Dying Light 2 Review: Infectious Open-World Action

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Dying Light 2 enters the fray a little later than first planned. Initially penned for early 2020, and after a series of pushbacks, reports of toxic management in the workplace, and the departure of writer Chris Avellone following allegations of sexual harassment, development seems to have been rocky to say the least.

From the very beginning, it was clear that Techland aimed for a level of scope and scale with Dying Light 2 that sometimes felt unattainable. Emphasizing narrative choice while giving players freedom to explore a massive open-world environment is a tricky line to walk, after all.

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Dying Light 2 mostly pulls it off, offering players a rich and rewarding experience that blends survival horror with end-of-the-world Fallout-esque RPG mechanics. It’s dragged down by a reductive choice system and a lack of interesting side content, however, but it excels in its world-building and action set pieces. It improves on its predecessor in almost every way, and I have no doubt that with post-launch support (already outlined in a beefy five-year plan) it could become truly brilliant.

A screenshot of The Central Loop in Dying Light 2

Table of Contents

Escape From the City

At the start of Dying Light 2, and after a brief opening section, you’re thrust literally kicking and screaming into the first of two major areas - Old Villedor. Those who played the first game will likely feel at home here, with its desolate streets and small buildings allowing for precise first-person parkour traversal. The major differences between Old Villedor and Harran (the first game’s main setting) are immediately apparent once you’re set loose. Rooftops are overgrown with vibrant greens and oranges, while survivors camp out in fortified DIY structures, sheltering from the rain and the infected.

Dying Light 2 is an utterly beautiful game that pops with colour and teems with thriving plant life. You’ll come across rooftop gardens where you can collect honey and herbs, a bright red bus might lure you in from a distance with its promise of valuable loot stashed within. For the first ten hours or so, Old Villedor shows you the ropes while never feeling overwhelming. Aside from a few windmills and towers, you can hop along rooftops before heading back to ground level with no trouble at all.

Aiden uses a paraglider to fly over the Central Loop

It’s once you reach the second main area in Dying Light 2 that things really get interesting. The Central Loop is a sprawling city, with giant skyscrapers and increased verticality throughout. Reaching it is easily the highlight of the entire game. I was genuinely taken aback at the sheer size and scale of the open world that stretched out before me. To get around, you’re given a paraglider, and later on a grappling hook. You can use air vents to sustain flight, making going from the very top of the map down to the horde-infested streets an absolute breeze.

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Not only is the Central Loop filled with huge buildings, ziplines, and vents, it also contains some of the most richly designed and detailed indoor areas I’ve seen in a world of this size. Even some 50 stories up, you may come across an open window that you can climb through into a lootable apartment or stairwell. Most buildings you come across have something to investigate inside, making Dying Light 2’s world feel truly lived in and always worth exploring.

Trading Blows

While 2015’s Dying Light focused more on the infected, Dying Light 2 mostly features fights with human enemies. This is where things start to get a little bit complicated, as the melee-focused combat never quite hits the mark. Most fights involve slowly strafing around enemies waiting for them to attack. You can dodge or parry to open up other combat options, though when faced with large groups, this loop gets tiresome fast, and only really gets interesting towards the end of the game once you’ve unlocked more combat options.

Boss fights are littered throughout the main story, and aside from a couple of standouts, they mostly involve enemies with bigger health bars and a few new moves. At times, I simply wanted to skip combat sections, as I grew tired of blocking and dodging over and over while whittling down an enemy's hulking health bar. Ranged weapons come into play around the story's midpoint, but most missions end in a 10v1 hand-to-hand slog that feels dated when compared to the noticeably more ambitious open-world design.

Fighting the infected is much more enjoyable, building on the first game's head-smashing fun. Encounters involve managing hordes of enemies, placing traps, and swinging whatever DIY weapon you have to hand until the bodies stop moving. There are a couple of infected types that require you to think on your feet, and most of the time you’ll be working on clearing enemies so that you can make an escape up into the rooftops. Stealth comes into play once you get inside, where you’ll use silent takedowns and distraction tools to stay alive. These areas are usually pitch black, and using your torch within them will alert enemies to your presence. Managing the light while creeping around sleeping enemies is survival horror at its best.

Aiden strikes an enemy with a two handed weapon, sending them flying back towards an open window
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A Long Way Down

Part of what made the first Dying Light so fun was its parkour mechanics. These have been expanded and improved upon in Dying Light 2, giving you more freedom to climb, jump, and fall as you explore. For the most part, everything works as it should. There are some inherent limitations in having parkour-style traversal in a first-person view, and I’m not entirely sure it’s possible to get past some of them. You rarely get a sense of distance, given that you can't see your character. Similarly, knowing where your arms and legs are, and how high you can jump, can be tricky.

Aside from a few moments where my character grabbed the wrong ledge, or let go of a wall altogether, Dying Light 2 feels great in motion. As you progress through the story and level up, more options become available to you. Giant airbags cushion even the highest of falls, and more vents pop up, meaning more time spent gliding through the air. Some of Dying Light 2’s best missions involve climbing impossibly huge structures. There’s always a sense of dread as you go, and looking down over the city while hanging from a crumbling ledge is always a thrill.

Infected Again

While it’s certainly a blast fighting the infected that occupy most of the streets and buildings in Dying Light 2, there’s a sense that they are underutilized in the story. Infected mostly serve as a distraction, never really amounting to much more than a nuisance as you make your way between objectives. There are a few decent setpieces involving the infected, but it’s clear that the focus in Dying Light 2 is set firmly on human encounters.

One mission that comes late in the story really gets it right, however, asking you to sneak through an infested tower as you climb your way to the top. You fight human enemies, then duck back in to deal with the infected, all the while scaling a huge building in a mission that culminates in a difficult choice. This is when all of the disparate elements combine to show just how great Dying Light 2 can be. I only wish there were more instances where everything coalesced naturally, especially in the main story.

Aiden shines a flashlight on a group of infected
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Are You Afraid of the Dark?

One thing that Dying Light 2 does better than any game I’ve played is its approach to a day and night cycle. Like the first game, enemies become more dangerous at night, but things are ramped up here. Not only will venturing out in the dark mean more infected in the streets (they hibernate inside during the day for the most part), but you’ll also have to contend with infection, as your character attempts to suppress their own zombie infection.

Aiden wears a biomarker on his wrist, showing his level of infection. Spend time in the dark, and the infection progresses. Using certain items will prolong your immunity for a short time, but you’ll need to find UV lights to replenish it completely. Night excursions are given an added tension by this ever-ticking clock, making simple missions feel challenging, as your flashing biomarker spurs you to move faster.

Chases also come into play at night, with running infected pursuing you if you are detected by a certain enemy. They’re not as effective as the more streamlined cat and mouse chases from the first game, mostly because your upgrades make it easy to escape, but you’ll still feel a rush upon hearing groups of infected clambering across rooftops trying to find you.

This Or That?

Much has been made of Dying Light 2’s focus on narrative choice and real consequences in the lead up to launch. The open world boasts multiple factions, each with its own strongholds and perks. Taking over key areas like power stations gives you the choice to allocate them to one of the two main factions. Doing so unlocks new features like ziplines and traps. After spending nearly 50 hours in Dying Light 2, I’m disappointed in just how binary the choice system ended up being. On one side stands the Peacekeepers, a borderline fascist military force focused on keeping people in line, and on the other you have the everyday Survivors. I rarely felt the urge to side with the Peacekeepers, especially in main missions.

Even though I regularly foiled Peacekeeper plans, I was still welcome in their camps, and could still accept missions from them. There’s very little consequence to each of the major choices, aside from some variation in which characters survive at the end. I suspect that most will side with the Survivors, and for all of the talk about a drastically changing world, I’m surprised by how little my actions affected the City.

Aidan faces off against a bandit wearing a green helmet
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The Main Event

The main story will take you anywhere between 25 and 30 hours to clear through, leading you from outside the gates of the City, right to the top of the tallest building. If you've played any post-apocalyptic RPG over the past 15 years, you'll know what to expect from Dying Light 2's writing. Enemies spew expletives at you with every strike, the villains are cartoonish and boisterous, and there's very little nuance to the everyday struggles of the city's inhabitants. Dialogue between characters is often clumsy and over-stuffed with gross-out humour. It's very difficult to empathise with most of the people you meet, and even harder to care about the plight of the protagonist. Aiden is woefully neutral throughout, even in situations with a clear good and bad side. You generally spend the game playing both sides in every dispute, until you manually assign a victor using the choices menu.

There are smaller, much subtler moments of world-building to be found among the relentless bombast of the main campaign, however. Sometimes you'll be hopping across rooftops and find a group of survivors trading stories over a campfire, and you can even sit down and tell your own. Dying Light 2 needs more of these moments to balance out the gritty, violent, and ultimately derivative stuff found in the campaign. There are interesting issues that crop up surrounding infection and the rebuilding of human society in what is essentially a new Dark Age, but Dying Light 2 never really expands upon them.

Aiden points at Barney. Sophie stands to his right, facing Aiden

What Now?

You’ve probably read Techland’s claims that Dying Light 2 offers 500 hours of gameplay if you’re looking to complete everything. While I have no doubt that doing absolutely every side mission, clearing all areas, and scaling every windmill will keep you busy for a long old time, I’m not sure most of it would be worth it. The main story is great, if a little predictable, and aside from the odd engaging side mission, most of Dying Light 2’s content feels like filler.

Everything is enjoyable for the most part, sure, but after clearing through 40 or so hours of the game, I felt very little motivation to dive back in. Most of the side content is what you’d expect - short speed trials and fetch quests. Some offer interesting stories and help build out the world, but not everything is worth the time spent clearing the map.

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Verdict - 3.5/5

Dying Light 2 presents a detailed and engaging open world that’s genuinely breathtaking in its size and ambition. Excellent parkour traversal makes exploring thrilling, and the extra tension added to night missions improves upon the first game’s horror elements. The action is somewhat dated, however, and the choices you make are rarely reflected in the world in a satisfying way. There’s plenty to enjoy, and if you’re looking for a big action game and a huge map to clear you’ll find a lot to love in the world of Villedor.

My hope is that with post-launch support, Dying Light 2 might give me more of a reason to stick around. For now, I don’t think I’ll be getting anywhere near that 500-hour mark, but for the time I’ve spent killing infected, gliding from skyscrapers, and cowering in the dark, I’m glad to have visited Dying Light 2’s take on the end of the world.

Score - 3.5/5

Review Code provided by Publisher

Reviewed on Xbox Series X

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