Gaming Nexus’ Dying Light 2 review is a little late to the undead party. You’ve likely read a lot of reviews of the game already – and many of you have played it – so you know the basics. You’ve read about how the parkour system is improved over the first game, about how the combat is simple but satisfying. You know about the game’s bugs (totally exaggerated, by the way), and the story (better than people are saying). So I figured I would try to find something to write about that maybe you hadn’t heard.
Dying Light 2 may be the first time I’ve encountered a video game character so wrought with guilt that they threw themselves off of a tower, plummeting to their doom. That’s right. As the result of my choices in the game, I caused some poor dude to kill himself.
I have no idea if I could have saved this character; as I played through the side mission that led up to our fateful encounter at the top of the Bazaar tower, I did everything that I thought was right. I tend to play video games with the same moral compass I use in real life, outside of the rare occasion I consciously decide to go “bad”. But whatever I did or said within the limitations of video game choices, I was unable to convince this lost soul that they could be redeemed for the wrongs they had done. I couldn’t stop them from jumping. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
The thing is, this character wasn’t entirely wrong. They did some seriously bad stuff. They had been terribly morally compromised, bamboozled into doing some horrible things in the name of familial love. So long as they were able to hold onto the thought that they did it all for family, they were able to compartmentalize their actions into some semblance of ethical righteousness. But when the mechanizations behind their complicity in murder were revealed, they simply couldn’t take it. Their suicide seemed, narratively at least, to be inevitable. But…you know…maybe not. It could’ve been my fault.
Dying Light 2 doesn’t shy away from the gut-wrenching nature of its post-apocalyptic zombie-infested world. People in the game’s European city of Villedor are out there just trying to survive, and the difficulty in doing so is evident from the screams the player hears echoing through the night, forcing the player to wonder “What on earth is going on over there?”. Nothing good, it seems. This game pulses constantly with howls of agony, curses of pain, and groans of the undead, never failing to remind you that a terrible death is just around the corner, and it’s happening to someone else, right now.
As I mentioned, the writing in Dying Light 2 is better than folks are giving it credit for. I found myself engaging far more with Dying Light 2’s side quests than I expected to, reveling in the neat little dramas that were unfolding in the world around me unnoticed by the game’s primary characters, but a matter of life and death to those that were involved. One memorable storyline had a couple of young boys saved from an attack by the neighborhood stray dog, only to reveal that they had been hunting the dog for food before the attack. They were feeling an incredible amount of guilt over the fact that they were going to eat this noble animal that rescued them (not to mention that they discovered the dog's existence through a little kid in their settlement, who loved the dog beyond reason). This is not a game of lightness and flowers – we’re talking about some serious Romero-style darkness here.
The actual storyline of Dying Light 2 is a bit less propulsive, but then again, it doesn’t need to be. The first major chunk of narrative basically exists to introduce the game’s world, factions, and mechanics. From there, the player is able to split off from the story, engaging as needed or ignoring it completely. Take note, though, that this is not the sort of game where one can wander away from a mission halfway through and then come back a few hours later and pick up where they left off. At one point a character told me to “get right over there and see what’s going on.” I instead went on a completely-non-urgent hunt for some missing flour, only to get a radio call that everyone I was supposed to be watching and protecting was being slaughtered. Everyone was screaming through the radio, the carnage made very clear through the audio design. When I arrived, my mission became less "protect our people" and more “search the dead bodies for the McGuffin”, with one character bitterly pointing out that my neglect resulted in the deaths of many of his friends. So yeah, when they tell you to get right over there and see what’s going on, you might want to get right over there and see what’s going on.
Taking on the role of Aiden – a newcomer in Villedor – players are thrust into the push and pull for power in the beleaguered city between its two primary factions, the Bazaar and the Peacekeepers. The Bazaar are the freedom-loving population of Villedor, who seem to center their existence on trade and survival. The Peacekeepers are a paramilitary force for law and order, which often borders on fascism, often putting them in direct conflict with the folks at the Bazaar. Aiden, who has come to town to try to find his long-lost sister, is often caught between these two ideologically-opposed organizations, which makes him a desirable – but mistrusted – ally to just about everyone in the city.
In practical terms, unless you are a complete lover of military occupations, it’s not difficult to decide to align yourself with the Bazaar and shun the Peacekeepers. As you play through the game’s story, you often get the choice to side with one or the other, and to distribute various resources to your group of choice. I could see playing through the game again just to see how the storyline changes when deciding to side with the Peacekeepers, but I’m pretty much a Bazaar guy at heart.
Though the narrative of the missions varies quite a bit, many of them come down to the same tenets of gameplay; parkour across the city to a location, find a way into a building, search the building, fight a bad guy or a bunch of bad guys, find your way back out of the building (tougher than you might think!). Though this pattern repeats quite a bit throughout Dying Light 2, the game finds a lot of interesting ways to change things up, not the least of which is the day/night cycle.
Dying Light 2 players will quickly learn to keep an eye on the time of day before jumping into a quest, as the difference between day and night is astounding. In the daytime, it is generally safe to run the streets of Villadore. Zombies thrive in the dark and are slow and easily dodged in the light of day. But the insides of buildings are much more dangerous, as most of the zombie population retreats to the dark interiors to sleep the day away. Nighttime is the opposite – the buildings are relatively sparsely populated, but the streets are absolutely teeming with the undead. The night zombies are fast and varied, and if you are spotted by a “Howler”, you are thrust into a chase sequence as every zombie in the neighborhood makes eating you their prime mission.
Still, I didn’t die very often at the hands of zombies. The chases are reasonably easy to overcome once you have a few parkour skills (and a bit of practice) under your belt, and combat is not often a death sentence once you get your dodge cadence down. No, most of my deaths in Dying Light 2 came from mistimed jumps. I left a few dozen Aiden corpses scattered around the streets of Villadore, despite my best efforts. The parkour in the game becomes easier as you unlock more skills, but for a while there it seemed as though I was taking a header off a building every five minutes or so.
The open world if Dying Light 2 is absolutely beautiful, even if the former citizens of Villadore too often preferred the same puke-green roofing on their apartment buildings. Like in most open world games, players will quickly detect a lot of repeated patterns in design and placement of objects, but that doesn’t detract from just how alive (or undead) the city feels when you are dashing across it on an urgent mission. I had a great time just exploring, spending hours unlocking windmills (this game’s version of Ubisoft’s Radio Tower) and finding new side quests to goof off with.
I’ve also been enjoying the stellar multiplayer. I imagine that it is tough when designing a narrative game to decide how much progress each player gets to keep after leaving a multiplayer session, but Dying Light 2 pulls off this difficult balancing act quite nicely. The host invites other players into their instance of the game; no matter where you are in the story, you will be reset during multiplayer to the host’s position. Players can then work together to advance missions (or just goof off). Any progress counts towards the host’s story progress, but each player gets to keep any experience and loot they gain while visiting other worlds.
Playing with someone else is a lot of fun – Villadore feels a lot less oppressive when cracking jokes with friend. It’s also amusing to see the weird animations Techland put into place to represent actions that they didn’t need to animate for first-person moments (crawling through vents is a particular favorite).
Techland has really achieved something great with Dying Light 2, and if the company’s track record is any indication, support for the game will continue for years to come. The game is filled with a dreadful tension when playing alone, with a wan sense of inevitable doom hiding around the corners of every interaction. Humanity is on the ropes in Dying Light’s world, and things are looking bleak indeed. That anyone was able to wring so much slick fun out of such a dire setting is one hell of an achievement.
Dying Light 2 feels like a game I will return to over and over again in the years to come. There’s a ton of content in the game that I still haven’t seen (insert 500 hours joke here), and though I have started to see the templates in the game, they are fun and engaging, and the writing is top notch. If you, like me, view open world games as a long-term investment, than Dying Light 2 is a leap you want to make. Just be sure to look when you are leaping – that roof isn’t as close as you think it is.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS4, PS VR2, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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