I’m an unapologetic zombie fiend. Growing up at much-too-young an age to be watching zombie flicks, I love everything about them. The gore and horror are fun, sure, but what about the sociological implications? How would real people handle a zombie apocalypse? While this question’s been explored ad nauseam in cultures worldwide, I’m still hooked. Dying Light served as another dose for my addiction. So, of course, I couldn’t wait for Dying Light 2, especially since I loved the first title. Unfortunately, for anyone keeping up with the news since its inception, the turbulent development cycle at Techland did not bode well for the game, and the final product is emblematic of just that.
Dying Light 2 follows Aiden, a survivor of childhood experiments under the research of GRE, an organization faulted for the current zombie outbreak. Having collapsed, the world has one known “bastion,” if you could even call it that, in which the last vestiges of humanity allegedly reside. Aiden’s a pilgrim: a person who travels nomadically outside of the walls of any city. He gets word that his long-lost sister who was also experimented on might still be alive in Villedor, where our story takes place.
Aiden meets various people and factions constantly on the verge of starvation and home insecurity as the relentless undead makes survival an endless challenge. To find more information on his sister, he must work to assist those in plight, which serves as adequate justification for the central campaign of choosing allegiances between two different groups: freedom seekers and a more militaristic outfit. Rest assured, no matter which faction you choose, the story is bland and linear.
One of Dying Light 2’s selling points is that the player’s decisions shape the world. Sure, choosing one group over another and a few other choices technically change the window dressing, but the end game is the same, and the experience is equally dull, littered with a whole host of other problems. I never felt like I was changing Villedor, and I certainly didn’t feel a significant connection to anyone I met. Two characters left me with some inkling of feeling, but with the rest of the world in tatters–in terms of development, not setting–these relationships are stymied.
Side quests are no better, with strangely bland, drawn-out dialogues that sometimes serve as the quest itself. I spent five minutes having the most inane conversation about a guy’s fish and Zen philosophy, which, while it certainly has the potential to serve as a whimsically farcical affair, was so trite and horribly delivered that I almost stopped the exchange in the middle of the sequence, which I never do in RPGs. Other side quests are the typical “go here, get me that” or “find me x of this” sort of exchange that many people are tired of at this point.
Other issues related to storytelling involve continuity errors or repetition. I discovered several exchanges in which Aiden talks to another character, shares information, there’s a reaction appropriate to the discussion, and then not another conversation–with different words–occurs not one minute later covering the same information, with the NPC just as surprised as the first time they discussed it. This was a common occurrence somehow. Other times, NPCs will have an emotional reaction to another character and then later talk to them as if the rocky interaction never occurred.
The gameplay and combat are not much better, unfortunately. Essentially, players have a jungle-gym of a city to climb, swing, and paraglide all over, which sounds cool, but the variety of structures is staggeringly slim. Climb one of four or five different building types, and you’ve climbed them all. In the second half of the game, the city center has several buildings littered with red panels that have the same exact zig-zag pattern of climbing with no challenge, variation, or obstacles. Street lights are generally positioned in the same places to hop-scotch on, and planks connecting rooftops are all over. The occasional safe zone has honey and two chamomile to create a bandage, and UV lights are generically placed near beds in the same formation almost every time.
Other formations in the city include windmills—which can expand a faction’s influence so that more goodies are placed in the city to either parkour over or help fight enemies—and players are typically given the option to provide the structure to either faction. Though, why would anyone mix and match when each faction’s offerings get better with each addition and players are encouraged to side with one? Players can delve into cordoned-off hospitals or clinics that contain valuable materials for upgrading core stats (stamina and health, don’t get excited). These are probably the game’s highlight, as they require some stealth and strategy.
Dying Light 2’s gameplay includes a respectable stealth option in some situations and painfully bland first-person melee combat. Stealthing is nothing new in terms of mechanics, but the delivered atmosphere combined with laid out puzzles requires thought and cooperation, in the event that players bring a friend. Rooms are typically dark, with zombies in a sort of stasis. Make noise or bump into the wrong thing, and game over–or frantically try to run to a safe area, which can be exciting, too. These sections are by far the most, or perhaps only, fun I had playing Dying Light 2.
Because the combat is terrible. On hard difficulty, enemies are damage sponges that teleport to you, closing massive gaps and requiring players to dodge or block, with blocking becoming a less viable option late game because enemies seem to rely on strong attacks that surpass blocking. The laziest design in games when notching up difficulty involves damage numbers, health bars, and removing toys from the player, and that’s exactly what happened here. I had to pull the difficulty down because battles weren’t just too hard, they were annoying, and there was no way I was playing this game longer than necessary just to grind on side quests. Even on normal difficulty, the experience was just as bland, but at least beatable.
When confronting enemies, players can swing a melee with meaningless small numbers to differentiate one cleaver from a bat or whatever. Timing a block or dodge at the last moment will stun the enemy for some reason and allow players to follow up with other previously learned special abilities. That’s basically combat. Players can craft other tools like mines or Molotovs, but these do little to change the tide of battle. The bow and arrow, for whatever reason, was a tremendously invaluable tool, but that requires finding materials to make more arrows, so forget that.
A couple of the boss battles in this game occurred in three sections fighting the same boss back-to-back. Now, in most games, each iteration involves either a different environment, boss abilities, or some other change. Here, nothing changed. Absolutely nothing. I fought the same human who just refused to die. Not only was it comical how much abuse the human took, but it was frustrating to have to do the same exact battle over and over. The final boss was basically just me walking backward as the boss slowly walked toward me as I pelted him with arrows for five minutes, circling the arena. A joke.
Poor design isn’t the only issue, though: Dying Light 2 suffers from bugs, even after the most recent massive patch. Here’s an abbreviated list of what I discovered (ahem): repeating arrow shot sound glitch, characters running in place sideways in the air, quest activation markers not working, doors not opening all the way and preventing passage, projectiles stuttering in mid-air, falling through floors, jumping through platforms you’re supposed to be able to grab onto, reviving partners yet nothing happens, getting stuck inside walls, game freezing at the ending after beating the final boss (three times in a row), randomly wet and shiny textures on NPCs, NPCs clipping the camera during dialogue and seeing the inside of their heads, ragdolling and stuttering enemies, and so much more. The game also has awkward fade-to-black transitions between each dialogue exchange with an NPC, and load times last at least five seconds at every transition in the game.
At least the world is beautiful, if gray and browns are your thing. Now, this game doesn’t pop off the screen with an array of colors, which would appeal to most people, but it’s appropriately drab and well-detailed. If you’re after an apocalyptic urban landscape, Dying Light 2 presents well. Similarly, the music suits the mood at every turn. I enjoyed most of the original music as well as the licensed music (any Metric fans out there?) Unfortunately, the licensed music is played repetitively and occurs at multiple safe areas, which doesn’t make sense, unless everyone’s got the same mixtape.
Despite all my complaints, I initially had fun with Dying Light 2. The first quarter of the game was engaging. I think if the rest of the game played like this, I would have way more positive things to say, but the fact is that it’s just not done. This is clearly an unfinished game mired in mismanagement. I don’t blame the developers at all; the leaders and executives behind this work are responsible. What works here is clean and well done, albeit with some boring AAA niceties. After the first quarter or so, though, the game absolutely falls apart in almost every respect. I’m sad for what was produced here, but if I’m being honest, I’m more sad that I invested nearly thirty hours of my own time into this. Don’t make the same mistake I did.