People have been saying that zombies are played out for decades, but true to form the walking dead just keep on coming back. It makes sense – there’s no need to feel too bad about killing a corpse, right? It’s the same reason Nazis show up so often in games. Splatter away, sleep tight.
In any case, zombie games are almost a genre of their own these days, and few have been so rapturously received as Techland’s extensively-updated 2015 parkour-em-up mix of action and survival, Dying Light. After years of updates and frenzied fandom, we finally have a sequel in Dying Light 2 Stay Human, which scales everything you loved about the original up to the tenth degree. The only real question is: are you ready to spend a few hundred hours in the post-apocalyptic sandbox of your dreams?
The world’s in bad shape, as it tends to be in games these days. Despite the discovery of a vaccine for the zombie plague in the original Dying Light, it turns out that the push for scientific and military progress was just a bit too much. The city of Villedor fell to an intense strain of the plague, becoming overrun by Infected, and everyone in the area is stuck inside.
Our hero Aiden, who works as a sort of post-apocalyptic courier called a Pilgrim, finds himself here while searching for his sister Mia. He’ll stop at nothing to discover the truth behind her disappearance, but there’s plenty of nastiness in the city that’s just itching to handle the “stopping” thing for him. Things get a little more complicated when he’s exposed to the virus himself and has to find a way to stay alive along with achieving his goals.
Villedor’s in bad shape, so getting around is going to be some trouble. As a Pilgrim, Aiden’s got the skills to pay the bills. Well, the filth-encrusted bills that aren’t really worth much since the collapse of the local government, anyway. You can deal with Infected and locals alike via combat, parkour or a combination of both.
Combat is a fairly straightforward affair at first where you’ll mash buttons to brain who (or what) ever is closest and block as necessary to avoid damage. Increasing your combat skills will yield more impressive options like area attacks, which you’ll need to survive. In what seems to be a nod to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (and the first game) weapons are incredibly fragile and it doesn’t take long before they shatter to bits. Mods are helpful for keeping your favorite weapons going, since they both improve your gear’s stats and repair a bit of durability, but they can’t keep being applied forever. Eventually, they’ll be gone – and once they’re gone, they’re gone. You’ll get bows later and with some gear you can turn archery into a solid option, but Dying Light 2 really wants you to focus on melee combat.
If you’re willing to keep gathering new stuff and don’t get too attached to your gear – even if you mod it, which feels more like a temporary power-up than anything – then this won’t be a problem. Especially as the impressive gear really is impressive, dealing massive devastation to the unsuspecting infected.
Meanwhile, parkour is all about running around baddies, ensuring your survival by simply not engaging in combat at all. Initially Aiden feels a little awkward to control, especially with the new addition of a climbing stamina meter to the mix. That’s right – you’ll have to contend with ever-depleting stamina until you upgrade your way to bigger and better things, much as you might in – again – Breath of the Wild or Genshin Impact, on top of the stamina system for combat that already existed. While this does decrease some of the initial thrills of climbing anything that can be climbed, once improved you can really make movement flow together in a fantastic way. Navigating the rooftops of Villedor with a character that’s even slightly leveled is an experience that very few other games can offer.
Finally, in a new twist for Dying Light 2, you can actually combine the two styles via Parkour Attacks, such as by vaulting off a stunned enemy to apply the classic Dying Light drop kick. A personal favorite is the Mario-style stomp that you can use to squash bad guys beneath your feet as you fall from great heights. It’sa me!
Early on, neither aspect of things is especially impressive. Combat is mashy, though there’s something to be said for how impactful your weapon swings feel, and parkour often leads to inadvertent death by failing to reach a ledge you thought was within your grasp. Once you’ve played for a bit and gotten some points in both skill trees, though, Dying Light 2 really starts to shine. There’s a certain “flow” that you’ll reach once you get the hang of weaving combat and parkour abilities together that defines what this game is trying to do and it’s absolutely fantastic. Wall-run, leap to a ledge, hop down and crush a zombie with a stomp, then head back up to the rooftops – you can do all of this and more pretty much seamlessly.
One additional minor quirk is the presence of an infection meter that runs down while Aiden spends time in the dark. You’re encouraged to seek out UV light, either in the form of sunlight or portable purple sources of safety, and this can add a lot to Dying Light 2’s flavor of dungeon-crawling. This combines really well with the crafting system that holds much of the game together, allowing you to construct consumable items to keep your health high and infection low. Between crafting and skill points, there’s a sense that at any point, so long as you’re gathering loot, beating up zombies or hopping across rooftops, you’re doing something important and making progress.
As for why you’ll be doing it? Well, you can follow the plot, which is ostensibly about Aiden’s search for his missing sister but ends up involving a whole lot of standard Walking Dead-style questing. Bandits have taken over the water! We need allies, so help one of the survivor factions! Humans were the real bad guys all along! You’ve seen this kind of thing dozens of times. That’s not to say Dying Light 2’s plot is bad, but there’s a lot more to do here and it’s reasonable that you’ll spend your time working on other things.
As for what those other things are, well, you’ve got sidequests and activities. Sidequests are, largely, little bite-sized chunks of plot that offer greater rewards over time than just slamming through the main story. They range from killing stuff to fetching stuff and tend to be worth your time. Don’t come in expecting anything that’s going to open your mind, broaden your horizons or even impress with superlative voice acting and you’ll have a good time while you accumulate piles of experience points.
Activities, meanwhile, involve exploring the expansive area of Villedor searching for goodies and completing goals for the various factions of your own accord. These tend to be the best part of Dying Light 2 as they lean heavily on the game’s exploration-focused gameplay systems to produce an experience unique to the, uh, parkour-zombie-survival genre. There’s a lot to be said for finding your way around Villedor in your own way, navigating through both enemies and obstacles alike, and outside of the original game and its obvious inspiration Mirror’s Edge there’s not a whole lot out there that’s like this.
From a presentation perspective, Dying Light 2 is going to be one of the highlight games of 2022. Environments and enemies alike look fantastic, though NPCs tend to suffer a little because of the clear focus on Infected foes. Combine this with some solid performance on properly-equipped PCs and there’s very little to complain about on this front. You’ll be spending a lot of your time running around such that you can’t focus too much on the game’s little details, but they’re there if you stop to look. There’s also cooperative play available, as with the original game, though we’ve yet to have a lot of experience with this side of the Dying Light 2.
Dying Light 2 is a rock-solid parkour-combat-exploration-discovery experience that has plenty to offer pretty much anyone who’s into action games. Returning fans may question some of the design changes to the formula, and some may find it a little heavy on looting and crafting as opposed to action, especially early on. But as players grow accustomed to what’s expected of them they’re bound to have a good time, which won’t be over quickly. With solid gameplay, an absurdly extensive roadmap of future content planned, and a surprisingly large amount of things to do (and things to kill) at launch, there’s no question that Dying Light 2 is worth the asking price.