Dying Light 2 is a Worthy, if Imperfect Successor

Run, boy, run.

As I sprinted across towering scaffolding, I could hear the gnarled screams of an infected horde behind me. After vaulting across a gap, I thought I finally escaped — only to look down and see more undead clamoring up the walls of the building. With no time to waste, I continued across the overgrown rooftops, dipping in between construction equipment and running across a decaying billboard. Then, I saw it: the bright glow of UV lamps marking the nearest shelter.

The screams became louder as more infected joined the chase. Running as quickly as I could, I made one final jump across a street overrun with monsters and landed into the warm embrace of the purple lights. Seeing the infected give up should’ve brought me relief, but I knew I needed to go out into the darkness again because my quest wasn’t finished. That tension is constantly present in Techland’s Dying Light 2, a game set in a world overrun by ghoulish enemies. Though it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the original, Dying Light 2 is a perilous journey that expertly mixes exhilarating movement with some solid — if sometimes underwhelming — storytelling.

You play as Aiden Caldwell, a wandering survivor known as a Pilgrim who is looking for his missing friend, Mia. His journey takes him to what is considered the last safe stronghold of humanity: a massive walled-in city called Villedor. Over the course of the 30-hour campaign, you’ll navigate this decaying urban landscape in search of Mia while becoming entangled with struggling factions trying to seize control of the two main districts.

Or you won’t. “Player choice” is a common marketing buzzword. While the concept can lead to complex characters and moments that will have you questioning which side you should pick, it often sadly devolves into choosing between binary good and evil dialogue options. Dying Light 2 is a mix of both results. From the early stages of its reveal, Techland has boasted about how important your choices are when it comes to shaping Villedor’s future — and this is true. Every choice in Dying Light 2 culminated in an ending where all of my major decisions felt like they came together in a single mission. I’m not yet sure about how many endings Dying Light 2 has, but regardless of what your choices are, Techland has done a superb job of validating them and your agency.

However, similar to many other games that revolve around making players pick sides, there are two clear good and evil paths. I normally wouldn’t have an issue with this, but Dying Light 2‘s side quests — which usually feature some type of story-defining choice — are more complex and layered than the main campaign.

Early on in the campaign, a young survivor asked me if I was new in town before sending me off to meet his friends who needed help with a job. Those friends ended up being bandits who tried to rob and kill me. After dispatching the enemies, I confronted him and learned he had been forced to trick me because his brother was being held hostage. But unbeknownst to both of us, his brother was willingly working for the bandits. What followed was a remarkably intriguing conflict between the duo. To my surprise, I ended up trying to help the man who sent me off to my death as he grappled with the weight of all the murders he was partly responsible for.

Dying Light 2 Unlock Skills

That story stuck with me far more than the majority of Aiden’s story due to the choices I was asked to make throughout the side quest. Now, not every side quest is like this as Dying Light 2 is more than willing to lean into absurd scenarios and characters. Even though its side quests highlight its often weak or hilarious dialogue, there are some terrific missions where Techland really pushes you to dive deeper into Dying Light 2‘s world and characters. Unfortunately, this contrast also showcases just how uninteresting Aiden is. Sure, there’s a big mystery around him, and Jonah Scott’s performance sells some of the more ridiculous moments, but his story isn’t terribly compelling.

But man, is this game fun to play.

Built on the foundation of parkour and melee combat, Dying Light 2 takes the previous game’s mechanics and fundamentally improves on every aspect. Running across the city’s rooftops is an absolute blast thanks to the large number of different freerunning tricks you can unlock. From the usual sliding and wall running to more absurd abilities like being able to change your direction mid-jump, Dying Light 2 offers players a wealth of traversal options. Despite having a fast travel system, I usually found myself ignoring it as I sprinted across the architecturally impressive buildings of Old Villedor or the massive skyscrapers of the Central Loop.

Much of this is thanks to how Dying Light 2’s progression works. The more parkour experience you earn, the more you will, well, parkour. You can then use that experience to buy new skills, creating a terrific feedback loop that rewards your investment. There are also a number of items you can acquire, such as a paraglider that gives you the freedom to fly over hordes of infected and reach previously inaccessible areas.

Yet no matter how nimble you are, you will eventually need to get into a fight. Thankfully, Dying Light 2’s combat is quite satisfying even if it’s a little wonky at times. It’s also outstandingly over the top — for example, hacking off someone’s head or arm will result in a geyser of blood spewing up into the air before they collapse. With almost no consistent ranged weapons save for a bow, Dying Light 2 forces you into the fray with a melee weapon in hand.  This makes the combat both intimate and engaging — especially later on when different enemy types begin to appear. That being said, I do wish some of the parkour combat skills were a little more helpful or flashy. I mainly just dropkicked people every chance I got due to most other combat abilities being very situational.

Another area that Dying Light 2 has improved in is how the nighttime is handled. Unlike the previous game, where nighttime was more of an inconvenience than a real threat, Techland has made the streets of Villedor flood with infected once the sun goes down.  This forces you to stick to the rooftops for fear of triggering a horde of ghastly ghouls chasing after you. Volatiles, the apex predators of Dying Light 2’s world, are also far more scarce this time around. Capable of catching you at full speed, these infected pose a real threat and ratchet up the tension when you’re trying to sneak through an abandoned building or traverse the city’s rooftops.

However, the biggest danger in the dark isn’t the undead but the clock. Early on, Aiden becomes infected by a Volatile, which means he will transform into an infected if he stays in the shadows for too long. Because of this, you are only allotted a specific amount of time you can run around before you need to either step into the sunlight or the purple glow of UV lamps. Despite creating a few cool moments throughout my journey, I found this mechanic to be more of a nuisance than a welcomed addition. It struck me more as a gatekeeping mechanic to keep players out of higher-level areas they shouldn’t be wandering into early on. And while you can increase your transformation timer by leveling up, this clock swiftly became a mere distraction as I progressed through the game. Since you can just take a certain consumable to reset the timer, it virtually becomes a pointless mechanic you can more or less forget about.

For all its minor missteps, Dying Light 2 is still an impressive and worthy sequel. Despite having some pretty noticeable bugs, the core structure of freerunning, fighting, and looting is exceptionally entertaining. There’s something uniquely rewarding about using all of your movement skills to outrun a group of infected high above Villedor’s streets. While the main story is a mixed bag, I loved exploring the city and meeting the often weird people struggling to get by. Sure, I didn’t put 500 hours into Dying Light 2, but my time with its broken and chaotic world was well spent.