This is always a busy time of the year for the gaming industry, even with E3 2019 behind us everyone is still taking in all the news, preparing for all the games that are to come. Over the next few months there are certain titles that will dominate the headlines with leaks, rumors, interviews and sneak peaks. As a result, there are those that will likely find a bit of success but ultimately fall to the wayside. I really, sincerely hope Dying Light 2 is not one of those games.
I liked the first Dying Light, but I recognize there wasn’t anything too special about it. First person shooter, action adventure, deep crafting and skill tree customization, zombies and parkour — these are all the things I’d used to describe it and none of them are anything new. I streamed Dying Light for a few months, mostly playing with friends and that was the biggest strength the game had. It’s a game that if any of those descriptors are something you normally look for in a game, you’d probably enjoy but it’s not one I go around insisting everyone must play. By and large, it was what it was and mostly suffered from a lackluster story and a forgettable protagonist.
So, when I was ushered into Techland’s 30-person theater space at E3, I wasn’t expecting a lot. It was cool enough that each seat was filled with a statuette of the Dying Light 2’s protagonist for us to take home. I love free swag, afterall. We sat there in the dark as one of the developers started with the elevator pitch…like first Dying Light and like many games before it he rattled off buzzwords that get the gamer heart pounding and hype the meter rising. Phrases like ‘dynamic environments’ and ‘your choices matter in the world’ or ‘play the way you want to play!’. Ok, yea, sure we’ve heard all of this before.
Then, they start the gameplay demo. The events of Dying Light 2 take place 15 years after the original and you play as Aiden Caldwell. This immediately catches my attention, because most zombie games are about the Outbreak, the spreading virus, and how it’s changing everything. The developer points out, 15 years later, the strain has mutated in several ways throughout the year, based on the location and the environment. What I found more interesting was that the people too them have adapted to life among the infected. The first scene you get is a packed and bustling canteen of survivors just living life. It’s not just secret hovels of scared survivors and reinforced bunkers of soon to be victims. The infected are a part of life now.
The situation we’re put into as Aiden is that this section of the city is out of water and when the people realize it, there will be a panic. One of the games major players, who owns the canteen we start in, at this point has put together a meeting between three faction leaders. The idea is to get all three of them to work together so one of them, known as the Colonel, will allow us to turn on the water pumps and bring fresh water to the city. Before this meeting can go down however, our canteen owner is shot. At this point you have the option of staying with him or chasing down those in the van. This is one of those options that ‘changes the game’, because if you chase down the van our guy back at the canteen dies. A major NPC and influence in the city gone in an instant.
We then get to see a chase through the city from building to building, rooftop to rooftop as Aiden tries to catch up with this van. Even from the first dying light Aiden has way more abilities than he did, from long jumps to the grapple, to wall running, double wall jumping, using pieces of the environment in dynamic ways. It was impressive, but an obvious upgrade from Dying Light to Dying Light 2.
The next moment that really grabbed my attention was just as Aiden was about to catch the van he jumped into a third story building and he ran through the floor beneath him gave out, he fell down to the second story and watched as the entire floor gave way and dumped into the first floor with more infected than I could count. It was like a scene out of I Am Legend where everything just hibernates inside during the day. The player makes it out, barely, but I had to ask after the video if that was a scripted encounter or just bad luck? After all, chasing a van through the city what if Aiden hadn’t gone that way? I was told that’s part of the dynamic environment, it was bad luck. Had the player decided to go a different route, he may have got to the van a lot sooner.
Eventually Aiden does catch the van and has the choice to kill the driver or make him take Aiden to the colonel’s base. He lets him live and as a result, can easily get in the base since the driver knows the password. This is the usual scenario gamers are given when a developer claims “your choices matter”. Kill the driver, you have to sneak into the base or let him live and get in much easier. The path to the goal can vary, but ultimately it ends up at the same destination. I don’t think that’s the case with Dying Light 2 because as Aiden makes his way to the Colonel he has other big choices to make, like chasing the van or saving his friend. Do you ally with the Colonel or turn on the water pumps? Do you chase the colonel when he flees or release the valves now? In this demo, the water pumps were turned on and as a result an entire new section of the city was uncovered as the water was pumped out of it. This alone had several consequences besides unlocking a new area to explore. One of the other factions were able to cross the new area and wipe out the Colonel’s faction, the Colonel went into hiding and new aquatic-type of infected was released from the bed of the former flooded city district.
When Techland says, “your choices matter” and that “when you finish the game, you will have only saw about 50% of it,” I believe them. Had Aiden chosen to stay with his friend at the canteen and save him he never would’ve had the option to turn the water on. A section of the city would’ve stayed flooded, the Colonel would still be alive, his faction still in power and… Who knows what would’ve came next?
Every once in a while a series comes out with a new game and the jump in improvements from one to the next is incredible. Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2, Assassin’s Creed 1 to Assassin’s Creed 2, just to name a few examples — Dying Light 2 is such a massive leap from the first one that I believe it’s going to be a must play game of 2020. However, it also has to compete with the likes of Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Cyberpunk 2077… Only time will tell if has what it takes to keep our attention in a year that is shaping up to be one of the best in gaming history.
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