The first Dying Light was an open-world survival game built primarily around smooth parkour-inspired movement, brutal melee combat, and a unique day/night cycle that featured an action-heavy style of gameplay during the day, and a more careful stealth-based style at night to avoid the much stronger and more aggressive Volatile zombies.
Based on my four hours of playtime with a preview build of Dying Light 2, it’s certainly more of the same, but developer Techland has obviously put a lot of effort into addressing many of the issues from the previous game, while also completely reinventing certain fundamental pillars of design – ultimately building a game that, thus far, simultaneously feels like the natural next step for the franchise, while also feeling like something that establishes its own unique identity.
The first thing that really struck me about Dying Light 2 was its world. The original’s open world was a highlight due to how it was designed to be a playground for your parkour skills, but it was so grounded in reality that it really didn’t have a distinct visual style. That’s changed in Dying Light 2, which takes place 20 years after the collapse of society. Humanity has fallen back into a modern medieval period, and nowhere is that more apparent than the Bazaar, which serves as the primary safe zone in Old Villedor, the place where the bulk of my play session took place.
The Bazaar is actually just a large church in the middle of Old Villedor that a group of survivors have turned into their home by fortifying its walls, adding small farms, and turning the interior into an actual makeshift city complete with shops, weaponsmiths, hand painted wooden signs – along with scattered UV lights to help fend off the infected. Much like any of the big cities you’d see from the Fallout series, the Bazaar is teeming with its own culture and personality, between the church imagery, the sweaters and hoods worn by its inhabitants very clearly looking like medieval chainmail, and the near complete lack of technology all driving home the “modern dark age” theme.
The world outside of the Bazaar looks very different as well. There’s a really great dichotomy to the ground and rooftop levels of Old Villedor. On the ground floor, it’s a wasteland. There are tons of zombies, swathes of brown and gray, and all of the remnants of an abandoned society. Look to the rooftops, though, and you’ll find greenery as far as the eye can see, with trees and overgrown grass all lining the tops of the dilapidated buildings, as well as survivor camps that can be powered by climbing rickety windmills, which will help create safe zones with UV light that repel the infected.
I was also able to check out a later environment known as the Central Loop, which traded in the smaller residential buildings of Old Villedor in favor of gigantic skyscrapers that could only be traversed using the new paraglider, ziplines, and pulleys.
Whichever environment I played in, though, getting around was a lot of fun. Jumping feels a bit floatier this time around, which took a bit of adjustment to get used to, but ultimately allowed for very precise platforming and very cool death defying leaps across rooftop gaps that always felt super satisfying, especially when on the run. There’s no sprint button, so you basically gain speed by keeping your momentum up, providing a nice incentive to be as smooth as possible with your parkour.
The fluidity of movement is just one piece of the puzzle. Dying Light also stands out among other similar zombie survival games thanks to its brutal melee combat, which feels mostly the same here in the sequel. Speaking with Tymon Smektala, lead designer on Dying Light 2, he told me that one of the goals this time around was to combine parkour and combat so that players wouldn’t just run to an encounter, stop, kill all the enemies, and then continue on their way. To that end, one of the earliest abilities you get in Dying Light 2 is the ability to vault off an enemy and drop kick another in the face, sending them flying. Unfortunately, I didn’t get deep enough in the combat skill tree to really say how successful Dying Light 2 will be at accomplishing this specific goal, but nevertheless, combat seems impactful, action packed, and loaded with a ton of creative options thanks to an expansive arsenal of moddable melee weapons, craftable tools, and upgradeable skills.
The one thing that has seen a complete shift from how it worked in the previous game is the day/night cycle. Smektala told me that they realized that in the first game, a lot of players didn’t engage with the night for a number of reasons. Some thought it was too hard, too scary, or didn’t really understand why they should even bother.
To address this, Techland is making the incentives to explore during the night much more obvious and clear-cut. During the day, a large amount of infected will hide inside buildings, making them very dangerous to explore. During the night, however, those infected will leave and take to the street, leaving interiors mostly unguarded and making the valuables found within much easier to scrounge up. Then there are also side missions that can only be completed during the night time and special open world events, like GRE Anomalies, which are mini-boss fights against powerful infected.
Beyond that, hanging around during the night is not quite as dangerous or as scary as it was in the past. Volatiles no longer just roam around the city – or at least they didn’t in my experience. Instead, there are special infected called howlers that will alert the horde to your presence when they spot you, triggering a GTA-like multi-tiered chase sequence that forces you to either run away and break line of sight, or stand and fight until there’s no one left to give chase. The longer you stay within the range of the infected though, the more your chase meter fills, with each new level calling in more and more dangerous threats, until finally, it gets to level four, at which point you’re in big trouble.
The final pillar of Dying Light 2’s design, and one that wasn’t present in the first game, is that its choices have consequences, both in terms of the story and the actual gameplay. I encountered several points in my playtime where I was offered choices between siding with one faction or another, and while I can’t really comment on how deeply those choices may have affected the overall narrative, they seemed pretty dramatic. Like making the decision of whether to share valuable information with the survivors back at the Bazaar, or taking that information back to the law-enforcing Peacekeepers.
You can also capture specific facilities and make the choice of whether to give the control to the Peacekeepers or the Survivors, with each choice offering its own benefits and perks. Granting control to the Peacekeepers will reward you with some sort of combat-related perk, like arming all vehicles in the controlled area with a remote-controlled car bomb, while granting control to the survivors will instead reward you with a perk that makes traversal easier. For example: having ziplines that allow for easier rooftop travel in the area. The more you align with a particular faction, the more powerful the perks you acquire.
All in all, I had a lot of fun during my time with Dying Light 2. My four hours of playtime were pretty much exclusively directed towards main-quest content, so unfortunately I didn’t get much of a chance to take a look at the multitude of sidequests, side activities, and challenges, but even with just a glance it’s clear that Dying Light 2 will be a massive game, one that will once again be playable cooperatively as well. We’ll soon see how it all turns out when Dying Light 2 is released on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series consoles on February 4, 2022.
Mitchell Saltzman is an editorial producer at IGN. You can find him on twitter @JurassicRabbit
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Author: Mitchell Saltzman