You could easily spend 30 odd hours in Dying Light 2’s opening area and walk away satisfied, without even realising there’s another larger map to find and explore. So, yeah, it’s big. Techland may have panicked at the bad reaction to their promise of 500 hours to 100% everything but it’s absolutely that game. The studio quickly backtracked, saying you could clear the story and side missions in about 80 hours, which matches my final completion time for the campaign and a range of side stuff. Even completing it with a varied chunk of stuff under my belt, and having seen plenty, I still feel like I barely dented it in places. As I continue to mop up and explore, there are bits of foggy map I’ve barely touched.
Release date: February 4, 2022
Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series 1, PC
It’s a big game then and, for the most part, a good one. There are some issues I’ll get to later but nothing that puts me off recommending it. It’s an enjoyable open world zombie game that realises that core fantasy well as you try to survive its corpse infested city: exploring, seeing what you can find, picking up missions at random, and – when all hell breaks loose – making split second fight or flight decisions as you run through streets full of undead. When the tools and skills you unlock click you can enter a total flow state – pivoting on a footfall to avoid danger or leaping from rooftops without looking down, confident you can fix the issue before it’s too late. Things like a paraglider let you soar across buildings, while a grapple hook can be flung out in a heartbeat to swing across gaps with barely a thought. When it all falls into place you can just sort of wake up blinking at the end of a mission not entirely sure how you got through it.
Combat can have moments like these too, especially when you nail dodges and blocks. But the system is muddied in the mid-to-late story by too many enemies layering too many attacks. At the start it’s all about using blocks to stun opponents and vault over them to unleash a devastating two-footed kick that gives Deathloop some competition – enemies crunch into walls or fly from rooftops, to soar for a few beautiful parabolic seconds until the ground gets involved. The entire first half’s fighting is shaped by waiting for the perfect moment to hoof enemies into oblivion. Later, though, human opponents increase in numbers and they start to feint attacks, add in unblockable strikes, and attack at range with bows. These layers quickly overwhelm in larger encounters and the beautiful precision of smaller street scuffles becomes more of a desperate mash to gain control. Where your increasing freerunning skills constantly feel more empowering, I oddly found combat against the living frustrating the further I got in, despite growing power and skills.
Overall, though, day to day existence in the world is good, with plenty to discover throughout the map. However the story, characters and your ability to impact any of it is less impressive. Only a few people have any memorable presence or charisma, for example, while the writing is all over the place in terms of quality (possibly due to the removal of a big name writer after harassment accusations). There are plenty of questionable performances, especially with side quest characters delivering lines that appear to never have been read out loud until they were recorded – odd phrases and vocabulary choices that probably looked fine in print but sound weird and unnatural off the tongue. (Both “dying light” and “stay human” are worked into conversation at one point for fans of ‘people saying the title of the thing’.)
A lot of character interaction feels disconnected from the game as well, or unaware of what might be on the screen when it was said – confirming things verbally rather than visually. When asking to help a woman she immediately replies “To help with what? My poverty? My drinking problem?”. There are a lot of strange moments like this where characters clumsily lever unprovoked backstory into a simple fetch request. I can’t tell if it was rushed or written around elements of the game that couldn’t be changed. It’s far from ruinous but can break immersion and often feels like you’re meeting theme park performers reciting lines to keep the show moving rather than real people living in a world.
There’s also a scattering of odd semi-misogynistic, sexist dialogue; just really weird stuff that feels like no women were present for a sense check. Someone calls a female character a “Vagina dentata” as an insult at one point, displaying a spectacular lack of understanding of the phrase. Unrelated, but there’s also a full on stereotype voodoo priestess character, with the face paint and accent, for no clear reason.
It’s also quite disappointing to discover that your choices and actions really have very little impact. The original pitch was that everything you did would have ramifications – the world would grow and change radically according to what you did in it. What actually happens boils down to unlocking regional facilities like water towers or electrical substations and choosing who gets them in return for upgrades. Give stuff to the Police, called Peacekeepers, and you’ll add traps and weapons to the streets, while the ordinary survivors add parkour aids like ziplines and jump pads.
From comparing notes with other players there only seems to be a handful of slightly different outcomes – there’s where no ‘wait you did what?!’ moments, bar one exception. A few early minor side missions play out differently and give the impression of meaningful options, and some characters occasionally reappear to show they’re alive or tell you how totally different things are now, but, for the most part, there’s no big changes that will see people picking apart what they did differently. You can’t really play off factions or make enemies, and sometimes characters just straight up tell you to do the other thing if you try pick an option that isn’t allowed.
There’s basically two main plot tracks and only a couple of junction points in the whole game where yes/no decisions switches between them. The one opportunity you have to make a big world change is tied to one of these paths as well, meaning it can be locked in or blocked out potentially hours before it happens. Aside from this one big option, missions are often the same whichever track you’re on, just framed differently, with a few surface variations. One major decision is decided by choices you make long before you know what’s coming as well, which left me feeling cheated as it unfurled: helping a single person at a certain point will, later down the line, see you locked into committing full on war crimes and being instrumental in mass murder with no way of knowing at the time. When I found out I desperately waited for an option to say ‘no’ that never came. Not that it mattered, though, because when I moved to a new area, a convenient communication blackout meant the faction I’d just slaughtered a huge number of didn’t know about it and we were all still friends.
The choice is theirs
The main story is fairly unfocused throughout this: you’re looking for the sister you lost as a child, and the scientist who tortured you both. The only reason you’re in the city, or aiding any of the people you meet, is because they can help with that. It sort of works as motivation but does little to meaningfully invest you in, or tie you to, the world emotionally. The two factions are fighting to survive, society is on the brink of collapse, and you’re risking life and limb to get involved in what’s tantamount to civil war purely because someone might know someone that heard something about the bad guy. Everyone is basically helping a stranger find another stranger. It’s more justification than motivation. The ending feels very tacked on as well, again having very little connection to anything you’ve done. The epilogue even throws in a few ‘Poochie died on the way to his home planet’ style captions to tie up loose ends, before a weird conclusion doesn’t so much put a bow on things, as wrestle all the plot threads to the floor and hogtie them. Almost all the narrative feels more like a fix than intention.
It’s a good job, then, that everything just carries on after the credits like nothing happened, leaving you free to wander around and enjoy the world. I know I’ve hammered the story and choices, but this is still a game that’s great to play moment to moment. It just doesn’t hold up if you stop to think about why almost any of it is happening. Simply careening around getting into zombie fights, uncovering things, picking up missions and activities is endlessly entertaining and it’s almost a relief after the story’s done to not worry about justifying any of it. The world, and the things you can do in it, provide huge amounts of entertainment and there’s plenty here I’m still going back to revisit. The undead fantasy is strong, even if the writing and characters don’t always entice you to care too much about the living.
Reviewed on PC with a code provided by the publisher.
3.5 out of 5
Dying Light 2
Dying Light 2 offers a great open world playground for zombie survival, but lacks an impactful story or meaningful choices.