Dying Light 2 was announced all the way back at E3 2018. A lot has happened in the three years since, including multiple delays and the departure of RPG writer/designer Chris Avellone from the project following sexual harassment allegations. Now set to come out in February 2022 (alongside a bunch of other games) Dying Light 2 is nearly here and I finally got to play about four hours of the game via an early preview. And while, yes, this is still an open-world zombie game like the 2015 original, Dying Light 2 seems more interested in the living than the dead, and that might be what helps elevate it over so many other zombie romps.
In Dying Light 2 players hop into the (probably) stinky boots of Aiden, who is an outsider exploring “The City.” This is a place where humanity is starting to come back, though without a lot of modern technology to help, hence why developer Techland refers to the world of Dying Light 2 as a “modern dark ages.” You’re looking for your sister while working alongside various factions and survivors, sometimes undercover and hiding your true motives. What this translates to is that you spend a lot of time in Dying Light 2 talking to or dealing with other people. Zombies still lurk, but a large part of this game will focus on human politics, ethics, and conflicts amid the backdrop of a deadly zombie apocalypse.
While the original game had its share of NPC-focused narratives, Dying Light 2 really doubles down, and thankfully improves the voice acting, writing, and performances too. An early conflict involves two large, ideologically opposed groups of survivors fighting over water, and by the end of my preview I had to make a hard decision. Even knowing that this was just a preview save I would never return to I still hesitated a minute or more because I felt invested in the characters and their conflict. Pretty impressive, Dying Light 2.
Dying Light 2 is also filled with tiny decisions, such as needing to choose different dialogue options and plans during many quests. Most of these don’t feel like they’ll change the world much, but characters did react to my choices, and quests did change depending on what I did or didn’t say.
But, to be clear, Dying Light 2 is still a big ol’ action game filled with zombies and loot. And you can, basically, skip through all the well-written and well-acted cutscenes and just focus on the zed killin’. I’m a big fan of the original game, but going back to it before this preview, I was reminded of how light and floaty combat could sometimes feel. In Dying Light 2, attacks feel heavier and seem to better connect with enemies. Blocking, dodging, and smashing all seem more weighty and grounded, making combat feel more dangerous and satisfying as a result.
Parkour was another big part of Dying Light, and it’s a bigger aspect of the sequel. You can still climb almost anything and hop around like an undead bunny, but as with combat, it all feels a bit more grounded and stable. There’s also a new stamina feature. I know some folks don’t enjoy stamina meters, but I think it helps make Dying Light 2’s parkour gameplay feel more meaningful and rewarding. You can’t just climb up the tallest building without thinking, but have to sort of puzzle out places to stop and regain stamina. Eventually you’ll be able to upgrade your stamina to climb more freely, but having a limit helps make exploring feel more like a series of puzzles versus just running around willy-nilly.
Another big change will be the introduction of armour and clothing loot. In the first game loot consisted solely of weapons and crafting supplies. In Dying Light 2 you can now find helmets, hats, boots, armour chest plates, shirts, pants, shoes, and more. In the first game eventually I’d have some really good weapons and would open chests just to find…more weapons, most of which weren’t that good. I find the added loot diversity in DL2 helps make exploring out-of-the-way places more rewarding and exciting.
Dying Light 2 is scarier and more dangerous during its in-game night. So was the first game, but you could quickly make the nighttime sections pretty trivial once you got some decent weapons and learned that the big, bad enemies were easily ignored. This time out, the devs seem keen on making sure night is truly a deadly and terrifying experience. I saw more zombies in the moonlit streets in DL2 than I ever saw at any time in Dying Light 1. Likewise, more mutated enemies that are quick to chase you spawn at night. Dying Light 2 also features fewer resources and healing items, at least in my few hours, making nighttime survival tricky and nerve-wracking. Combined with the improved parkour, I had a lot of fun in an “Oh shit, I’m screwed!” kind of way.
While playing the preview, one of the PR people let me know that time was almost up. The four hours went fast, and I realised that I hadn’t even made it to the demo’s second area. I asked about that and was told a lot of people just get lost exploring and questing in the first area. Between the humans and their drama and all the loot to find, I get it. It’s very easy to lose yourself in the more human-focused world of Dying Light 2.
I’m excited to play more of Dying Light 2 when it (finally) comes out on February 4, 2022 for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC. If the final game can keep the focus on humans and continue to provide big areas to explore and hard decisions to make, it might end up being really special, and more than just another zombie game. And God knows, we don’t need many more of those at this point.