The original Dying Light had a very particular way of making the zombie apocalypse feel fresh and new. Developer Techland had a simple solution: bring parkour style movements to a chaotic open world packed to the brim with terrifying zombies.
The result was one of the defining zombie games of the 2010s. Its sequel, Dying Light 2, manages to elevate many of these core ideas while also telling a story that carries an added weight in our present world mired by a pandemic.
Dying Light 2 takes the concept of surviving the zombie apocalypse much further by presenting an opportunity to decide the fate of the world’s last remaining city. Taking place 20 years after the original, in a new “modern dark age,” when guns are considered lost artifacts and zombies are the new normal, the sequel makes you an active participant in shaping the world around you.
In the role of Aiden Caldwell, a drifter roaming the ruins of the old world, you find yourself in the city of Villedour, one of the last settlements, in search of your long-lost sister. While the city has many safe zones across its residential and downtown areas, it’s also a giant powder keg as two factions fight for control. All the while, hordes of infected zombies and mutants keep ratcheting up the pressure, hinting at a greater threat at work.
Choose your own adventure
Dying Light 2’s grand leap forward is in its storytelling, which hits a bit different two years into a global pandemic. In the main story, you’ll have a choice to determine how the city will evolve and which characters to take a side with. This flow brings the game closer to the realm of a roleplaying game, similar to Mass Effect or Dragon Age.
See also: How Dying Light 2 is the biggest gamble in Techland’s history
That said, the main plot of Dying Light 2 does follow a specific set of events, and some choices result in sequences that may not be as consequential as you think. Still, the main story features twists dealing with the moral ambiguity of life in a post-pandemic era. For instance, I expected to side with the Survivor faction over the Peacekeepers – the closest thing to law enforcement – but quickly discovered the Survivors may not have everyone’s best interest in mind, resulting in some uncomfortable yet effective scenes with some important characters.
The setting of Dying Light 2 is an intriguing one, blending the style of the medieval era with the rugged, makeshift aesthetic of the post-apocalypse. The world the sequel inhabits isn’t so much one that’s moved on following a disaster as it is one that’s stagnated as it adapts to bleak circumstances. Despite some storytelling stumbles, the narrative still manages to resonate as you come to bond with different characters throughout – all of whom deal with trauma following the global zombie pandemic.
Despite pacing issues, I felt invested in Aiden’s journey, particularly during interactions with side characters like Lawan – played by Rosario Dawson – and Hakon, who are perfect foils. While the setting is bleak, Dying Light 2 doesn’t take itself as seriously as you might think. The combat and the plot can be brutal, yet there’s also plenty of room for some oddball humor and comic relief to cut the tension. Dying Light 2 is great at balancing serious themes with the bizarre.
Throughout the surprisingly lengthy story, which took me about 40 hours to finish, I was able to see how my choices changed the makeup of the city. However, the final act of Dying Light 2 ultimately doesn’t resolve itself and cap off an entire game’s worth of narrative choices in a satisfying way. The final act and resulting post-game can feel unsatisfying and even unfinished — with some areas of the game feeling devoid of activity — which is a disappointing way to close out an intriguing story that was only getting better before it reached the final act.
Painting the town red
The true backbone of Dying Light 2 is its first-person movement and combat system. Whenever I felt frustrated by the sequences of events in the game’s story, I could always come back to explore the world at my leisure.
There’s a constant sense of weight behind Aiden’s actions. You truly feel the protagonist’s speed and the force of his attacks. Dying Light 2 treats the city as a large playground for you to roam around in, and it becomes a fun way to explore Aiden’s abilities and push his limits. When you’re not doing story missions, there’s an assortment of side quests and activities to take part in. Sometimes these activities can feel repetitive, especially when situations recur and many of the locations look the same, but they offer a nice diversion when making your way across town.
Along with presenting divergent narrative paths, siding with one group over another can open up access to perks and gear for your use in the city. I sided with one faction that opened up access to parkour gear that helped me explore, which came in handy more times than I expected.
The parkour system was a highlight in the original, and the sequel ups the ante in spectacular fashion. Being able to move freely by climbing buildings, leaping off rooftops, and slipping through open windows is always thrilling. Eventually, you get a paraglider, taking the already fantastic traversal gameplay to another level, which put me into the zone as the game expanded the verticality.
The parkour-style traversal is one of Dying Light 2’s constant joys, and I can’t stress enough just how good it feels to move and fight in this game. The presentation and sound design all combine to a satisfying mix that creates a sense of adrenaline and speed as you effortlessly traverse the city.
This sense of weight is especially felt in the game’s combat, which leans into Aiden’s acrobatic abilities and cunning nature. The melee weapons in this game are outrageous, and they can be modified with elemental perks to amplify damage. While you can use stealth to overcome enemies, it’s sometimes more efficient – and fun – to take them out head-on.
Blend the combat with parkour traversal is unforgettable. During one fight I slid into an enemy, knocked them off balance, softened them up with melee weapons, then drop-kicked them into a bed of spikes. These fights always feel heavily improvised, which kept me in the moment. It was satisfying to make situations work the best I can.
During the day Villedour is a beautiful, intriguing video game environment. That all changes when the night comes. Dying Light 2 continues the day/night cycle from the original, but incentivizes sticking things out instead of making a bee-line for the nearest safe zone. There’s greater risk when traversing the city at night, yet it also presents opportunities to find resources and take on night-themed events. It presents a fun and engaging way to take that risk to stay out at night, and surviving the evening’s events was always fulfilling.
In the end…
I played Dying Light 2 on PC, and I felt that it offered a real rock-solid way to experience the game in the most visually stunning and smooth way. While the mouse and keyboard setup may have required some finger gymnastics to get accustomed to, the control pad is the way to go here, I still felt that I made the right call in playing the game on PC. Aside from a few minor graphical bugs, the PC version of Dying Light 2 went off without much of a hitch.
There’s a whole lot to like in Dying Light 2. Even when it wasn’t able to fully execute many of its loftier ideas, it’s undeniably an incredibly slick and fun experience to dive into. With a five-year post-launch content plan already set, the sequel can only get better from here. Dying Light 2 is a thrilling and worthy sequel to the original game. Not many games can nail the sense of freedom and excitement when exploring a large city in the first person perspective, but Dying Light 2 manages to deliver in a way that makes playing it so invigorating.
Dying Light 2 is out on Feb. 4 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X and Series S. For more on the history of Dying Light 2 and developer Techland, check out our feature profiling the studio.