You’re only human after all… right?
It feels like we’ve been waiting for several years for Dying Light 2 to surface, but it’s finally here. The sequel to 2015’s Dying Light, it sets out to tell a completely new story, in a world bigger and, hopefully, better than ever before. Does it succeed? I’ll say. If you enjoy open world exploration, more side missions than you can shake a stick at, fast-paced parkour traversal and cutting up enemies with sharp, pointy objects, you’re in for a thrill ride.
But to describe Dying Light 2: Stay Human as just those things feels a little reductive. Yes, it is an open world game with parkour at its core. And yes, you will spend a lot of time slicing up enemies – both human and not-so-much – with a variety of makeshift weapons. But you’ll also be uncovering a narrative that’s both touching and gripping, and carving out your own story as you make your way through the game’s huge city. Techland probably wasn’t lying when it said that you’ll need to spend about 500 hours with the game to fully complete it. But to even scratch the surface you’ll be spending at least 30 hours with it. That amount of time might take you to the credits, but you’ll leave a heck of a lot of side content untouched.
You take on the role of Aiden, a nomad of sorts who has spent his life wandering from place to place, seemingly never calling anywhere home. But in a world ravaged by a deadly virus, where factions war over water supplies and people must sleep under a UV light to protect them from the infected, nobody has much of a ‘home’ anyway. Aiden can’t remember his parents; his earliest memories place him in a medical facility along with his sister, Mia. But when tragedy struck, he was separated from Mia. And so, fifteen years on, he’s decided to travel to the city of Villedor to track her down. Or at least try to.
Finding Mia isn’t going to be easy, though. Aiden needs to enlist people to help him, and of course that means helping them in return. And so you’ll forge friendships and allegiances – some of which you can choose – throughout the course of Dying Light 2. You’ll be fighting to protect survivors, helping the Peace Keepers – Villedor’s army, of sorts – and staving off the Renegades, who seemingly want to cause nothing but death and destruction. Some choices you make will shape the outcome of the game, so choose carefully. But that’s easier said than done when you’ll never quite know who you can trust.
Just like its predecessor, parkour (or freerunning, if you prefer) plays a huge part of Dying Light 2: Stay Human. Aiden is a nimble fellow, able to climb ledges, balance on beams, swing from ropes and leap great distances as he darts along rooftops. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock additional abilities, too. Before long, Aiden will have the use of a paraglider, allowing him to soar through the skies and, eventually, a grapple which makes traversing large gaps even more of a cinch.
When it’s just right, Dying Light 2‘s traversal feels almost magical; being in control of Aiden as he bounces from rooftop to rooftop, avoiding enemies that linger below him, is almost a dance. Using poles to swing from, balance beams to precariously walk along and walls to clamber up simply adds to the thrill, and nailing every single landing will leave you feeling like king of the world. Of course, it doesn’t always go well; the controls can occasionally be a little too twitchy, and it’s all too easy to fumble over a wall grab, leading Aiden to plummet – sometimes to his death. That’s the worst part; scaling tall buildings plays a large role in Dying Light 2‘s gameplay. And should you lose your footing on your way up to a rooftop, more often than not, you’ll need to start again from scratch. When finding a workable route is usually a puzzle in itself, losing valuable progress can be frustrating.
It’s perhaps my only real frustration with Dying Light 2: Stay Human, however. Sinking into its dilapidated but altogether fascinating world is an absolute joy, and this is without a doubt the type of game that’s easy to lose hours at a time to, as you wander around, making your way from one quest to another. Try as you might to stick to the main story, you’ll ultimately end up veering off course; Villedor is absolutely littered with things to do. Whether it’s a rare upgrade to find in a dangerous area, a civilian who needs your help or a power facility that needs restoring, you’re never more than a few seconds from an activity. Techland has absolutely nailed its open world, providing players with a sandbox in which they can, often enough, do exactly as they please, when they please.
Some side quests are more involved than others, providing some additional (and very welcome) context to Dying Light 2‘s already rich narrative tapestry. Others are short but sweet activities that provide you with a useful reward – maybe some materials to craft some useful items with, or a new weapon. Many follow the same pattern: claiming a windmill to become a survivor base means engaging in a climbing puzzle, and restoring power to a substation will have you using your thinking cap as you feed cables from one box to another. There’s a great variety of quests available, and while some veer dangerously close to your typical cliché open world activities, the vast majority of them are interesting and offer up different types of gameplay.
It’s of course the story missions where the game really shines though, and there are some truly standout moments here. Scaling the 80-storey high VNC Tower is unforgettable; it combines one of the most tense stealth sections in the game with truly high-octane parkour action as you scale the upper floors of the skyscraper. Looking down from a window ledge really did give me a sensation of vertigo. Incredible.
That speaks to Dying Light 2‘s technical achievements, too; the draw distance here is phenomenal, and looking over the city from any vantage point will leave you with a view that’s astonishing. For a world that’s barely standing after an apocalyptic event, it still manages to be beautiful. Rooftops bloom with greenery, making the colours pop out of the screen, and the remnants of the old city – leftover billboards and bright skyscrapers edging into the clouds – make a fantastic backdrop. Playing on Xbox Series X, there are three graphical options to choose from: Performance, Quality and Resolution. I opted for Performance, which sets the game at a steady 60fps with less graphical fidelity. Even here, it’s still a beautiful-looking game. The visual differences between Quality and Resolution are nominal, but the extra sharpness does shine over Performance mode. Regardless, this is a game that benefits from the higher framerate; combat and traversal is too fast-paced not to be enjoyed at 60.
But pretty graphics still only get you so far, and ultimately it’s Dying Light 2‘s stories that keep you playing. They’re brought to life by an outstanding voice cast, not least the incredible Rosario Dawson who plays Lawan, an acquaintance of Aiden’s. The excellent voice work elevates the game’s characters to the next level; even minor side characters are full of personality, and it’s easy to care for them (or despise them, depending on their allegiances, of course).
One thing I haven’t touched upon in much detail is Dying Light 2‘s combat, which is an important part of the experience. You’ll fight against both zombie and human enemies, and so adopting a different tactic for both encounters is necessary. Regular zombies can simply be sliced through without much thought, but ‘special’ types are often best avoided, unless you absolutely have to fight them. Be prepared to dodge and parry often, as that’s the key to success. That’s even more true when coming up against your human enemies; perfect parries will give you the upper hand, while dodging out of the way of powerful attacks is the only way to avoid getting hit. You have a wide range of weapons at your disposal – though they all break over time, so you’ll need to ensure you’ve got a good stock of them at any one time. They can also be upgraded and modded; seeing your enemy burst into flames when you land a critical hit will never grow old.
Combining engaging combat, some of the most thrilling traversal you’ll find in a video game, and a truly rich narrative, there’s very little to find fault with in Dying Light 2: Stay Human. Whether or not you’ve played the first game, if you enjoy open world adventure games – particularly with a touch of horror – Dying Light 2 should be high on your must-play list. With its delays and long development, Techland almost had us worried, but we had no reason to be. It has delivered an experience which might just be one of the best open world games of recent years.
Dying Light 2: Stay Human – GameSpew’s Review