Platform: PlayStation 4
Dying Light 2 Preview - E3 2018
Sequel to zombie survival game looks to up the ante
With all the leaks preceding this year’s E3, I wasn’t prepared to be shocked by anything. I had heard rumblings of Dying Light 2 and when Techland wanted to book appointments to demo a game prior to the show, and I had my suspicions. So Dying Light 2 itself wasn’t the surprise.
The real surprise was seeing the well known games writer, Chris Avellone, take the stage at the E3 2018 Xbox briefing to talk about the game’s branching narrative paths. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Avellone, he’s been an Obsidian staple for ages, contributing his writing skills to Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Neverwinter Nights 2, Alpha Protocol, and Pillars of Eternity, before leaving and helping Larian Studios with Divinity: Divinity Original Sin 2 (specifically, the undead Fane who so many people have fallen in love with). Avellone is one of those writers who likely isn’t a household name, even if you’ve played one of the many games he’s worked on, but he’s been doing yeoman’s work throughout the industry and deserved a moment like the one he got on Sunday, standing on stage showing off his latest work.
I liked the first Dying Light, but I found that the further I got into it, the more is devolved to a generic zombie game. The day/night cycle was a nice addition gameplay-wise, but it had nothing terribly new for zombie fiction. I dug the parkour system, but the mission structure didn’t always make the best use of these mechanics. But the biggest issue I had with the first game was once guns got involved, the whole mood of the game shifted. It went from being a nasty, gritty thrill ride to a generic shooter. So when they opened the floor up for questions I immediately asked if there would be firearms in Dying Light 2. I was happy to be informed that the game’s “modern dark-ages” aesthetic prevents the sequel from having guns of any kind.
That’s particularly exciting because the combat that I saw looked bloody, gory and wonderfully intense. Using sign posts as makeshift hand axes or metal poles as clubs makes for a type of brutality that is unique to Dying Light 2 - a grimy coating that is layered on top of the game’s fluid parkour system.
And that parkour is truly something. The energy that radiates through the movement in Dying Light 2 is crazy. Harran was a fun playground in the first game, but in the demo for Dying Light 2 Techland seemed to revel in their electric parkour, effortlessly leaping through the urban wasteland of damaged light posts and vacant, crumbling buildings. Dying Light 2 is elaborating on its movement mechanics in a way that Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst would have never thought up. The free-running isn’t just meant to be a joy-ride through the world (though it often is), it’s also meant to be thoughtful and meticulous. Techland talked about creating parkour puzzles for the first time, which challenges the player by forcing them to work with limited stamina, but they also have plenty of quiet moments where simply navigating through world is a bit of challenge. On top of that, there are still those pulse-pounding moments as you leap through the world, desperately trying to escape and survive.
There were two incredible moments during our gameplay demo that showed off how intense the gameplay of Dying Light 2 can be. First, early in the demo we saw that the zombies largely stay off the streets during the day. The infected are weakened, if not killed, by sunlight and thus the streets are left to humans during the day. However, as the player avoided a scuffle with a couple of bandits, they ducked into an empty building and found a horde of infected had used the building as a safe haven from the light. The player had to carefully navigate through the building, making sure to not make too much noise and attract the zombies. This didn’t require the fast-paced action one might associate with Dying Light - this was a measured moment of dread.
The other great moment was when we saw the player try to engage in combat with a series of bandits. While he was able to kill a couple of them, the others called for backup and soon there was a whole army chasing the player. Here, Techland put on a show for us. The player zip-lined between buildings, did some wall runs, and took terrifying leaps of faith, all while taking damage from the nearby attackers.
After all of this, the player climbed a nearby water tower, ascending to the top where they confronted two men about killing members of the Peacekeepers organization. Here the player was faced with a choice - either kill the men and give the water tower to the Peacekeepers, or keep quiet and take a cut from the business of selling water.
Techland demonstrated how these choices wouldn’t only affect the way the narrative played out, but how it would have a visual and gameplay impact. With water available to all, the player would be able to replenish their health more easily, but they would also have to play by the rules of the Peacekeepers, though the help they had provided to the organization would afford them some leniency they could use to their advantage.
Lastly, we saw the dusty and gloomy world if the water had remained the private property of the two Peacekeeper-killers. It felt more lawless, though it was clearly an agreement that had financial benefits to the player.
Dying Light 2 is an interesting evolution in the zombie genre. One of my biggest criticisms of the first game was how familiar it felt in tone and narrative. It’s nice to see that the sequel isn’t only upping the ante in terms of the size of the world and the gameplay, but also creating a more satisfying narrative experience, bringing in industry veterans to help craft a more memorable story in a world that adapts to the choices of the player.
Dying Light 2 will be released in 2019 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.