Techland’s Dying Light was a stellar blend of freerunning traversal with satisfying, brutal combat. In your fight to survive against hostile humans and the infected, the overrun city of Harran was your playground, and the open-world world zombie-game was at its best when it let you loose in its vast open areas. It offered up several different encounters to uncover, and a lot of these situations often resulted in a series of events that felt surprisingly dynamic and in-the-moment, presenting some of the game’s best sequences. With the sequel, Techland aims to lean in further with the follow-up Dying Light 2.
At E3 2019, we got to see an extended hands-off demo that focused on the conflict between two major factions. Though the concept of an open-world zombie-apocalypse experience letting you have the run of the city is very much intact, there’s now a greater emphasis on weaving those sandbox elements into the actual story.
Described as a “narrative sandbox,” Dying Light 2’s overall plot–centering on the story of infected survivor Aiden Caldwell–takes a more tangential approach when compared to the mostly linear plot in the original. The sequel takes place in a far more bleak and desperate setting as well, which the developers refer to as the “modern dark age.” Suffice it to say, things got a whole lot worse following the story in Harran, and now Dying Light 2’s location known as The City is likely the last major settlement on Earth. With little to no guns left, there’s a greater emphasis on scavenging items and crafting special weapons of your own. One of Dying Light 2’s more interesting weapons is a harpoon launcher that doubles as a makeshift club once your ammo is depleted.
In the live demo, set in District 2–one of seven unique areas in The City–we saw a questline between two rival factions fighting over control of a water pump facility. According to your quest-giver, the water pump is being controlled by a so-called tyrant named The Colonel, who resides in a heavily fortified pumping station in the outskirts of District 2. The developers chose to show off this section of the game because this event can lead to a significant turning point in the story. In keeping with the game’s new focus on the moment-to-moment actions, and based on the choices made, the flow of the plot will be changed irrevocably. According to the devs, Dying Light 2 will feature no manual saves, so every decision and action you make will be saved immediately after.
Like the original, Dying Light 2 is all about its traversal, combat, and survivalist gameplay. By collecting resources and scrap, you can build new items to increase your chances of survival. With your melee weapons and combat skills, you can pull off some slick maneuvers during a scrape against humans and the viral infected–such as a slow-mo dodge technique, allowing you to get behind a foe quickly. There’s also some enhanced parkour skills for player character Aidan to utilize, including wall-running, wall-jumping–a la Ninja Gaiden–long-jumps, and even grabbing enemies to break your fall. But in Dying Light 2, there’s a clear focus on blending these different branches of the game. During a fight with a heavy foe wielding an electrified sledgehammer, for example, you can use your grappling hook on the ceiling to use a swing-kick, stunning the opponent.
The particular questline we witnessed in the demo took many twists and turns, and there were several points where some key choices had to be made. After an extended chase sequence following a truck going through The City, you catch up to the driver and have to make a choice–kill him and steal his car, or coerce the driver to sneak you into The Colonel’s fortress. For the demo, we stuck with the latter; however, if you do the former, the developers stated you would not only have to find a different way into the fortress and face worse odds against the so-called tyrant.
As it turns out, you discover a thriving and mostly peaceful community once you enter The Colonel’s fortress. Inside you find the leader, who is more pragmatic and cordial than you were led to believe, even though Aiden killed some of his soldiers to get here. This sudden swerve creates a surprising moment conflict. Over the radio, your handler from the rival faction convinced that the only way to survive is to annex The Colonel’s compound–while the leader of the peaceful community attempts to persuade you to join his side. In the demo, we stuck with the plan and turned on the water pump, turning The Colonel’s faction against us permanently and inciting a war between the two groups. The result of this decision is not only a drastic change to your relationships, and also to the setting itself. By turning on the machine, you lower the water in one of the city’s flooded areas–opening access to a new place to explore. However, this also unearthed an evolved form of infected, one that has spikes protruding from its arms.
According to the developers, Dying Light 2 will require multiple playthroughs to see every branching path and world-changing event. And given how many choices there were to be made in this demo, I’d believe it. Watching all of this play out gave me a similar feeling to engaging with a classic role-playing game like Baldur’s Gate or the Fallout series, where minor encounters or critical decisions can irrevocably alter the flow of the story. That’s intentional, as the narrative designer of Dying Light 2 is Chris Avellone, who’s worked on games like Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment. Avellone spent time reworking the original game’s linear main narrative into a more choice-driven plot.
“What I liked about Dying Light 1, and this is very much a personal reaction, was that there was a big focus on the open-world,” said Avellone during a short interview after the demo. “You can run anywhere, go find loot, and fight anywhere. The sense of freedom was really well-done in the first game. The second thing that really stuck out for me was that co-op play is really difficult to do in this type of game, and the game really did it well. Players just want to be able to dive into the world and experience it, and that’s something that Dying Light provides really well.”
I was a big admirer of the original game, and it’s clear that the sequel is building upon what worked and pairing it with a more freeform narrative. Though we didn’t get a chance to see it, Dying Light 2 also features co-op play with up to four players, with guests joining in a host’s world and observing their storytelling choices. In this way, it’ll present an excellent opportunity for players to visit a drastically different version of the larger story. With a map that’s four times larger than the original, Dying Light 2 is a massive upgrade from the original, and I’m excited to see just how many twists, turns, and swerves will happen during the story.