The last few years have seen AAA titles tend in a few notable (and notorious) directions. The large investment of capital from the publishers and developers pushes them towards wanting outsized returns on their investments, which has saddled us with such fun things as microtransactions, subscriptions, season passes and even the now dreaded NFTs. This has also pushed many developers to aim towards building games that are, for all intents and purposes, a second job, requiring you invest hundreds of hours in order to get the full experience out of them. This is what has made me apprehensive of late to try out these big games; I simply don’t have the time to dedicate to slogging through these titles like I used to. However it seems that probably doesn’t matter much anyway as with games like Dying Light 2, where a lot of that time seems to come via repetition, I can get a good feel for the game long before I come anywhere near completing it.
The story of Harran, the setting for the original Dying Light, did not end well. The city, and all its souls, were lost but the Global Relief Effort was able to make some good of it: a vaccine against the virus that ensured the world could be spared that city’s fate. However the GRE did not stop their experimentation with it and, in 2021, a mutated version escaped their labs and began rapidly destroying humanity. It is now some 15 years since and the world has settled into a post-apocalyptic nightmare with humanity just barely holding on in a few key settlements. You are Aiden, a “Pilgrim” whose job it is to run between cities, ferrying those things that must make it between them. Your sights aren’t on the money that comes with this though, you’re looking for your sister Mia and your next stop is where she was last seen.
Dying Light 2 doesn’t spare any expense when it comes to the visuals with the game’s sweeping vistas and claustrophobic interiors all getting an exceptional amount of detail thrown into them. There is a rather large amount of asset reuse however, which makes a lot of the environments blend into each other quite a bit as you traverse them. To be sure there’s variety between different sections, but it’s easy to lose your bearings in some sections just because it all looks very similar. You’ll also likely need to tweak the automatic graphics settings a bit in order to get a trouble free experience as it seems that some of the more advanced features introduce both performance and stability issues, something I’ll touch on more later. Overall though I was thoroughly impressed with the audiovisual experience that Dying Light 2 provided as I wasn’t expecting it to be the next-gen marvel that it is.
It’s been a good 7 years between drinks for the franchise but, from what I can remember, Dying Light 2 remains truthful to the original whilst adding in some more modern flair to spice things up a bit. The core of the game still revolves around the parkour/exploration aspect, giving you numerous large environments to explore and many means by which to do so. Combat is the same first person ordeal as it was before, but this time with many more parkour flairs added to it which give it a much more rapid and frenetic pace. Progression is still much the same, coming by way of 3 different talent trees that are all progressed by doing the thing with them. Crafting makes a return and is more in-depth, providing numerous hours of min/maxing fun for those who really need another job to go along with their first one. There’s enough in here that even after some 11 hours in the game I was still getting tutorial notifications and tips as it seems the game just can’t help but throw more things at you.
Combat is…a mixed bag. There are times where it all flows really well and you can clear a massive swath of enemies without a second thought. Then there are times where things just don’t seem to connect or your weapons feel like wet noodles, making what looks like a simple encounter feel like a Dark Souls boss fight. It doesn’t help that the game seems to scale difficulty in the usual way, I.E. by throwing more bodies at you and making the challenge more about keeping track of everyone more than anything else. It’s possible that some of the higher tier skills and weapons go a ways to alleviate this but, honestly, if it’s not going to show me a predictable power curve 11 hours in I’m not sure it’ll show one much further on. This could also be a product of me not really taking much time to deeply explore the world, and possibly missing out on much necessary upgrades, but even the most challenging enemies didn’t take more than a death or two to get past.
Progress felt a little slow for my liking, especially with so many avenues to provide the player some meaningful movement in terms of their character’s power. Whilst the talent trees have slimmed from 3 to 2 the missing one is essentially replaced wholly with the crafting tree. The key challenge here is that whilst you’ll level up by simply doing what you have to do anyway you also need to track down “inhibitors” to level up either your health or stamina to unlock higher tier abilities. Whilst this works in principle it does become clear just how much the game expects of you should you want to get every ability, with no less than 120 inhibitors to track down. There’s opportunity to specialise here of course, but even doing that still feels a lot slower than it needs to be.
This is not to mention that a good chunk of the upgrades aren’t exactly power increases either, just quality of life improvements. It’s great to have these of course, but at the same time these things feel better served by having them as something available without having to give up power level progression (like buffs on armour, for example).
Which is a good segue into the loot of the game as it’s pretty lacklustre in terms of the impact it has on your character. All of the improvements you get are small percentage based increases and nothing that really seems to make a meaningful impact to how the game plays out. To be sure later tier loot might have a bigger impact, I wouldn’t know, but the stuff I was getting all the way up into the second major area you visit seemed pretty interchangeable.
As with most games of this size and complexity there’s bound to be launch day issues and Dying Light was no exception to that. For some unknown reason the game had massive performance issues and crashes in certain places that seemed to persist until I restarted the game. My research led me to switching the renderers out, ditching the ray tracing capabilities altogether. This improved both the game’s stability and framerate, but it was clear that the game wasn’t able to take full advantage of my hardware because of this. Thankfully the rest of the game was mostly trouble free with only the standard glitches and first person melee game issues to report.
Strangely though the story was one of the game’s stronger aspects, getting me hooked in early on and driving me forward for a good long while. Whilst it was lacking in true emotional resonance for me it was interesting enough to see all the various puzzle pieces laid out and their resolutions drip fed to me over the course of the game’s main campaign. However upon reaching the second major area it started to run out of puff a bit, feeling like I was being led on a merry chase around the (admittedly huge) map more than I was actually progressing the story. If I ever get spare time this might be one of the few games I come back to just to see the main campaign through.
Dying Light 2 is in an interesting spot: on a technical level it is 100% a vast improvement on its predecessor, taking full advantage of current gen platforms and building out a large, detailed world that players can spend hundreds of hours in if they choose to. However the meat of the game seems to suffer somewhat because of its scale, the repetition of core game elements making the experience a bit samey after not too long. Knowing what fans of this genre are like though I can imagine that this is exactly what their after: a big world in which to fool around in. So whilst I might objectively rate this game lower than its predecessor I can see the appeal it has for others and how my change in taste over the last 7 years is likely affecting things.
Dying Light 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Nintendo Switch right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 11.5 hours playtime and 22% of the achievements unlocked.