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Decades into the apocalypse, the undead forces roaming the world evolve and grow stronger with each passing night. And humanity is fighting back. Within strongholds scattered across The City, technological breakthroughs are born, and the tide of war is changing to favor the living. An electronic wristband keeps people from turning after a zombie bite, and even the most aggressive monster variants don’t stand a chance against the latest weapon innovations. But all is not well beyond these walls. Darkness lies within, and humanity’s most significant threat for survival is itself. Greed, lust, betrayal, and arcane politics could ultimately lead to its downfall.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human blends the terrors of the dead with the strife of life to create one of the most entertaining RPGs I’ve ever played. It is a triumph of storytelling, player choice, open-world design, cooperative play, character customization, and perhaps most importantly, dropkicking zombies off skyscrapers. It’s everything a sequel should be, growing the core formula in significant ways to make high-flying, zombie-slaying sizzle again.
During the 50-plus hours I invested in this fantastic game, I often thought about playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the first time, feeling overwhelmed by its wealth of content and not knowing if I screwed something up with a hasty decision. Dying Light 2 is drawn from that same breath, blending a rich world of discovery with choices galore. It’s an experience you can lose yourself in, and almost all of the content you unearth is significant to evolving both the story and your character.
Our guide into this wasteland is Aiden Caldwell, a survivor haunted by ghosts of his past who re-enters society at a tipping point. Aiden is a likable lead who is defined mainly by his choices. He lords over the city like an apocalyptic judge, often determining who lives, who dies, and which factions gain wealth and power. Most of his choices carry weight and bring closure or new beginnings for many of the characters he meets along the way. I often had to stop to think about the benefits and ramifications of a decision. Techland sometimes forces your hand in these moments by putting a timer on the more pressing matters to heighten their impact. And it works.
When Aiden heads out on a mission, the player is in for a real treat. Not only are the objectives well written, but they unfold dynamically and almost always push Aiden to bound across rooftops. Dying Light 2’s parkour system is a work of art set within a beautiful, sprawling city that doubles as an architectural playground. Clear pathways are littered across the environments, allowing Aiden to keep momentum and reach almost any location by just running, jumping, and using some of the game’s awesome gadgets. I won’t go into what they are as discovering them is part of the fun, but they all enhance the locomotion and are a blast to use. All told, this is one of the most satisfying and nicely designed traversal systems in FPS gaming. It feels better than the original game, is much more forgiving in reading jump intent, and reaches new heights through The City's soaring verticality.
Choice is even intertwined in a clever way for traversal. Depending on which factions you distribute wealth to, new interactive elements and other handy tools unlock in areas of the city. As I learned, sometimes Aiden's personal gains outweigh the needs of the people. These choices don't make you feel good, but they can make traversal and combat easier and should pay off in the long run.
Aiden’s missions offer plenty of variety, and sew puzzles and combat into most objectives. I was impressed by how varied, well-written, and dynamically composed the missions are. The critical path delivers the big set-piece moments, but the side material is vital to the overall narrative and is often lengthy. Nothing in this game feels tacked on – it’s all worth investigating. And it’s all made better through cooperative play, as you and three of your friends can team up or divide and conquer to claim territories, clear out dangerous dark hallows, and find valuable loot (like inhibitor boxes that raise your stamina and health). The dark hallows make it worth the risk of going out at night when the zombies are more aggressive.
Combat is the one area that takes a bit of a backseat to the other great content. It’s a huge part of the experience, and it's a heck of a lot of fun to eviscerate Biters, but the melee isn’t as advanced as the other parts of the game, and it doesn’t evolve much, either. Regardless, crafting blades that cough fire and electrocute zombies is satisfying, and that dropkick I mentioned is worth using as much as you can. Boss battles and swarm battles are made better through cooperative play as the difficulty (and hit points) scale up and create more dynamic encounters.
One fight against a titan pushed my group of four players to unload everything they had – Molotov cocktails, arrows, and carefully timed sword combos – before it finally dropped. The rewards that came after were well worth the effort. Mastering parry timing against human foes – who are as abundant as zombies – is tricky but not something you have to rely on as more combat moves unlock.
Dying Light 2 is an engaging journey of discovery and gaining power. Almost everything you do embraces those dynamics. In evolving beyond the first game's offerings, putting a stronger emphasis on the characters helps shape the world in meaningful ways. Some of Aiden’s choices are difficult, especially those surrounding a character named Lawan – who is given a hell of a pulse by Rosario Dawson. I can’t say enough great things where his and her stories go. I adored almost every second of this game and see myself often revisiting it, as Techland has announced at least five years of DLC is on the way. That’s a wonderful promise to hear when starting a new game that has turned out this well.