Techland's Dying Light is, hands down, one of our favourite zombie-flavoured survival horror games released over the past decade. A uniquely gritty, ultra-violent affair that makes up for its narrative shortcomings with top-notch parkour gameplay and satisfyingly bloody combat, it's a game that took the tired zombie genre and gave it the shake-up that it needed back in 2015. It was, and still is, a very, very good time indeed.
And so it'll come as no surprise that we've been more than a little excited to see just what Techland could serve up in this long-awaited sequel. With Dying Light 2, the Polish developer has touted a game world that's four times bigger than the original's Harran, with tons more verticality, bigger zombie hordes and just generally more of everything. In terms of giving you a lot more content, it most certainly delivers, however, in doing so it's also managed to dilute the essence of what made Dying Light feel so very special. This is a sequel that, in almost every way, is a noticeable step down from its predecessor; a sprawling, messy, kitchen-sink style affair that loses itself in mindless open-world faff whilst fumbling its core gameplay mechanics, resulting in a game that just doesn't stand up to what's come before.
Dying Light 2 kicks off some 20 years after the events of the first game and sees you assume the role of Aiden Caldwell, a bland cut and paste protagonist, who's arrived in the game's enormous City setting in search of his long-lost sister. We won't really go into any more detail on the story front here for fear of spoilers, but what we will say is that, just like the original game, the narrative here is easily the weakest aspect of proceedings, delivering a campaign story that starts badly and ends a whole lot worse. Aiden is little more than a glorified errand boy for the duration of this adventure, and you'll spend almost the entire 20 hour campaign shuttling around the game's huge map doing trivial busywork for a bunch of highly unlikeable characters, all of whom are drawn in the most basic and cliched of manners.
There's not a single person here who isn't an angry violent mess of cliched, bargain basement action movie drivel. They're covered in scars, drink a lot, make childish sex jokes, shout about shooting people in the genitals and there are just far, far too many of them to remember who is who and what exactly their part in the convoluted mess of story is. This universally weak characterisation and writing, accompanied by some seriously bad voice-acting in places, means you'll soon tire of traversing the rooftops of this zombie-infested metropolis just to arrive at your next objective where you'll need to endure yet another shouty, pointless, tonal whiplash-inducing conversation that advances absolutely nothing plot-wise.
Of course there are also narrative choices to be made this time around, an aspect of the game that's been a big selling point in the run up to release and yes, there are a few moments where you're forced - on a timer - to make a decision. Again, we're not going to spoil anything here but, from our experience, these big moments do little more than set off some fireworks here and there on the world map and shuffle you down a slightly different route in terms of the characters you need to converse with. This is all fine, and it's nice to have a few different ending to work towards, but the problem is that the story is so badly put together, the writing is so weak, that we're not sure it really matters that there's more of it to see. Harsh? Maybe, but if we're going to play through a game's campaign multiple times to see various quest lines and endings, it's gonna need to be a lot more captivating than this.
So, the story is bad. Ok. It wasn't great in the first Dying Light either, it's gameplay that's king here after all, right? Well, no not really. Whilst you may have a far bigger, more vertical playground in which to parkour to your heart's content, the fact is the free-running in this sequel just feels off, with floatier, less impactful physics at work than those found during Kyle Crane's escapades in Harran. We often found ourselves misjudging ledge grabs and pull-ups due to the nature of how the game attaches you to surfaces too, sometimes you'll make it, sometimes you won't. It's something you get used to over time, but it doesn't feel as clean as it should do, which can lead to some frustrations, especially during tight parkour challenges.
As you progress in the story your free-running move-set expands through great big skill trees - this is the type of game that'll show you its skill trees before it gives you a second to settle in - full of fancy new moves to unlock as you play, but none of them really make the parkour feel any better at its most fundamental level because it lacks the gritty impact, the heft, weight and sense of gravity that made the first game's traversal so much addictive fun.
There's still good times to be had here for free-running fans, don't get us wrong, this is an impressively large and often very good-looking world stuffed full of parkour challenges to take on, and Techland has obviously been very busy creating the game's enormous city setting, it's just that it doesn't click in the same way as it did first time around. Sure, unlocking the ability to bound across vertical walls Titanfall-style and string together assorted moves to keep yourself pelting along at top speed certainly improves things and gives you options, but it just doesn't feel as satisfying as it used to - and this is a problem that seeps into the game's melee-based combat as well, unfortunately.
If you've played the original game, you'll no doubt have fond memories of tumbling down onto the streets of Harran after missing a jump - or maybe deliberately descending to the tarmac in search of a good old scrap - where you'd almost immediately be set upon by a vicious horde of very angry infected. The melee combat felt heavy and impactful with sweet physics that made tussling with mobs a delight. Here, however, that sense of weight and impact is all but lost. This is still a very violent game that bases its combat around big chunky melee weapons, and you can still kick enemies into spikes and set off car traps to blow countless infected into tiny bloody chunks and so on, but just like the parkour, the whole thing just feels off point, light and unsatisfying.
There's not as much in the way of grappling with your foes either, where in the first game you'd often end up being grabbed and viciously set upon by a zombie in terrifyingly claustrophobic close-range encounters, here we never had any such trouble. There's always more than enough room on these bigger city streets, you see, to stand off, to move out of harm's way, you'll likely never find yourself penned in and really up against it, which has the knock-on effect of rendering those spikes and other environmental traps all but useless. It's the action from the first game diluted down by the sheer size of the space in which it's set.
Even as night draws in and the real ghouls come out to play, a part of the original game we always found satisfyingly nerve-shredding, there's not the same sense of panic at all because you've got far too much room to manoeuvre, and when you do get involved in a chase sequence it's just too easy to reach the safety of a UV light or safe zone to end the pursuit. That heavy, desperate feeling of leaving the safety of a camp to head out into a lethally dangerous, heavily infested city, putting yourself in real harm's way to help out other survivors, is all but lost here as a result. It's Dying Light with the fear factor dialled back massively.
Dying Light 2 also adds all of the usual RPG-lite elements we've come to expect from these big open world games to its ramshackle mix. You'll find all manner of melee weapons on your journeys, from common to legendary, most of which can be upgraded to shoot fire, poison or electrify your foes. However, none of this is particularly well explained by the game and, in the end, it's far more time-consuming and annoying that it needs to be. Everything costs lots of scrap, bits and pieces of junk and money, so you'll need to pulse areas constantly in order to locate and collect ad nauseum. Even repairing weapons is overly convoluted now, requiring that you purchase a blueprint, scrap together a mod and fit it to the shaft of your weapon then refresh it as it gets close to breaking point.
You'll buy blueprints for cash then build your upgrades and fit them into slots on your various swords and hammers and spikes, then you'll need to collect evermore scrap and spare parts in order to upgrade your upgrades so they're even more powerful, resulting in a constant cycle of monotonous collection that, in the end, we mostly ignored, choosing instead to pick up whatever weapons we found along the way and stick with them until they broke. It made little to no difference.
So too the various types of wearable gear you'll find. Gloves, sneakers, facemasks and tops, all with different stats to suit the game's classes; ranger, tank and so on. We honestly can't say we noticed any difference regardless of whether we were kitted out in full ranger attire or head to toe in brawler gear. All of this stuff feels shoehorned in for no real reason other than it being more stuff, more junk to keep you busy. It all looks boring and samey too, simple palette swaps and mostly bland weapon models and, in the end, it matters very little when the enemy AI, particularly when it comes to boss fights, is so lacklustre.
Yes, the enemies here are not the brightest bunch, from regular infected who sit around sleeping in the game's "stealth" areas, allowing you to pass by them easily, to bosses who can be cheesed by simply using a crossbow to lock them in place until they're dead (something we did during one of the game's big late-stage showdowns), the zombies and human foes aren't exactly combat experts in Dying Light 2 - at least on the game's normal difficulty setting.
The battles here can still be fun, get a small group of human enemies in an area with some space and there's enjoyment to be had in parrying an attack then utilising the game's (overly complicated) kick attack or setting about them with a fire hammer, but more often than not these encounters are messy, scrappy affairs that are more likely to frustrate than enthral when there's any more than a handful of foes involved. Showdowns against larger infected can be reasonably entertaining at points too, light up a gas cylinder and chuck it at the brutes or get in close to dodge around unblockable attacks and get some quick hits in, but there's very little that's difficult or challenging about this stuff, you can just keep your distance and whittle big bads down, they don't have the mental capacity to strategize against ranged attacks or any sort of thinking outside of the box.
In the build up to this game's release Techland boasted of over 500 hours worth of content for players to get stuck into, and we reckon that could be just about right as our world map was absolutely stuffed full of question marks and other icons left untouched by the time we were done with the campaign proper. However, the side stuff here; the fetch quests, civilian rescues, dark zone excursions and so on, are highly repetitive in nature. It's all very much bog-standard open-world busywork that's there to simply pad out the experience, an experience that, by the time we were done with Aiden's story, we'd had more than our fill of.
We should mention the paraglider at this point too. A seemingly cool addition to the action, it allows you to jump off buildings and glide through streets, using air vents dotted around the environment to refresh your stamina bar and blast you back up to a decent altitude. The problem is, until you upgrade it a few times, it's absolutely garbage to use. It's hard to manoeuvre, loses altitude quickly and is generally more hassle than it's worth unless you're using it to emergency vacate a hostile rooftop. There are other tricks and gadgets to unlock as you complete the game's faction side-missions; airbags, bouncy jump-pads and so on, but none of these feel essential, none of them really add anything to the action that made us think the time spent unlocking them was worthwhile.
Moving onto the performance side of things and there are more problems to deal with. We encountered a couple of full game locks that saw us lose control of Aiden entirely, requiring us to restart our Series X console, and random sound problems that ranged from the audio cutting out to the odd occasion where we were treated to a high-pitched squeal more terrifying than anything we've heard emanate from the game's howler enemies. We've seen zombies walking around a good six feet off the ground, had windmill climbing challenges bug out - one saw us grab a monkey bar and move upwards only to be detached from the bar and left suspended in the air - and had numerous occasions where camps full of human foes failed to react to decoy gadgets and other attempts to get their attention.
More serious than the odd sound bug or floating enemy, however, is the fact that both the quality and resolution modes here are currently in rather bad shape, both tanking the framerate - with quality mode in particular an absolute slideshow - meaning that, until the game is patched, performance mode is your only real option for now. This is on a Series X console too, so we've no idea how this one is going to perform on last-gen consoles. We should note at this point that Techland has issued a statement saying that the game will be improved through a day one patch, and hopefully this patch focuses on fixing those serious quality and resolution mode issues alongside other bugs, but for now we can only review the game as we experienced it.
In the end, what you've got here is a sequel that just feels as though it's had a troubled development, you can sense it from the bugs, performance issues, train-wreck of a story and absolute jumbled patchwork of ideas chucked unceremoniously into the mix. It's got the RPG-lite elements of the likes of Assassin's Creed Valhalla, but none of the slickness or narrative nous. It's got the wide open world combat of the likes of Far Cry 6, but is missing the slapstick creativity and emergent silliness of that game's murder sandbox. Dying Light 2 doesn't seem to know where it's at or what it wants to be in all honesty, and it's game that you need to really work with to draw the most from as a result. You'll find it at its best when it tasks you with climbing some huge tower or skyscraper on the world map, digging into the parkour side of things, easily its strongest element, but these moments are few and far between, and they're absolutely swamped by basic busywork, lacklustre campaign missions and poor storytelling.
If you're a huge fan of the first game, we think you'll still find something to enjoy in simply revisiting this universe, traversing the undeniably impressive city that Techland has put together, parkouring up a few skyscrapers and slapping some infected around with a great big electrified hammer. However, this is a sequel that's undeniably a pretty big step down from 2015's outing and a game that urgently needs patched and refined if it's to keep its intended audience from dropping it and returning to the streets of Harran in pretty short order.
Dying Light 2 is a pretty disappointing sequel to one of our all-time favourite zombie games. The parkour and combat here feels slightly off-point, light, floaty and unsatisfying. The first game's signature tense melee encounters feel diluted in a setting that gives you far too much space to catch your breath and night-time sorties lack the straight-up fear factor that made them so appealing first time around. With a lacklustre campaign that offers little to enjoy in the way of drama, some serious performance issues - which we hope will be patched day one - and an enormous world stuffed full of basic busywork padding, this is one zombie apocalypse we're finding quite hard to recommend.