“Post-apocalyptic open-world action zombie RPG” may be the most beautifully constructed sentence since “Cellar door”. While Dying Light 2: Stay Human takes some small steps away from the horror elements of the original release, it adds so many new game mechanics into the second edition that you won’t remember what it once was.
Where some zombie games overload you with guns and make you feel like an unstoppable train of destruction, Dying Light 2 puts you in a pitch-black, crowded basement with a baseball bat and a flashlight and wishes you the most moderate of luck.
Dying Light 2 is equal parts Far Cry meets Mirror’s Edge. Jammed together here are some of the base capturing mechanics, melee combat and paragliding of the former, meeting the parkour madness of the excellently fun latter. Within this unique game is a night/day cycle which changes the dynamics of almost everything. While you can stroll around during the daytime, casually swatting away irritating zombies ambling carelessly about, things change when the lights go out. Come night time, you’ll need to hone your parkour skills to take to the rooftops to avoid the rabid UV-hating zombie hordes that take to the streets hungry for brains.
“One of the key elements that makes Dying Light 2 so full is that the story missions are really only part of the tale”
Everything is both more dangerous and more rewarding in the dark, with night time bonus points for any combat or parkour actions you perform, which are only given to you if you actually survive until dawn. Die, and you reset to the closest safe haven at the cost of your bonus points. Death is only really a small annoyance.
If you’re thinking, that’s a lot already, just wait until you get stuck into the story. Boasting an eye bogglingly large number of main quests, side quests and random encounters, the developers have claimed that the game will take you some 500-plus hours to complete everything from start to finish. That’s nearly 21 DAYS (all caps because that’s simply bonkers) of gameplay which is as mouth-wateringly good as it is intimidating. And when you realise the sheer size of the map in Dying Light 2, which isn’t really opened up until several hours into the main quests, you’ll start to really feel the full scale of the game.
One of the key elements that makes Dying Light 2 so full is that the story missions are really only part of the tale, and you’ll have to spend time exploring zombie and human strongholds during the darkest hours to unlock and upgrade equipment for your character to more efficiently dodge, dive, dip, duck and dodge your way through the scrambling masses. RPG elements are accessed via a skills tree, and can only be upgraded by venturing into these foreboding areas, hedged by UV-lit staging areas which flash up bold warnings that you are entering RESTRICTED AREAS! That’s how you know you’re about to get to the good stuff.
The combat in Dying Light 2 is brutal. It’s not uncommon for limbs and/or heads to go flying to all ends of the screen, while a Tarantino level fountain of blood spurts into the space formerly occupied by said body parts. Most of the fights are hand-to-hand, wielding spiked clubs or bladed cricket bats to lay your vengeance upon them, and while they degrade with satisfying use, there is an abundance of new weaponry scattered around the decaying ruins. Weapons can also be bolstered with various elemental upgrades, which explode like fireworks to make the screen practically dance with colour. It’s a veritable cornucopia of viscera and damage.
Dying Light 2 is made even more special by the epic scale of the map. The first area, where we’re introduced to the game and could happily spend most of our time, acts most like a full scaled tutorial, where you can and will learn things the hard way. Once you gain access to the larger map, and other movement tools like a paraglider and a grappling hook, you’ll be zipping your way across the “European” city of Villedor like a friendly neighbourhood brand name superhero. Adding more exploration options is the upwardly facing map, with towering skyscrapers and office buildings offering all sorts of hidey holes bursting with goodies for you to find. Outside of your safe havens, there’s hardly a single space that isn’t taken up with sleeping zombies, roving zombies, giant special monster zombies, or the occasional rival human factions, who are one bad bowl of post-apocalyptic ramen away from turning into monsters themselves.
Some of the survival elements in Dying Light 2 can drag after the thousandth time you’ve searched the same bag looking for scrap metal. Nonetheless, they are essential to the experience. Various collectibles allow you to construct medi-packs, arrows, Molotov cocktails or other consumable resources to maximise survivability. You can purchase these components at numerous trader posts, dotted around the city, however the price is steeper than the time it would take to just collect things yourself.
Dying Light 2 is a minor leap forward and a slight leap to the side from the original edition released around seven years ago. What was once a zombie survival horror game has now pivoted to focus more on the action RPG elements. That makes it slightly less atmospheric, and slightly less menacing when the lights go down, but infinitely deeper and more involved when dealing with the overwhelming number of activities. There are many ways to play and enjoy Dying Light 2, with zombies being only one, albeit a fairly significant, part of the whole picture.
Dying Light 2: Stay Human is available now on PS5, Xbox and PS4.