If there’s anything I can say about Dying Light 2 Stay Humanoff the top, it’s that this is a game about staying human at the cost of humanity.
What Techland has given us here is a Lord of the Flies-like tale of a man whose personal vendetta has led him into the walls of a fictitious European city at the end of its life plagued by political in-fighting, a ton of back-stabbing and brief moments of humanity that will keep you going.
From the nearly 30 hours of it I’ve experienced so far, Dying Light 2 Stay Human is an adventure that is harsh and grim.
But the new elements it offers, such as a time limit to exploring and a character progression system that brings the badass zombie killer feelings of the original Dying Light back in a fresh way is extremely rewarding.
A paradise of humanity lost
First released in 2015, Dying Lightwas a chart-topping hit, and it’s since earned a cult following that praise how it brought the tried and true trope of zombies back to life in gaming. And with its seemingly infectious levels of porting itself onto the platforms, the popularity has grown. However, Techland, in the interests of approachability, still opts to have Dying Light 2 Stay Human tells a story that is mostly self-contained from its predecessor.
The Global Relief Effort (GRE) solved the Harran virus. A vaccine was created and things were looking up for an agency pretty much left in shambles at the end of the first game. However, greed got the better of those higher up, and the virus returned, giving launch to The Fall — a global event that saw society fall and zombies crawl forth from the shadows again.
Now, 15 years after The Fall, we are introduced to protagonist Aiden, who is a Pilgrim. Pilgrims are wandering mercenaries who face a stigma from society, who views them as unpredictable loaners out for themselves and not what’s left of humanity.
Aiden has travelled to Villedor, a medieval European city that served as a hotbed for GRE research post-Harran virus outbreak. Aiden himself was experimented upon as a child, along with a sister that he is looking for.
Upon entering the city, Aiden meets with a GRE scientist who entrusts him with a GRE Key, a device that looks like the offspring of a lightsaber and a USB key, which gives him the ability to access GRE installations inside the city that nobody else has. Aiden is also bitten by a particularly nasty zombie along the way.
Finding himself in the city, Aiden is ostracized, not only for being a Pilgrim but also for not having a biomarker, thus making him a liability.
And if there’s one thing the people of Villedor don’t put up with, it’s a liability. After 15 years of watching the world fade into darkness and seeing people die or be turned, people have had enough. You will find scarce humanity in Villedor’s tight, winding streets and on the rooftops where people have taken refuge.
To me, it’s a huge sticking point of Dying Light 2 Stay Human. Nobody in this rather slow and, at times, excruciatingly dragging story is particularly likeable or compelling. In my time with the game so far, I’ve progressed the story to just past the mission we were shown in the Dying 2 Knowvideos. And so far, I’ve found a few people I’ve connected with.
There’s been a couple of characters that made me stop and feel something other than intense anger, but I’ve found these moments to be quickly overshadowed by overly grim and dark moments of people being the worst.
Look, I get that this is the story of humanity at its very real ending, but Dying Light 2 Stay Human’s story seems to take this as an opening to highlight the worst in people.
Dying Light 2 – Parkour Your Way
With that out of the way, on to the best part of Dying Light 2 Stay Human: a reimagined RPG progression system.
Techland knows that players are here because they want to feel something akin to how Ash felt in The Walking Dead, and Techland delivers on that front. Progression is still tied mainly to combat and parkour, but it’s now tied to a system that allows for even more freedom to make Aiden’s adventure through Villedor your own.
Combat actions contribute to your combat skills while parkour actions contribute to your parkour skills. Completing combat and parkour options rewards the player with EXP points that can be used in two skill trees. Collecting of experience also happens faster when actions are completed during the night cycle of the game or by completing side quests, so there are lots of opportunities to level up quickly.
There’s also a new skill chain system that sees you earn more experience the longer you keep combos going or the longer you use parkour fluidly.
In addition to the benefits of the night cycle and combos, there’s also a new progression system called inhibitors. Inhibitors are vials of GRE wonder-drug that can be found in chests across the map as a reward for clearing DarkSouls-like arena battles with powerful zombies and, finally, through raids on specific landmarks. Think of them as the Spirit Orbs from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Every time you collect four inhibitors, you get a point to put into your overall health or stamina.
Putting a point into health will give Aiden more overall health, but it’ll also allow him to learn more complex skills in the combat skill tree. Putting more points into stamina will give Aiden the ability to climb or parkour or fight for longer, but it will also allow Aiden to learn more parkour combo skills.
Breaking down your ability to customize Aiden further, the skills available to him offer an even wider variety of customization. In combat, Aiden can prioritize skills that focus on head-to-head combat with things like power attacks and a 360 weapon spin. Or he can go for stealth skills like air assassinations and charging grabs. On the parkour side, there are skills to keep combos going and provide quick traversal. Or skills that allow Aiden to climb faster and jump further, thus being greater at stealth and staying out of conflict.
Goodnight, and good luck
The main draw to Dying Light was the difficulty spike and fear of its night cycle. And Dying Light 2 Stay Human continues providing a frightful night experience. In the overworld, Howler zombies are everywhere! Alert one to your presence, and you’ll be forced to endure a chase. Chases are when waves of zombies follow you until you find a safe house or bite your lip and face them in combat. Chases go up in difficulty in four levels that trigger after the length of an overall chase. It’s an exhilarating rush that will come all too often because Howlers are everywhere at night!
In addition to this, Dying Light’s raid missions that saw you go into heavily infested locations are now Dark Zone challenges that take place in landmarks like hospitals and stores. They can be completed at any time of day, but they will be much harder during the day because there will be more zombies and tougher zombies using those locations as a refuge. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll survive a daytime raid on these locations early on. And most side quests and missions that require you to enter these locations will force you to do so during nighttime hours so that you live.
Working 9 to 5… more like 10 to 8
Building on Dark Zones and bringing inhibitors back, they also play into the best inclusion of Dying Light 2 Stay Human:the clock attached to a night and exploring the game’s many Dark Zones. Aiden’s changing is tied to darkness as being out of the light for extended periods accelerates his change. It’s certainly no spoiler that Aiden, like Crane before him, is infected.
In the case of Kyle Crane, his infection was a story beat. One I believe was meant to humanize him in an otherwise inhuman story of the response to a crisis. It put Crane at the same level as the people of Harran and removed him from the shadow organization that is the GRE. Because this is a video game, the progression of his change also explained how he could do things humans couldn’t, as well as his increase in strength and stamina.
In the case of Aiden Caldwell, Techland has expertly crafted the infection clock as a way of adding a sense of haste to his goal of finding his sister. He has to be fast and avoid progressing his infection because he’s more than a little bent on finding her. He monitors how much time he’s got to stay out at night or to explore Dark Zones for resources because he needs to get stronger, but he also needs to… stay human.
Techland let us know through the Dying 2 Know series that the goal here was for an RPG with a level of immersion you decide upon. Simply put, the infection timer is a great game mechanic for doing so.
In the beginning, Aiden will be given five minutes to explore the Dark Zones for resources and inhibitors or the night for rare zombies and extra experience before you have to use an immunity booster or find a UV lamp in a safe house or at the entrance of a Dark Zone. When you begin your adventure, you’ll likely be confined to doing things between the hours of 8:00 AM and 10:00 PM because those are the daylight hours.
As you collect the groups of four inhibitors, you’ll be granted more immunity to the dark. And thus, more opportunities to explore. I’m loving this addition because it adds a real sense of urgency to exploration that’s on par with The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask‘s legendary timer and how it forced you to recall the way events play out.
Dying Light excelled at making you feel like you were slowly becoming strong enough and skilled enough to go out at night and stay alive. So Dying Light 2 Stay Human‘s addition of a time limit to going out at night and exploring every corner of Villedor feels fresh and satisfying. There’s a joy to the feeling that Aiden has real stakes to obeying that timer and growing it alongside growing your strength and stamina.
Float like a zombie
The last point I want to bring up is the addition of a glider. I haven’t had a lot of time to use the glider as I didn’t get it until around the 20-hour mark of my playthrough so far. But honestly, I’m not keen on the glider. The whole process of using it feels sluggish when compared to games like Breath of the Wild and Just Cause.
Take Just Cause for example, in that series the glider is fast and feels like a real vehicle for motion across its map. I feel encouraged to use it instead of the game’s automotive vehicles.
In terms of Breath of the Wild, the glider feels secondary to the horse. But it feels exciting to fill enough of Link’s stamina to have him go the distance after jumping off of a vantage point, especially when you land on a horse or the Master Cycle.
The glider in Dying Light 2 Stay Human feels bloated in comparison. Like Breath of The Wild, it runs off your stamina pool, but you’ll drop out of using it long before you run out of stamina because the need to hold the left stick back to stay in the air is painfully annoying. Gaining altitude with it is also tied to finding enough air conditioner units in a row to push yourself back up.
I’ve been working on a stamina build for Aiden because it allows him to use longer parkour chains and attack more frequently, and thus, I’m pretty agile at traversing rooftops. So I’ve chosen that overusing the glider where I can and given the choice and I will say it’s been helpful as I’m now in the Central Loop area of Villedor, where the long and narrow streets with lots of European flats have given way to towering condos, and office buildings of varying heights that are much easier scaled using the glider.
Pops in the night
I’ve been reviewing Dying Light 2 Stay Human on a PC set to “Medium” graphical preset. I’ve done so primarily because I’ve been too lazy to change any graphical settings, but also because I’ve been playing on a new 50-inch QUHD monitor that I haven’t quite mastered pushing to its full potential.
One of the things I’ve been noticing since my upgrade from a 31-inch UHD monitor is that textures take a lot longer to pop in. But once they do, oh man, is it a thing of beauty! Unfortunately, there do seem to be some long load times when booting up Dying Light 2 Stay Human. We are now in the era of NVIDIA Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) though, which has been amazing on games like Halo Infinite and God of War PC, especially when it comes to maintaining FPS and graphical fidelity on larger monitors with greater aspect ratios. So I’m hoping that with the Day One NVIDIA GeForce driver update, I’ll be able to do lots of experimentation and find a way to keep parkour fluid, while also taking in Villedor as intended.
Upon dropping back into Villedor, I’ve been experiencing characters and meshing failing to load it, as well as music and sounds missing. Everything is way too quiet and everyone looks like those clay car models from Audi commercials. Although it’s quite annoying to have happened, I found that giving the game five or so minutes to load in textures and audio worked perfectly most of the time. There’s been a few times where I’ve noticed audio seemingly missing entirely, mainly in cutscenes and main missions. But I’ve been using captions the whole time, so I don’t feel like I’ve been missing anything. Still, I’m hoping these issues will be fixed in a Day One patch or shortly after.
Performance is pretty sound otherwise. Parkour feels even more fluid than it did in Dying Light. Combat is mainly a basic melee that consists of blocking strikes and projectiles. But several skills allow Aiden to become a sword dancer or a brute — both of which play fluidly and quite serviceable.
Put simply, Dying Light 2 Stay Human is exactly what I’ve wanted it to be. For those coming to this game from Dying Light, things like the immunity timer and infected arena fights are enough to make the game feel fresh and not at all stale. For new players, Techland has done a great job of making Aiden’s story stand on its own. From the nearly 30 hours I’ve put into this game so far, I’ve never felt like I would be confused by anything going on. The hardest thing to swallow so far has been how humanity could fall so far in 15 years? The story being told here is a dark one, drags, and offers few moments of levity or respite. I realize some are going to enjoy that, but I’ve found it hard to chew on at times.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]