Dying Light 2
Techland’s sequel is more social sandbox than zombie killer
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Don’t think of Dying Light 2 as a zombie game, or a survival game, or even an open-world game in the usual sense. Think of it instead as a playable map editor, an exercise in sculpting the human and physical geography of a pestilent European metropolis – not with a cursor, but with a flying kick. Set a few years after its predecessor’s undead apocalypse, the game is built once again around the three principles of “natural movement” ( Mirror’s Edge without the linearity), first-person melee ( Mirror’s Edge with squelchier combo finishers) and a dayand-night cycle that alters the threat level. But it places a much greater emphasis on story, and that story is not so much told as embodied in the changing terrain.
It’s there in the fact that the streets in one district are no longer safe to wander, but there are now ziplines between crumbling facades to keep you out of harm’s way. It’s there in the queues of thankful refugees by water pumps, or the thickening of undead presence in certain alleyways, or the springing up of windmills on the horizon. All of these alterations, little and large, are the result of player interactions with the city’s people and factions, as Tymon Smektala, lead designer, explains; they reflect a commitment to telling a story that is just as malleable and unpredictable as the average zombie encounter.
Another way of looking at all this is that like Assassin’s Creed, Dying Light 2 has become a full-blown RPG – specifically, the kind once made by Obsidian or Interplay, in which players are given freedom to shape a busy corner of a larger universe while levelling up their abilities. It’s with such notions in mind that Techland has hired Chris Avellone, designer of such classics as Fallout 2 and Neverwinter
Nights, to help create Dying Light 2’ s story and setting. “We knew that we perhaps didn’t have the expertise, so we wanted to work with somebody who did,” Smektala says.
The presence of a legendary fantasy designer like Avellone certainly complements the choice of aesthetic. Dying Light 2 unfolds in a ‘Modern Dark Ages’, a Mad Maxian rejig of the vigorously mucky representations of medieval society held up by Game Of Thrones. “Everything is scarce, resources are extremely rare, there is nearly no technology, and if there is technology it’s things that people were able to keep running after the fall.” The game’s art direction sutures the modern and medieval world together, as new life (together with a fair amount of undeath) springs up around the vestiges of once-grand dwellings and workplaces. Shopping malls have been outfitted with crude towers of wood and scrap. Armour is made up of pieces of police riot gear. Melee weapons such as axes and
hammers are held together with cable and wire. Even the zombies who roam the city at night feel like they’re caught between eras: they’ve been redesigned with reference to medieval accounts of leprosy.
The Dark Age ethos also shades the game’s writing, and in particular the characterising of factions. “When you think of medieval times, there are all those things that come to mind instantly,” Smektala says. “Intrigue, infidelity, harsh laws; you steal something and your hand gets cut off. The relations between people, between the people in power and those not as fortunate – we’re using those archetypes in our story.”
Each faction has its own views about the right way to rekindle civilisation on a planet now comprehensively overrun by zombies. Among those Techland is prepared to talk about before release are the Scavengers, who have erected a heavily fortified safe haven they hope to expand over time, rather than trying to clear out each and every street. They’re opposed by the Peacekeepers, an army of crypto-fascists who aim to exterminate the undead entirely. The major factions aside, there are smaller, less visible groups who shape the balance of power throughout the metropolis in less obvious ways. “They’re like wild cards. They can offer a different outlook, and completely different ideas about how to solve a problem.” The smaller factions also offer alternative perspectives on events that are available throughout the plot, while siding with one of the major factions will typically seal off a large number of narrative threads.
The more of-the-moment consequences of backing a faction are likely to be Dying Light
2’ s chief thrill. Allegiance shapes every aspect, from the routes you’ll take through the game’s towering layouts to how you fight. Help the Peacekeepers in one district, and they might lower the density of enemies in that region while raising it elsewhere, as bandits and zombies alike migrate to surrounding areas. Fall in with the Scavengers, and they might repair structures such as bridges to allow access to remote spots, all the while quietly reducing the locals to a slave workforce. Who you ally with also determines which crafting blueprints you’ll receive, or how exactly props like ziplines work once they’re installed. The array of possibilities sounds remarkable, extending beyond the choice of visual trappings or unlocks to the fundamental workings of the sandbox.
On top of these broader changes, Dying Light 2 will offer a larger selection of parkour moves – around 100, next to the first game’s 50 or so – and an expanded arsenal of weapon recipes and effects that puts us a little in mind of Destiny. The additional parkour actions range from scrabbling up or down slopes to swinging from monkey bars, mantling chimneys and stabbing your knife into a billboard to slow your fall.
Parkour is also more of a factor in combat. “In the first game when you used parkour in combat it was mostly as a finisher, like dropkicking an enemy off a rooftop,” Smektala explains. “We’ve added a lot of moves that let you create an opening, to start an encounter or do something during that encounter.” Examples include using a wall-run to launch a staggering attack, or grabbing and throwing loose objects to stall attackers. The additional weapon effects, meanwhile, are more “subtle” than the previous game’s spread of fire, poison, electrical, freezing and blast modifiers, though these are still present. One crafting recipe makes it easier to shatter helmets with blows to the head; another causes enemies to drop their weapons after a precision parry.
These are certainly invigorating touches, but it’s the thought of the city itself and its straggly web of power relations we find most entrancing. “We have a whole wall in our narrative-team room devoted to presenting the relationships [between elements of the city] – sticky notes, pictures, print-outs with arrows connecting them,” Smektala says. “We believe the combination of those small and big choices will let players create their own version of the city, their own sandbox – a version that not only has a different narrative but a different kind of gameplay.”
The additional weapon effects are more “subtle” than the previous game’s spread