E3 2019 Preview: The World Reacts to You in Dying Light 2

Zombies aren't the real threat in this post-apocalyptic action game.

Zombies are everywhere. That’s kind of their whole deal! The swarming masses can’t compete with brains, or often even brawn, but overwhelm our senses with sheer numbers. My preview of Dying Light 2 at E3 2019, however, showed a very different version of this apocalypse. Zombies don’t appear to be the real danger in this world at all. Instead it’s other people — and your own potentially terrible choices — that overwhelm you.

Fifty percent: that’s how much of the content developers of Dying Light 2 say you’ll see in a single playthrough. The rest is gated behind choices you need to make in real-time. As we saw in our demo, for instance, you can stick around to save a dying friend, or go after the people who apparently shot him. The person running the demo chose the latter. And so we saw our protagonist, Aiden, wall-run and sprint over city rooftops in pursuit.

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Parkour was a big part of the first Dying Light; that doesn’t seem to have changed with Dying Light 2. At one point, Aiden fell through some crumbling boards on his way to the rival faction that shot your buddy. This revealed a “Dark Zone” — which certainly wasn’t pretty. The shady insides of an abandoned factory were home to the sun-hating zombies of the Dying Light universe. They were packed far too densely to fight with the flimsy, crafted machete our player had brought. It broke instantly (indicating that weapon durability is back as well). So the player attempted to escape by running up, down, and all around in first-person.

That kind of thing should be familiar to Dying Light fans. While you certainly can fight your way through some battles, the cost in weapons, crafting materials, and vitality is high. It’s often better to just book it — pushing back enemies with UV lights and other get-out-of-jail-free cards.

That’s what our version of Aiden did, but the cost of falling in the first place was high. Another NPC radioed in to say that our friendly face back at base had died. An objective marker changed from “find a doctor” to simply finding the people who did this. It wasn’t clear to me if falling into the Dark Zone was scripted or not, and as such if you could actually find a doctor at this point, but what happened next was definitely the result of player choice.

Dying Light 2 Preview E3 2019

E3 2019 Dying Light 2 Preview

Aiden approached the camp where the opposing faction was stationed. It was an old water treatment facility — though the water was turned off, leaving the rest of the city where Dying Light 2 takes place very thirsty. The idea was to turn the pumps back on and save your friends back home. The problem was that the facility was inhabited. It wasn’t just brutal guards and raiders, either. Our demo handler saw children playing and families just walking around, contrary to what Aiden had apparently been told about these people. He mentioned this on the radio, but was overruled and told to simply turn on the pumps.

And so he did. After some stealthing and fighting, Aiden managed to reach the all-important control center. He turned on the pumps and revealed a drowned district of the city, completely out of reach until then. Everyone got water, sure, but also a bit more than they bargained for… Our Dying Light 2 preview ended with a soaking, slimy zombie hand reaching out of the muck — just before fish-like spines exploded from its wrist.

Apparently, players might never see this entire section of the map. Although other zones — other monsters, quests, NPCs, and the like — will become available instead, as you make different choices.

I didn’t particularly care for Aiden or his cohorts. The protagonist is yet another “gruff and determined” dude hero in a sea of such characters across this type of fiction. His enemies and allies, meanwhile, are cut from a similar cloth. I almost laughed out loud during the demo, as one straight-laced, paramilitary sort of faction leader revealed his name is Jack Matt. The fiction itself is generic zombie stuff to the umpteenth degree.

Moving fluidly through that world, though, and changing it over time? That sounds mighty appealing. It takes guts to tell players they will literally just not see huge swathes of content that you poured years of your life into. That is unless they play through a second time, of course. And I’m all aboard for that level of commitment. We’ll see just how much of an impact you truly can make when Dying Light 2 releases sometime in 2020.