The weird, surreal tone of Dying Light 2 Stay Human combines very serious end-of-days themes with silly characters and minigames that have you smacking zombies off a skyscraper with a cricket bat is bizarre, but somehow it works extremely well. This zombie-smashing action game is a strong post-apocalyptic adventure with top-tier parkour movement, an expansive open world in which to put them to good use, and lots of great characters. What doesn’t work so well is how it combines a near-lethal case of bugs with a story centered around a protagonist so uninteresting that he’s all but (un)dead on arrival. I’m sure that when the developers at Techland set out to make this sequel they had no idea that they’d end up releasing a game about a global pandemic two years into a global pandemic, but it’s clear that trying to finish such an ambitious game under these conditions didn’t do it any favors.
Sticking largely to the plan laid out by its surprise-hit predecessor in 2015, Dying Light 2 takes place in an excellent, highly explorable city where the rooftops are home to eccentric survivors who have become masters of parkour, scavenging, and chopping zombie heads off with assorted sporting equipment. By day the zombies swarms crowd into buildings to hide from the sun, and by night they pour into the streets in daunting masses, but the real tension comes from managing the terrifying meter that counts down to you transforming into a brainless shambler. Like nearly everyone else you’re infected with the zombie virus, and staying in near-constant contact with UV rays is the only thing delaying the inevitable. The ever-present need to recharge that meter – which will deplete in a matter of minutes if you’re inside a building away from the light – is an excellent addition to Dying Light’s moment-to-moment gameplay that keeps up the pressure on every step of your journey.
During the night you have to be extremely deliberate with everything you do so you can make it back to a nearby oasis with UV lights to replenish your meter, like a diver with a limited oxygen supply. Do you risk looting every corner of a mission area or rush through and complete the main objective to mitigate danger? Should you take the time to sneak around to avoid conflict or would it be easier to press the attack and risk getting stabbed to reach a goal faster? Decisions like this layer on top of the action and give you something to think about beyond just splattering the nearest zombies and looting their corpses.
The distinct feel to each part of the day-night cycle creates a balance in what types of things you’ll get up to: you’ll need to spend nights delving into abandoned subway stations, power plants, and hospitals to gather new weapons and crafting materials, completing missions along the way; by day you travel through the city and complete story missions outdoors unless you absolutely have to go inside.
Your biggest asset in this – and the biggest highlight of Dying Light 2, by a mile – is its liberating and smooth parkour system, which improves upon the first game’s already impressive toolbox. You’ll leap from building to building, scale skyscrapers, and even swing around with a grappling hook with intuitive ease. Since the city streets are flooded with the undead by night and not-yet-dead bandits by day, sticking to rooftops quickly becomes one of the most intricate and high-stakes games of “The Floor is Lava” of all time – and it’s consistently entertaining even when you’re just running from point A to point B.
As you level up, a repertoire of over 20 unlockable parkour skills allows you to navigate the city in new ways, including running on walls, sliding under tight spaces, and – if you’re really in a tight spot – springboarding off the heads of zombies to get away. Once I escaped from the top of a skyscraper by grabbing a zombie, jumping off the roof, and riding him all the way down until he softened my fall at the bottom. Another time I escaped a horde of zombies by wallrunning on the sides of skyscrapers as the dummies that pursued me leapt to their depths. There just aren’t many games that can hold a candle to the over-the-top, badass things you can pull off in Dying Light 2 .Later on there’s even a paraglider that makes rooftop travel possible in cityscapes where massive building height makes travel by foot difficult, and by that point it really felt like I had the freedom to go anywhere I wanted.
Combat against humans and zombies alike can also be a lot of fun as you dropkick faces, dodge and parry attacks, and lop off arms, legs, and torsos. That said, when it comes to human opponents the AI leaves a lot of potential challenge on the table due to the fact that large groups don’t know how to gang up on you, allowing you to mostly parry and kill them off one at a time while their buddies sit back and help by shouting expletives at you. There also isn’t much variety in the types of human enemies you fight – just regular grunts and much beefier, slower enemies with big, two-handed weapons. Once you learn to parry and dodge the few attacks they have they’re never much of a threat, even on the hardest difficulty.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human Review Screenshots
I also didn’t feel all that imperiled while running around at night, even when I was being chased by tons of zombies. That was disappointing since the first Dying LIght had me sweating bullets anytime I had to go out after dark. Maybe it’s because Dying Light 2’s powerful skills and weapon options put those in the original Dying Light to shame, like modified weapons that can cause an explosion on a critical hit or light an enemy on fire for several seconds allowing you to pummel them to death while they’re defenseless. Or maybe it’s the fact that you can more easily over-level yourself in each area before moving to the next, making any new threats feel like pushovers. Maybe it’s a combination of those and other factors, but it wasn’t long before I could easily clear an entire warehouse of angry biters without breaking a sweat. That said, having a Howler sic an entire army of screaming zombies after you is still a stressful encounter, because they follow you everywhere you go (even on rooftops) and make going about your business normally nearly impossible, so they’re still a force to be reckoned with even if they rarely do you in.
Working in its favor, though, even when combat isn’t challenging there are so many fun options for finding inventive ways to kill a whole room of bandits or bloodthirsty brain-eaters that it’s rarely a tedious undertaking. Throwing giant exploding gas tanks at groups of enemies, setting a dozen zombies on fire with a well-placed molotov cocktail, or just walking up to them one at a time and drop kicking them out of a window are just a few ways I rid myself of unwanted undead.
The variety among zombies in Dying Light 2 is, thankfully, a lot better than it is with the human enemies. There’s your run-of-the-mill, slow-moving lurches which are about as useless as you’d expect; the recently turned, fast-moving “Virals” that leap at you and make you curse in front of your kids take a little more agility to deal with; “Howlers,” which scream like maniacs and draw attention from all nearby zombies need to be dealt with quickly, and many more freakish beasts – including some terrifying bosses that can require some effort to take down. They’re certainly not the most difficult bosses ever, of course.
Speaking of killing things, it’s almost entirely done up close and personal. You won’t find any guns in Dying Light 2 and ranged weapons in general are fairly rare (and often impractical, since bows have a low rate of fire). So most of the time you’ll be hacking away with a wide assortment of melee weapons that run the gamut from samurai swords to brass knuckles to a metal pipe with a tin can on the end of it. Weapons come to you as randomly generated loot out in the world or as purchases from vendors at social hubs, but either way they have a limited number of uses before they deteriorate and eventually break. However, if you don’t care for having your trusty weapons crumble to ash in your hands, know that Dying Light 2 doesn’t force it on you as often as, say, Breath of the Wild. In fact, the best weapons can be modded to improve their durability, deal more damage or apply status effects, and can even be repaired a limited number of times to extend their use. In my experience, by the time a weapon finally broke on me, odds are it had already become too low-level for me to want to use it anyway. Besides which, you’re constantly replenishing your selection with better stuff as well, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever find yourself empty handed when you’re fending off a horde.
After chasing down so many threads for so many hours, it was deflating that the main plot of Dying Light 2 ended up feeling so weak despite an embarrassment of riches when it comes to great characters. Rosario Dawson’s Lawan, for example, is a fantastic antihero you get to hang out with a lot as she broods, drinks, and kills people indiscriminately with a crossbow. Then there’s the washed-up former hero Frank, the charming ladies’ man Hakon, and many, many more who left me with fun and dramatic moments to remember them by. The real issue is that Dying Light 2 just has us kinda meander from character to character without any cohesive story materializing between them, mostly because the one thing that would connect falls flat thanks to the character with the most screen time of all: Aiden Caldwell (that’s you).
Aiden (like so many other Aidens) is what you’d get if you ordered a cardboard cutout of a generic protagonist on Amazon and got the cheap knock-off version instead. The tale of revenge he’s on is confusing, cliche, and borders on the nonsensical by the end. Without going into spoilers, the flashbacks to Aiden’s mysterious and tragedy-filled backstory sprinkled throughout the campaign left me wondering when the other shoe will drop… but it never did. It’s especially irritating because there are so many interesting stories and well-written characters throughout the campaign, but for some reason your character is one of the dullest people on one of the most humdrum adventures among them.
That said, since Aiden is mostly along for the ride by involving himself in the lives of other characters, you spend a lot of your time hearing from people who are a lot more compelling. In the first act, for example, you’re caught in the middle of a dispute between two opposing factions involving an unsolved murder and suspicion on both sides. The egos and suspects you encounter along the way make taking sides a legitimately difficult choice between the lesser of two evils. It’s when Dying Light 2 thrusts you into the morally gray areas of this bleak future that the storytelling is at its best.
Another disappointment is that most of the major decisions I made had little impact on the overall flow of the story, despite Dying Light 2 seemingly going out of its way to focus on your choices supposedly carrying weight. For example, I did everything in my power to piss off one of the city’s biggest and most powerful factions, even going so far as to unsubtly assassinate several of their leaders. I expected bigtime consequences… and yet, by the end of the story I still found myself working alongside them, even moments after I’d betrayed them for the third consecutive time. (Fool them once, shame on me. Fool them thrice…) For what it’s worth, they did give me a stern talking-to, but none of it had a whole lot of impact on where I ended up. Although my actions certainly changed some characters’ opinions of me and altered some story quests here and there, I ultimately still did all the same major story missions regardless of my decisions. Likewise, the ending felt like an inevitability, with only minor details changing along the way when I went back to check to see what might’ve gone differently.
The biggest impact my free will had was that certain decisions led me to entirely different story quests and unlocked side quests that were specific to whichever faction I had sided with. Since I was such a heartless monster to one faction in particular, for example, someone in that faction almost got killed as a result of my shenanigans and was left comatose, which unlocked a mission for me to either cure him or take him out for good. (I had him killed, obviously – you don’t just leave a job half-done!) So it’s not that your decisions don’t have some immediate impact on how certain elements of the story plays out but, much like a Telltale game, you always end up in the same major events and don’t have much ability to change things in the grand scheme of the story. The results are simply typical and not very ambitious next to other games.
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Dying Light 2 also features a drop-in co-op mode (there’s no cross-platform play available, FYI) where up to four players can explore the city together and take on any activity, from story missions, to parkour minigames, to boss fights. It’s not only impressive that so much of the campaign can be enjoyed together, but it has just about every feature I could’ve asked for from a modern co-op game: There’s difficulty scaling to account from more people in the action, player-specific loot so you don’t fight with friends over weapon drops, and crucially, all progress, XP and story decisions carry across to your save file whether you’re the host or a guest.
The downside, as seems to be a running theme with Dying Light 2, is that there are some additional bugs and technical issues introduced when playing co-op. In my time playing with friends, I suffered framerate issues and occasional lag that wasn’t present in single-player as well as infrequent disconnects and technical hitches. Overall it seems that Techland is rapidly deploying fixes to improve the experience, but co-op seems to run at the very least slightly worse than playing solo (which has plenty of issues to begin with).