“Well, the first obvious reason was COVID,” Dying Light 2 lead designer Tymon Smektala answered when I asked him why it has been delayed multiple times from its original 2020 release date. “I don’t want to use that as an excuse, but it’s the reality of the situation.”
The initial announcement for the upcoming action game, which debuted at Microsoft’s E3 2018 show via the now-largely-dissociated Chris Avellone, feels further away than it actually is. The following year, developer Techland held a demo off the show floor in a small theater in a side hallway, sharing a wall with fellow Polish developer CD Projekt Red and a new Cyberpunk 2077 demonstration that you could faintly hear in the Dying Light 2 waiting room. Over the week, journalist circles at E3 buzzed about how good the Dying Like 2 demo looked. Techland found themselves fielding more and more requests for last-minute attendees, including myself.
That original showing promised a Dying Light sequel that was ambitious, choice-based, and at the very least exciting to watch. The demo’s narrative was that Aiden, a nomadic parkour specialist in a post-apocalyptic zombie city, had to break into a water supply plant and decide which of two factions get access to the water. At the time, it was a far-out look at a game that was not terribly far away. The two-and-a-half-year interceding wait, however, has put a lot of that game’s concepts in a different light.
In the world of Dying Light 2, a manmade virus breaks out and essentially zombifies the world. The virus, which was being worked on and evolved for military use, has destroyed civilization as we know it and defined the world as the “New Dark Age,” as Techland likes to call it.
“The coronavirus pandemic made working on this game harder, but we never second-guessed the story,” said Narrative Director Piotr Szymanek. “We, of course, wanted to be sensitive to the real-world implications of a virus story, but our narrative is less about the effects of the virus on the world and more about the people.”
It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s hard to separate Dying Light 2’s world from our own as I played. One of the factions, the Peace Keepers, are ex-military law officials who are fascistically violent in the name of protection. It was difficult to ever desire siding with them over the banded-together survivors. The game doesn’t make a good argument for why I should be supporting post-apocalyptic cops, either. Even as a story of people, it’s not super easy to see how Dying Light 2 is divorcing itself from the real-world people most affected here.
Szymanek pointed me to Cube, a 1997 cult sci-fi film about several strangers waking up in a cubic prison with booby traps attached. In the film, the characters have to work together despite differing motivations to escape, but the event takes mental and physical tolls on the would-be survivors to create drama. He says they watched that movie a lot more than anything zombie-related.
Dying Light 2’s world is broken both in terms of the virus and the fractured society that barely survives it. After spending four hours playing the game, this is maybe the most realistic aspect of the story for me. There’s Sophie, the usurping rebellion leader; her bellicose little brother, Barney; and Lawan, the former drug addict desperately trying to get her drunkard boss to focus. Each character felt like someone struggling to survive in a population that doesn’t take the virus seriously enough. Whether that holds up through an entire game, I can’t really answer — but it is relatable.
At the end of our conversation, Smektala said he’s confident the ambition of the 2019 E3 demo is in the final product. “Things change, scopes change, time changes things, but I think the game we are releasing is what we have always wanted to release.”
Dying Light 2 will be released on February 4, 2022, on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch via Cloud streaming, and PC.