Christopher Cross sang, “Don’t surrender to the dying light; don’t take it lying down.” The world has changed as the first cutscene plays before getting to the main menu, catching us up from where we left off from Dying Light, and things are not entirely for the better leading in to Dying Light 2 Stay Human. Humanity is put to the test, possibly its last; so there’s an undying hope, an unwavering passion to persist against the face of extinction. Techland has been doing the zombie thing for a while now, and I’ve yet to tire of their vision of a zombie apocalypse – I’m fascinated by all the dimensions that they explore. While there’s a deeper focus on relationships, actions, and consequences, there’s no forgetting what this game is really about: zombie slaying with inventive melee weapons, utilizing a now expanded parkour moveset, a larger focus on role-playing, and even a city to save.
The year is 2036, taking place 15 years later after the events transpired in Harran. The world has suffered a second, more catastrophic collapse. Harran was only the beginning, and a failure to develop a proper cure has ensured the spread of the virus worldwide. Now there are only small settlements, and a single city that remain, often referred to as The City. Playing as Aiden Caldwell, a Pilgrim, a group of people who embark on excursions to cross vast distances to deliver messages and supplies. Aiden is in search of his long-lost sister, and comes to Villedor, The City that rests in this vaguely European locale. After doing this for so long without incident, Aiden surprisingly gets bitten by a zombie just before entering The City. He is quickly taken to safety, and is just as swiftly about hanged for his potential turn into a zombie that thankfully doesn’t come. He befriends a few folks and is able to keep the infection at bay, which there’s no cure for, or hope that one will come.
Becoming Aiden in his quest to find his sister is frequently derailed by the relationship forming and constant conflict in The City that demands his attention, and the surprising amount of influence you have in the direction of The City is felt by everyone as you up-end things that have been long-standing before you even arrived. Harran felt wild and untamed even though it was quarantined from the rest of the world. Villedor by comparison was meant to contain the humans from the zombies on the outside, acting as a complete reversal of Harran. Even still, the zombies still managed to linger inside; enough to be problematic but not as dense or overwhelming. For better or worse, you’ll be talking to a lot of characters throughout the story. Because what’s left of the human population has been pushed to a single city, there’s now more interaction and less isolation. The most prominent character that you come across is Lawan, played by Rosario Dawson in both voice and likeness. Her appearance in the game actually enhances the experience, and never detracts. She’s a fantastic inclusion, and it’s always great to interact with her every time.
The follow-up to 2015’s Dying Light less survival horror and more action RPG this time around. It’s a role reversal that may or may not be embraced, but it wears its influences on its sleeve. Dying Light felt unique and something all its own even though it blended genres. This time, you can see that Techland went for something more familiar. For instance, you now have a stamina bar and it gets consumed during combat and while climbing like in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Capturing windmills is now a climbing puzzle not unlike Far Cry 4, which are fun in their own right. Having been bit, you have a limited time that you can spend in complete darkness, unless surrounded by light or ultraviolet lamps. When that isn’t possible, you’ll have a constantly ticking timer to contend with. You’ll have to gather ingredients and take medicine the renews your immunity timer, very similar to dealing with malaria in Far Cry 2. Where Dying Light 2 starts stepping out in front of the shadow of others is through its leveling and crafting systems that are familiar, but are satisfyingly distinct.
There’s a big tug of war happening with two of the largest factions, the Survivors who are simply civilians who are banded together, and the Peacekeepers. The peacekeepers are a police force formed from when the military became too overbearing, and eventually disbanded. All throughout my playthrough, the Peacekeepers gave off Brotherhood of Steel from Fallout vibes, and it wasn’t always a comforting one. Having such decision-making power in what happens to The City is surprising, yet impactful to see sections of city taken over, reflecting your choice. Aiden will make some very difficult choices, and risk losing the support of one or both factions depending on these actions. Techland chose to stick to the gray area of morality, and it pays off wonderfully. There’s no system to game in your favor, no clear understanding what effect your decision will have, and they’ll have consequences no matter what. You’ll always get something for making a choice, but you’ll lose something else as a result. These forks in the story road come at you fast, and you’ll only have a matter of seconds to decide what happens next. I look forward to replaying the story with different selections, but I’d love to see the branching paths that you can wander down.
There are only two skill trees in Dying Light 2, offering a more focused decision making process between combat and parkour. Like before, you level up your skills simply by using them and completing quests. Once the threshold of experience is earned, you’ll gain a skill point to spend on that tree. The tree will have limited branches unless you find three inhibitors. These GRE medicinal stims can only be found in marked containers, but are relatively easy to find. Using them on yourself will extend how much health or stamina you have, and will extend the branches of your skill tree to purchase all of the ones available to you. There are 25 levels per side of the skill tree, making for 50 levels in total to spend on enhancing your abilities. With a larger focus on role-playing, your character level isn’t that important. The highest level any given area is in the entire game is level 6, putting things into perspective. It takes six levels of either combat or parkour points to gain a whole character level. That means only 32 of the 50 points need to be spent in order to reach the required highest level in the game. That said, it means that the game’s current max level is somewhere around eight. It’s interesting the direction that Techland took the game, considering I ended up somewhere around Level 23 with all story content completed in the original.
Melee weapons are critical to your survival. You’ll find and use an assortment of them, from one-handed axes to two-handed bats. All weapons and gear you collect have a rarity tier utilizing the color system we all know and love. Later in the game you’ll gain access to bows and crossbows, but due to the technological decline and stagnation of the world, guns have become nearly extinct. In all of my time with the game, guns were mentioned, but never seen or used once – they’ve gone extinct. There are some makeshift guns like launchers and the like, but they are homemade weaponry that are simply not the same. It felt special to have possession of one in the prior game, but I can’t say I miss them here – because it just makes sense. For reasons undisclosed, you can’t repair any of the weapons you have this time around. The lauded dropkick from Dying Light returns, but when you acquire this ability it’s now a double tap of ‘E’ to initiate – a slight change that doesn’t feel as fluid to execute. No longer do you collect outfits that just change your look, gear is separated by head, wrists, chest, legs, and feet to provide bonuses to the type of player you are. It’s fun trying to collect sets, or mixing and matching to get the best of both worlds out of what you find.
The runners have become nightrunners, and their arsenal has expanded. When Kyle Crane got access to the grapple hook, he could pull himself to anything it connected with. Here, it is a tool to swing with, and doesn’t automatically pull you in unless you upgrade it. This was a core feature of the first, but now you have to earn your UV light in order to repel the infected, so up until that point you feel rather underpowered. By far the best and most game-changing tool in the arsenal is the paraglider. Given to you at the start of act two, you’re able to travel great distances of this very large city in record time, and quite literally reach new heights.
There are means to perform upgrades to the items you use as an honorary nightrunner. For nightrunner tools, you’ll need military tech and money to upgrade a level until maxed, which often includes a new ability with the tool. Military tech is found from unclaimed airdrops on rooftops For accessories and consumables, you’ll need zombies trophies and money. This means you’ll almost have to fight zombies out on the streets, to include the special infected in order to collect the parts needed to craft upgrades. Doing so will increase the potency and crafting rate of medicine and boosters, making it a no-brainer in skirmishing with the undead.
Aside from the missions, there are parkour challenges, three types of collectibles to find, even bandit camps to take over. If you play these sections stealthy, you can get through them unscathed. However, once your lose that, everyone is made aware of your presence, and you’re likely to get overwhelmed. Thankfully a death means that you’ll restart at a checkpoint or the nearest safehouse, which is awfully generous and is the case across the entire game. It wasn’t until I saw this on a tooltip, but you can sneak into a bandit camp at night, destroy their UV lamps which will then mean during the day they will be invaded by zombies, reducing the numbers for when you go back – it’s genius, and something I immediately had to try. You can also spend your time going after military drops on the streets, but are often surrounded by zombies you have to persuade to leave, or kill to clear in order to grab the rewards. Fast travel is in the game, and is only present by capturing metro stations which are either full of zombies or bandits. There’s an abundance of things to do, and they never get tiring, no matter how many there.
As part of the faction alignment, there are water and electrical stations to take over, and assign ownership for. While you are working your way through them, these are quiet moments of puzzle solving. There’s no enemies or real danger (except maybe drowning in underwater areas), and it’s a nice respite from everything else in the game. So too are the aforementioned windmills, they’re quick parkour puzzles, but they each have their own challenge to overcome that’s satisfying.
There are little things I can look past, like typos and misaligned subtitles with the spoken word. But the amount of times that people sucker punch Aiden is something I actually ran out of fingers counting. It’s absolutely insane how much this exact animation and surprise from Aiden is seen and heard throughout the game. The game’s climax is cliche as it gets, and the things that occur along the way tend to be rather tropey. The boss encounters are straightforward, involving a heavy use of dodge or running away to heal up. All of this tends to feel a bit easy, even on the normal difficulty that is the second of three options. It took me about 30 hours to see the end credits, with a mix of main and side missions activities. I was surprised to see there’s no New Game+, or any way to replay any missions, or change your decision. I hope this comes in a future update, because it is something that’s sorely missed here. Another missing element is the gritty, and dangerous feel of the first game. There this ever-present fear of dying in the first game that earned it’s “survival horror” association, that just isn’t found here.
While the main story isn’t groundbreaking or revelatory, Dying Light has always excelled in the things surrounding it, to include its side quests. The lore, the echoes of the past as you root around the remnants of someone’s home reading a note or listening to a voicemail – this is when Dying Light 2 is at its absolute best. Some quests have intersecting paths or persons of interest that are the focus of another quest, feeling organic. When it isn’t trying too hard, there’s some top-shelf moments I won’t soon forget. The first time you’re chased by an unbeatable boss and you’re told to just “RUN!” is a harrowing, exciting thrill as you never feel like you will survive this. Or when you have to dash between cars, dumpsters, and boxes to avoid sniper fire from a crossbow. It’s not all action-oriented either, the time that you climb the tallest tower in the game is absolutely thrilling and nerve-wracking as you look down below.
Night time is a bit more encouraging to partake in compared to the previous entry. With Dying Light it was the ultimate risk vs reward, as the zombies were more dangerous, and ones you never saw in the day came out at night. There’s still danger to be found, but in Dying Light 2, because zombies occupy buildings during the day to avoid the sun, and will nearly empty buildings at night. There are certain side quests, and activities in buildings that are best done at night. There are Dark Hallows and Forsaken Stores that let you loot them for crafting supplies and money, respectively. There’s no survivor skill tree for doing things at night, and surviving, but you do have to contend with the immunity timer. It’s easy to mitigate, but if you’re stealthily creeping through a building, intending not to alert any zombies of your presence, it’s easy to lose track of. If you’re outside, you will see some of the tougher zombies, and if you attract them, you’ll initiate one of four levels of chase. You can lose them by running to settlements with UV lamps or areas of brush to hide in, but they keep close the whole way. When night is over, you’ll earn bonuses on top of your combat and parkour skills that make the journey worth it.
I was really put off by the HUD when I first started playing, and I couldn’t figure out what it was until I reinstalled Dying Light to see what it was. It ended up being the fact that there’s no minimap here, but there is a compass that points to your objectives. The minimap was integral in gaining situational awareness for determining how many enemies were around you, alerted to you, and critically dangerous to you. That said, the HUD has a few customization options available. By default the game is in RPG mode, which means that health bars for humans and infected, stamina bars, awakening bars, and the immunity timer are all set to on. There’s an action mode that’s most reminiscent to the first game that only has immunity timers and the stamina bar, both of which go away when they aren’t used. Lastly, there’s immersive mode that just turns everything off. And of course, if you want something all your own, you can use a custom setting to only show what you want. Unfortunately, the quick bar that shows your tools and throwables is not something that can be turned off, though I wish it could be.
You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned the coop by this point. Well, this mode was completely unavailable during the review period, prior to release. Techland has said that this will support up to four players in a single session, and when it comes to decisions, everyone will vote on the outcome. Dying Light 2 Stay Human feels more personal and intimate this time. I’d have to suggest that you first play through the game solo, then afterwards go on to join with friends to goof around, maybe ignore the story, and focus on fun instead.
Mood and atmosphere aside, his game is absolutely gorgeous, it looks and feels next-gen. The way that color pops so vibrantly and saturates and environment is staggering. I played the entirety of Dying Light 2 in DirectX 12 Ultimate with all of the Ray Tracing features enabled. Having an object’s light and color cast into the environment is just an experience I relish in. With all of that turned on, I averaged about 60fps, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. As someone who is prone to motion sickness, I never experienced it even when the frames dipped below sixty for a few moments. There are now Game Ready drivers that improved the performance ever so slightly. Also, NVIDIA DLSS and AMD FSR both got implemented, giving you huge frames per second gains with imperceptible differences in visual quality. Another option is playing in regular DirectX 12 with everything set to Ultra where it won’t utilize Ray Tracing, but still looks incredible – I averaged around 100fps with that. If you have a system that can manage it, I highly recommend playing the game with all the RTX enabled, you won’t regret it.
My PC Specs:
– Microsoft Windows 11 Pro
– Intel Core i9 9900K @ 5Ghz (Turbo)
– Corsair H115i RGB PLATINUM 97 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler
– Corsair Vengeance RGB Pro 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-3200 Memory
– EVGA GeForce RTX 3080 Ti 12GB GDDR6X FTW3 ULTRA
– Seagate FireCuda SSD (500GB)
– Seagate BarraCuda SSD (1TB + 2TB)
– OWC Aura P12 NVMe SSD (2TB)
Gone is the grit and limited color palette that set the grim tone for Dying Light, but the brighter aesthetic provides hope in an otherwise hopeless world. Dying Light 2 Stay Human gets so much right, and feels so much better to play that I can’t help but get excited at all the things I have yet to do. Techland has made a more compelling, complex, and well-paced game where pushing the player to make decisions without a known outcome is easily its best feature. While it has a familiar open-world design we’ve seen before, it’s one that I’m eager to return to. Dying Light 2 Stay Human has the best melee combat and parkour in the business, and is now the most satisfying of the series.
A Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes