from beginning to end."
Where Dying Light 2’s story takes some interesting risks is with the fact that it now also heavily relies on choice and consequences mechanics, which is one of several ways that this game doubles down on being an action RPG. Every so often, the game asks you to make tough choices and presents you with moral quandaries that not only change how the story progresses, but have an impact on the world itself. The choices you make decide which faction exerts more influence over different parts of Villedor, which, in turn can lead to different gameplay opportunities.
By and large, Dying Light 2 makes solid use of choice and consequence mechanics. Issues with the writing, which I’ll get to in a bit, sometimes dull the impact of some choices that should feel heavier than they do, but there’s undeniable appeal in any game that successfully presents choices that make you think, and then presents the consequences of those choices in interesting ways- and Dying Light 2 does both those things more often than it doesn’t. Meanwhile, having your choices impact the world itself and carry weight on the gameplay front as well also makes them feel more meaningful.
"There’s undeniable appeal in any game that successfully presents choices that make you think, and then presents the consequences of those choices in interesting ways- and Dying Light 2 does both those things more often than it doesn’t."
Dying Light 2’s storytelling does have issues though. Though it is, for the most part, a step up from its predecessor, the quality of writing in the game is still a little too rough. It is often let down by clunkily written dialogue, characters behaving in inconsistent ways, and clumsy exposition. Voice acting is also all over the place- though some of the central characters are decently voiced, the large majority of them have wildly inconsistent voice acting. It’s all enough to blunt the impact of the game’s immediate narrative, even though its world-building remains consistently strong.
Of course, where Dying Light 2’s strengths really lie is the parkour. The original game tapped into something special with its free-running open world gameplay, and combined it ingeniously with the threat of a harsh post-apocalyptic setting, making it a crucial part of its identity. The sequel does that just as successfully, if not more. Villedor is a lovingly crafted sandbox that’s been designed for one purpose and one purpose only- to leverage the game’s excellent traversal mechanics.
Every step of the way, you’re encouraged to chain together runs, leaps, slides, wall-runs, swings, and what have you across rooftops, wrecked vehicles, lamps, and anything else you can lay eyes on in the city. The simple act of moving from one point to another remains extremely enjoyable throughout the experience. Not only does Dying Light 2 consistently design many of its quests around parkour challenges or high speed free-running chases, the open world itself is designed immaculately to put traversal front and center.
"Villedor is a lovingly crafted sandbox that’s been designed for one purpose and one purpose only- to leverage the game’s excellent traversal mechanics."
The Infected, of course, are another in the group of pillars that holds up the core of the Dying Light experience, and similar to the traversal, have been refined even further in the sequel. Treading into zones of the city that are teeming with the undead always feels appropriately daunting, while crawling through dimly lit mazy interiors of buildings while you try to sneak past scores of dormant zombies never fails to be a heart-pounding experience. The balance Dying Light 2 strikes between the threat of the Infected and the allure of the greater riches nighttime exploration yields deserves special praise as well.
Another major new mechanic that brings an interesting wrinkle to the gameplay is your exposure meter. like essentially every other person in Villedor, Aiden is infected with the virus that turns people into zombies, which means that anytime it’s completely dark out, he’s minutes away from turning- which, of course, is game over. That’s not something that you have to deal with during daytime, though in the darkness, you do have to contend with a countdown. If you don’t get find a UV light source before time runs out, you turn, though there are items you can consume to buy additional time. It’s a smartly implemented system, particularly because it brings some welcome urgency to proceedings when you’re indoors. There’s also the fact that the game itself is rather generous with items that you can scrounge from the environment that can help with your immunity, while the countdown itself allows for several minutes of time before hitting zero.
Where Dying Light 2 isn’t as convincingly successful as it is with traversal and crafting tension and horror is the combat. First person melee combat is always tricky to pull off, and there aren’t a lot of games that have done it successfully. The original Dying Light hinted at having the potential to do that, but ultimately fell short of the mark- and that’s pretty much where Dying Light 2 finds itself as well. Of course, there are times when combat can get interesting, especially with ranged weapons and once you start using your parkour moves and the environment to your advantage, but by and large it feels a bit too clunky. From the way enemies move and animate to the accuracy of parries and dodges to occasionally dodgy hit detection, Dying Light 2’s combat has enough issues to make it one of the game’s bigger weaknesses. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of first person melee combat, and this game hasn’t done much to change that.
"First person melee combat is always tricky to pull off, and there aren’t a lot of games that have done it successfully. The original Dying Light hinted at having the potential to do that, but ultimately fell short of the mark- and that’s pretty much where Dying Light 2 finds itself as well."
Progression is another area where Dying Light 2 is a tad uneven. Your two main stats – health and immunity – can be upgraded with inhibitors, which means you’re always motivated to go hunting for them even in dangerous parts of the city. But other facets of the progression suffer from some setbacks. One of those facets is a full-fledged gear system, which falls into the trap that gear systems in games so often do. Though you can, every once in a while, chance upon gear pieces with genuinely useful perks, more often than not the new gear pieces you equip offer incremental upgrades at best, which essentially boils down to watching the numbers go up.
Beyond that, Dying Light 2 also allows you to unlock skills to help out in things such as combat, stealth, and parkour, but the pool of upgrades available here, too, is diluted by far too many basic unlocks that honestly should have been part of the base, core moveset. Having to spend skill points to be able to do things such as dash and slide feels like the game is being a bit too stingy.
On the visual front, Dying Light 2 is, for the most part, an impressive game. Distant vistas and objects can be a bit blurry and character models for some NPCs can look a little too rough, but by and large, its solid visuals and art design contribute significantly to the game’s success in realizing its world as well as it does.
Even so, there are several technical issues in the game. Many of them are relatively minor, like texture pop-in, wonky animations and facial movements, and audio glitches, but they’re frequent enough that they collectively become an issue. Some bugs are more severe in nature- for instance, I’ve played several quests where the audio for characters would suddenly vanish, and subtitles would stop appearing too, and entire conversations and scenes would go by where I had no idea what anyone said. Sure, the game’s technical state is certainly not even close to being as unpolished as Dying Light 1 was when it launched, but hopefully Techland will still work on quashing these issues as quickly as possible.
"A few unforced errors and a pervasive lack of polish make Dying Light 2 Stay Human feel frustratingly held back from true greatness, but what is here is still good enough, and equally importantly, interesting enough, that most who try it will find something to appreciate."
Much like with the original Dying Light, Techland’s ambition and sheer audacity are to be lauded with Dying Light 2 Stay Human, and it is also to the game’s credit that it pulls off so much of what it strives to do as well as it does. However, there is also a lot that it stumbles on, and it does that enough that it can often undermine its own accomplishments. A few unforced errors and a pervasive lack of polish make Dying Light 2 Stay Human feel frustratingly held back from true greatness, but what is here is still good enough, and equally importantly, interesting enough, that most who try it will find something to appreciate.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Solid setup and world-building; Dealing with the Infected is always a thrilling experience; Excellent free-running makes traversal consistently enjoyable; Villedor is smartly designed to emphasize parkour; Choice and consequence mechanics make it easier to get invested in the story; Your choices have an impact on the world as well;
Clumsy writing lets down the storytelling; Inconsistent voice acting; Combat generally feels clunky; Unbalanced progression mechanics; Numerous technical issues;