The fact that Dying Light 2 Stay Human is even finished feels like a miracle. The game felt like it was in development hell for so long that I’d thought it’d ironically gone the same way as Dead Island 2. Now, almost six years after Dying Light, Dying Light 2 Stay Human has not only seen the light but come out swinging. And while its primary new focus – its story – falls flat, everything else about Dying Light 2 is a triumph.
Dying Light 2 takes place sometime after the events of the original. You play as Aiden, an infected survivor in a world infected by a new virus variant from the original game. Aiden is lucky – he has some kind of resistance to the virus – allowing him to remain human under the right conditions. The game follows him on a quest to find his sister in the oddly non-specific “City”, while also looking to shed light on events in his past that could explain his immunity. It’s a more personal story than Dying Light ever was, but such a story comes with a significant caveat.
That caveat is pretty damning – the overarching plot of Dying Light 2 just isn’t engaging. So many times, I’d find myself quite bluntly uninterested in Aiden’s personal quest to find his sister. It’s a shame, given that this is the most significant area that the game is trying to improve upon, but it falls flat. Techland has gone on record to say that there’s so much dialogue in this game, presumably to illustrate how seriously they’re taking the story. But given how meandering the plot is, I can’t help but wonder – what’s the point?
Much like how I felt about Dying Light, the ho-hum plot is mitigated by a core gameplay loop that is the strongest that the developer has ever put out. At its core, Dying Light 2 is a first-person open-world game. The core difference between Dying Light and its contemporaries is the parkour mechanics, which dovetail beautifully with the zombie chase mechanics. Thanks to these mechanics, Aiden can run, jump, and climb across almost any surface in the game world. They’re well developed when compared to the original Dying Light.
Dying Light 2 also replaces the City of Harran and the countryside of its expansion with a completely new setting in “The City”, a non-specific European locale that’s split into two distinct regions. The first region feels similar to Harran in the original Dying Light. The second region feels more unique and more akin to a proper city – tall skyscrapers and the like create a true concrete jungle where Dying Light 2 really finds its stride.
Tools such as the grappling hook and UV light return from previous games, but the paraglider is brand new. Perfectly adapted for the new setting, it allows you to use wind currents to glide from building to building. Throwing the paraglider into the mix with the parkour mechanics gives you a lot of flexibility in how you reach your locations, bolstering Dying Light 2’s already robust traversal mechanics.
Combat has also been tweaked but still feels satisfying. There are no more guns in abundant supply, so most action is relegated to rudimentary bows and crafted melee weapons. Single-use shotguns are craftable too, but otherwise, you’ll be beating zombies senseless with your creations. Combat in Dying Light 2 feels just right – the weight and heft of your weapons feel appropriate. Quite simply, it’ll never get old to send a zombie flying with a heavy weapon.
Yes, weapons have durability and will eventually break, but resources are so numerous that it nary becomes an issue in the game. But yes, the rumours are true; the weapons in Dying Light 2 can’t be repaired – so don’t go getting attached to anything.
Weapons can be bolstered with modifications carried over from Dying Light that make them behave differently, too. Some add poisoning effects, others are given more physical blowback, and some even freeze enemies in place. It’s rather goofy but feels like a nice callback to the cheeky tone Dead Island and Dying Light had.
With a game of this breadth and size, you’d expect to see the quality of the quests falter. The main quests are filled with some fantastic and tense gameplay moments, though the final act did grow tiresome and felt like it should’ve wrapped up a few battles earlier. Similarly, while there are many side quests on offer, none of them feel like throwaways, with production values (often but not always) on par with the main ones.
Putting quests aside, there’s also a heap of activities to distract you in the City. While these peppering across the map feels a little dated, the sheer variety here really saves things. There are climbing puzzles in the form of radio towers, water towers, and windmills. There are even quarantined areas that you enter from the top, descending deeper and deeper as you open shortcuts like a small self-contained rogue-like dungeon.
The most notable are the electricity stations and water towers. Both allow you to reroute resources to a settlement. Electricity stations, in particular, are fun puzzles that require you to connect two power sources with a cable, having to find the shortest distance between them to join them. Completing either of these locations will allow you to alter the world – rerouting to the military faction creates more traps and weapons in the open world. In contrast, the other faction places more components in the world to facilitate your parkour. Think more jump pads, ziplines, and air vents for your glider.
I’ve never quite seen an open-world game reward the player by changing the world they exist in so much, and while it doesn’t quite have the far-reaching consequences you’d expect on a story level, on a gameplay level, it’s a nice touch to be able to mould the City in the way that best suits your play style.
The day-night cycle in the original game was both unique and integral, so it only feels fitting that it be improved upon here. Where you’d previously have darted for a safe house at the first sign of night, Dying Light 2 makes an earnest effort to incentivise you to stay out. Chases themselves are now tiered similar to wanted levels in Grand Theft Auto, giving a better idea of when to bail yourself out. New indoor locales are also better explored at night – as the infected won’t be inside them at night but rather on the streets. Finally, some missions can only be completed at night.
While I enjoyed the nights of Dying Light, there was little reason to stay around for too long when the sun disappeared. Dying Light 2 does a great job of rectifying that issue rather well.
That being said, there are still a few things Dying Light 2 doesn’t get right. I’ve already detailed how the story is lacking, but the dialogue system it borrows from games like Mass Effect, and later Assassin’s Creed games lack any meaningful sense of consequence. Typically, tough choices rarely branch out too much and are often met with responses that almost always can be reduced to “that’s annoying to me, but I understand why you did it!” and the story just moving on. I understand what the team was aiming for here, but it feels glaringly inconsequential with how it’s presented here.
Much has been said about just how much content there is in the game. I’d estimate my first run easily took around twenty or so hours to finish. Doing absolutely everything the game offers could easily balloon that time to over a hundred or so hours. But I struggle to see just how someone could pull the much talked about five hundred or so hours out of Dying Light 2. Thankfully, if you’re really keen to know how the story progresses, joining another players game in co-op would let you do so without having to play the game all over again (as it’s just not worth it, honestly, to do it all again yourself)
From a presentation standpoint, Dying Light 2 offers three visual options. Resolution and quality options feel like a bit of a sore point where – they feel like they run at the same level of fidelity and performance as the original Dying Light did on base hardware of last generations consoles. My personal choice – performance mode – runs flawlessly. Everything looks crisp with some breathtaking locales and buttery smooth framerates that allow Dying Light 2 to put it’s best step forward both figuratively and literally. It just lends itself better to the game’s fast platforming and pacing.
The original score is similarly uneven. Sometimes it sounds like the media it’s doing a great job of emulating – with grim orchestral pieces akin to John Murphy’s work on films like 28 Days Later. There’s enough dark synth here to similarly give the game a futuristic yet desolate feeling that it’s gunning for. But the upbeat ones feel remarkably out of place – so many of these tracks feel like they were made for a different game.
The voice work is similarly mixed, and I was surprised to find Aiden’s voice actor wasn’t the same as Kyle’s from the original game. Surprisingly, Rosario Dawson steals the show here as Lawan. While I’ve made it quite clear how much I didn’t enjoy the story, every scene she was in was bizarrely compelling to watch. She does well here, even if the script sometimes gets a bit tawdry.
It might sound like I’m being harsh on Dying Light 2, but at the end of the day, it’s a fairly remarkable game and infinitely more enjoyable than Dying Light. It’s easily, without a doubt, greater than the sum of its parts.
THE PLAYSTATION 5 AND XBOX SERIES X VERSIONS WERE PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL COPIES OF THE GAMES WERE PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human is a solid step-up from Dying Light in almost every way. Still, its increased emphasis on storytelling feels entirely misguided to the point where it’s narratively worse than Dying Light. Despite this, Dying Light 2 has fantastic traversal, satisfying combat, and some great quest design and variety that makes it Techland’s best.