After what feels like a long wait and tons of anticipation, we were finally able to go hands on with Dying 2 Stay Human, Techland’s ambitious sequel to its well-received zombie title. Was it worth the wait? We played the PlayStation 5 version – here’s our take.
Part of what made the wait for this game feel like an eternity is that it was announced and shown off back in 2018, when we were immediately impressed by it. It had the same effect on us during the 2019 trade show season, when it was right up there with the best games of the show every time we laid eyes on it. And then, Covid happened. Big (in person) trade shows now feel like they’ve been gone for ages, and Techland hit a few snags during the development of Dying Light 2 as well. The game was postponed, release dates were pulled completely, and at some point our understanding was that they were rethinking the scope of their game. Without the chance to see the game in person for over two years, we didn’t know what to expect anymore.
Of course, the timeline and sequence of events here also ties into the release of Cyberpunk 2077, which was equally impressive during the pre-Covid trade shows but had a rather rough launch. When Techland announced they weren’t going to make their holiday 2021 release date, it felt like they could see the writing on the wall, but was a February release date going to be enough to iron out whatever it was that didn’t quite feel right for a December launch?
Every time we saw Dying Light 2 in action (at some point “Stay Human” was added to the title, but we’re not sure why it wasn’t just a subtitle), two aspects were prominently pushed: parkour and its branching narrative. It sounded like a great mix – parkour made the first game beloved, while the narrative was an area in definite need of improvement. A branching narrative, where decisions impact both the story and the world around you, was the big selling point here – and a major element of how ambitious the scope of the game is.
Of course this wouldn’t be a Dying Light game if the day and night cycle wasn’t a big factor, and parkour still blends seamlessly with both melee and weapon-based combat. It gets better as the game goes on though, because you don’t unlock the full range of your abilities until later. Once you can wall-run and paraglide from building to building, traversal becomes a real joy – and the gradual unlocks make for a gentle learning curve as well. In a way, traversal in Dying Light 2 reminded us of Mirror’s Edge – though with more engaging combat and a better narrative. Vastly improved animations and a more dynamic range of traversal options make it a clear highlight for the game.
This is especially true when you start mixing it with combat. This could sometimes feel clunky in the first game when faced with a lot of enemies at once, but Dying Light 2 features a system where you can keep moving from enemy to enemy in combat if you get the timing right – and combat is another area where additional parts of your moveset unlock over time. Your range in combat also depends on which weapons you pick up though, and tons of objects in the city can be used for fighting – from saws and axes to lead pipes.
The narrative in Dying Light 2 is set two decades after the events of the first game, and things aren’t going well – the virus that you battled in Harran has mutated and spread across the world. Amidst all that, you’re protagonist Aiden Caldwell, and you’re looking for your missing sister. This leads you to Villedor, a city that hasn’t completely fallen to the infected and has a degree of order within its walls. That also comes with strife though, as the ruling Peacekeepers are facing resistance from the city’s citizens, who consider their way of life to be oppressive. Aiden’s decisions in Villedor will affect their lives, as there are many ways to continue your search but none of them will keep everyone happy.
Throughout the story, you’ll meet a lot of interested and well developed characters, and depending on who you align with more you’ll get to see more or less of them – which is very inviting in terms of a potential second playthrough. The writing’s excellent and there are plenty of key turning points that will result in a twist of some kind, so knowing you can have an effect on how these play out is empowering. Even the optional side missions feel like they play an important role in how the city’s people live and breathe together, and they rarely if ever feel like generic fetch quests. And while a lot of story focus is on the city and the surrounding area around you, Aiden’s personal journey is also an interesting one – and even ties into the gameplay. Aiden gets partially infected early on in the game, and this means he’ll have to keep himself exposed to sunlight and/or UV light to avoid his body giving in to the virus – something that’s especially tricky when mission objectives force you to go indoors or venture out at night.
Although it’s not the most “next gen” looking game out there, Dying Light 2 Stay Human is gorgeous when you’re in motion. The locations you traverse are diverse, the urban areas are vibrant and alive and the lighting is very impressive when you look at the day and night cycle or venture into and out of buildings. The roughest edges can be seen when the action slows down, with some facial animations that are a bit immersion breaking or little glitches here and there, but we realize we’re nitpicking – this is an attractive game, especially on PlayStation 5. What helps is that it performs well too, and Techland’s been hard at work fixing the remaining glitches post-release.
We’re undecided about whether or not Dying Light 2’s choice-based narrative system is as groundbreaking as it was presented to us back in 2018 and a second playthrough will probably tell us more. But even if you consider this aspect to be less impactful than it could have been, this is an extremely entertaining follow-up and a worthy sequel to Dying Light that improves on the first game in significant ways. Techland’s already pledged to keep supporting the game with new content, and we can’t wait.