PLAYED ON A PS5 – PERFORMANCE MODE
7 years ago, Techland launched Dying Light for the PS4 which received great reception from players and critics alike; it was the spiritual successor to Dead Island that far exceeded expectations. In the following year, an Enhanced Edition would launch for free to owners of the original copy followed by several years of additional content and expansions – leaving the game to be one of the most supported titles last generation. Now, Dying Light 2 Stay Human is here to deliver their promise to expand the immersion factor beyond what they’ve previously done. My 35hr playthrough proved several things to me; their ambitions have been met with great force, giving players incredible amount of fidelity in almost all parts of the game – it’s a shame that despite all the possible outcomes a story can give you, the game ultimately fell short on their promise with some graphical setbacks.
Spoiler warning for those who hasn’t finished Dying Light: The Following
Dying Light 2 Stay Human takes place 15 years after the events of The Following where Kyle Crane dies by 1 of 2 choices; getting infected which then turns him into the Creature of the Night, or having Harran decimated by a nuclear explosion. You play as an amazing protagonist named Aiden Caldwell who is accompanied by Spike, an old friend of Crane. The mission is straight forward, Aiden needs information about a man named Waltz who would eventually lead him to find his sister, Mia. The story truly starts after you reach Old Villedor – a crumbling city that is seemingly set back to the dark age. In your pursuit for the truth, you are met with many factions warring with each other for precious resources, and underneath it all is years of secrets that are specifically designed to help with your decision making.
Just like the first game, Dying Light 2 features choices the player can make to feel in control of the world – however, this time it’s expanded far wider than almost any other choice-based RPG. Often you are given fork path conversations that’ll deter the player to different results and consequences. This is also layered into side missions as well that can ultimately affect your main story negatively or positively – even subtle ones. The best thing about this element of the game is the fact that side missions are cared for in the same way main story missions are; they are layered, detailed and dynamic, often with straightforward objectives that will shift based on your choices. It’s a lovely format that comes close to matching the fidelity of The Witcher 3.
Despite the excellent story structure and understanding that the characters are voiced by perhaps hundreds of actors – reading many permutations of lines for quest – the developers probably shifted focus on maintaining high level actors for main characters, and….not so high level to NPC’s related to side missions. Because let me tell you, although this department is overall better than the first game, there are so many characters with absolutely laughable voice acting that often sounds like they’re reading off the script in monotonic fashion. There were far too many moments where serious outcomes are happening, and the reactions were not relatively met. Same can be said about moments that were calm, the characters would be overreacting, almost in a caricature way.
Another element that bothered me regarding the writing of Dying Light 2 is the nature of characters feeling disconnected with the story unfolding before them; Spike in particular felt disconnected early on because one moment he’s praising Aiden for his physical feat and appears to have missed him after not seeing each other for so many years, then Aiden gets startled by some rats soon after and Spike, in a monotonic tone, immediately says “we must part ways” and walks away abruptly. This sort of interaction happens almost too often which can break the immersion factor the developers are aiming for. Couple this with the aforementioned voice acting and you’re left with a feeling of comical mood rather than a dark one.
Another thing, the mission right before the epilogue was the same mission that was showcased about 2 years ago in the E3 2019 Gameplay Reveal, albeit a more structured one, that by the end of the video gave the impression that your choice would lead to newer environments to explore. When I got to this mission in-game, I was remembering that video and said to myself “oh man, the game is about to get much bigger” only to be met with a no point of return prompt for an epilogue. The level of disappointment dawned on me because I felt cheated as a player, and especially as a fan of the series. That made the game feel small as an overall package, despite the level of improvements. I understand development crunch and content to be cut from the final product – but this is just next level to me. I was basically spoiled of the ending of the game 2 years ago.
Improvements, Lots of Improvements
Dying Light 2 has several overhauls to consider, starting with the UI system and HUD. Previously, Dying Light 1 had a traditionally designed health bar placed at the top left, a mini map at the top right, inventory and equipment, ect. This has been redesigned to be entirely simple and almost unnoticeable – the health bar is absolutely thin and without additional numbers for info, a cross bar at the bottom left for visibility and a compass for orientation; mini map has been entirely removed for good measure. Going into your sub menu has also been greatly lifted – Dying Light 1 featured a hover menu with simple text and minimal graphics where you can quickly navigate between map, collectibles, stats and equipment. That idea hasn’t change in Dying Light 2, except that it’s entirely fully windowed with a Destiny style menu system.
Now, you have your Equipment showcasing your protagonist, Gear Armor to the right of the screen, your weapon and consumables to the left. There’s maps, lore, collectibles and settings to switch between with the bumper buttons but if there’s something new in your menu, and you’ll get lots of it, it’ll freeze for a bit in-between which can be annoying. Also, tapping to view your map is cumbersome because the menu is saved in the last thing you looked at, making the seamless less so. Overall, it’s a welcoming design I particularly like, but one I hope the developers find a way to stream the experience to be less abrupt.
In Dying Light 1, loot was basically exclusive to just weapons and crafting materials. If you wanted to change your overall appearance, you would have to go to a safe house and change with it being just a cosmetic affect. This time around, there’s Gear Armor which works very similar to Destiny with its color variant based on rarity, tailored class gear sets and some hefty stat points to boot. It’s a wildly better format than the original Dying Light as stats were determined based on skill distribution which left clothing and armor to be obsolete. With Dying Light 2, this feels more rewarding to players as finding Gear Armor through exploration feels more tangible to me.
With Gear Weapons, you don’t find base weapons and craft them to your liking based on blueprints like Dying Light 1 (this opened doors for some crazy broken modding;) this time blueprints are specifically tailored for mods of weapons you find in the world. So, based on rarity, there’s a certain number of slots a weapon can hold that can implement effects to them to change their overall damage output – like poison, lightning, inferno, flame, ice, froze, blast ect. The beauty is you can combine any of these mods to create some unique effects; finding a machete that can be combined with frozen and inferno for example, or lightning and blast for some insane ragdoll effects is incredible. The combination is quite hilarious and fun once you’ve gathered enough materials to experiment.
More importantly, the combat has been improved an insurmountable amount – even if some favored elements have been removed from the game entirely – like guns. Honestly, this hurts me because I was always obsessed with guns in Dying Light and hoped they would allow for some crazy crafting. Not this time. For the most part, the combat is focused and far tighter than the previous game. Camera would run amok in Dying Light 1 when maneuvering between humans and infected – this time, the camera is stable and reactive, making the entire gameplay experience a lot less nauseating. Melee weapons are looted from across Villedor either by crates or dropped by human enemies. Crafting has been entirely focused as well – you are awarded blueprints from completing quest whether be side missions or main ones and can be upgraded to be even more potent from crafting vendors. Attacking with said weapons feels just about the same as Dying Light 1, but with a heavier emphasis to actually hitting the enemies and having them react to it by staggering and bumping into the environment.
Moves like slide while running, the signature drop kick, arial take downs or wall running can be unlocked by leveling up your Parkour and Combat skills. There is a simple skill tree to follow that would need requirements of previous skills to unlock better versions of others. Additionally, you will find Inhibitors to enhance your overall health and stamina that would correspondingly unlock other skills and abilities from their respective trees. It’s a relatively familiar gameplay loop that if you combine it with the navigating gameplay, it becomes relaxing to do.
Speaking of navigating, the parkour movement has been entirely expanded to be such a seamless experience. Almost too seamless. Animations are wider and more varied than ever before and when jumping from rooftop to rooftop, or through various building and landscapes, you will find that you can make almost no errors, that is because the developers decided to add this airtime affect for players to help decide what to do next in the middle of an infected chase, for example. What’s new in the traversal arsenal is the ability to glide across the landscape – and it works just as good as it sounds. Air vents will be scattered across the street that can be used to replenish your stamina as you soar through the sky.
Now, I see a lot of grief over this decision which is understandable – it can leave expert players feeling less in control. There are options to turn this assist off, but it’s still pretty strong. I personally don’t mind it, I found that the experience is far smoother in the long run, and I think this would reflect to players over time.
The infected and humans are overhauled as well to an extent. For the most part, it feels familiar to longtime fans – the infected are more reactive and aggressive, without feeling too overwhelming during the day. At night though, is a different story – I’m guessing it’s due to player feedback that the night versions of infected weren’t so tough to navigate in the first game. This time, they are faster, will interrupt your running, infected that will call others are littered all over the environment more than before and ones that’ll launch at you to knock you to the ground – all of this is enhanced if a chase is initiated. It’s quite exhilarating and highly rewarding as you’ll gain additional XP if you survive the night in these new conditions, just like Dying Light 1. You will face a variety of infected like ones that will stalk you, launch corrosive blobs at you and tank infected carrying heavy weapons that can damage everyone. Each of these infected are highly tailored and refined to the point that they never seem to be too cheap or overwhelming.
Additionally, humans are scattered all over Villedor – from NPC cultivating crops on rooftops to bandits looking to kill and loot. The combat with them is simpler in format, but much more reactive. My favorite element is staggering enemies onto each other, creating a cascade of effects. This is most effective when in tight spaces, which makes them far more vulnerable. There are clipping issues that occur, but not as frequent as one would think.
As you explore Villedor, you will find that there’s day and night activities – for example, exploring a Dark Zone in the day is more dangerous than night as all the infected are hibernating there. Or that you can only obtain hidden cache in certain zones during the night by defeating a GRE Anomaly, an alpha infected in the form of a boss fight. You will be faced with choices between factions in any given zone; clearing out a windmill for example would have to be given control to a faction you decide to support, altering the environment entirely from either getting new traversal tools, or equipment to combat the infected. The variety is surprisingly wide as each of these elements are usually paired with some environmental puzzles, my favorite. And of course, all of this can be experience with up to 4 players to help on your quest, even with the ability to vote on choices for pivotal moments.
A Downgrade That Still Looks Good
Dying Light 2 is a technical heap ahead of the original – the game is far denser vertically and horizontally with far more 3D assets than ever before. Each building looks carefully crafted with debris that makes sense, details that would otherwise be missed by most players is there. Rooftops plays the biggest role for survivability for humans in this world, and one that alters based on your decision in helping factions. It’s beautifully realized and looks excellent from close and far. There’s shadow cascading issues and texture pop-ins that occurs often, but nothing too distracting to the overall experience.
But, even with all of these overall improvements over the original game, based on past and current trailers, the PS5 version of the game seems muddier to look at in picture quality, texture models, lighting and shadow as well; in a perfect setting, the game looks absolutely astonishing at times, but then you quickly notice that ambient occlusion isn’t present for 90% of the game, instead – half-baked technique is used; lighting that is placed in a dark area doesn’t illuminate the environment, often leaving the area feeling pitch black with one spot of bloom. When using the flashlight and combining with bloom effects, the overall picture just looks like the brightness of my TV is set to max.
For the most part, the characters are excellently designed, and clothing usually would have immense character to each person – but each character’s face model seem to be missing subsurface scattering which makes the skin look plastic in nature, reducing the quality of the character model. This is especially present with The Colonel from the Stronghold – his character model is entirely scaled back compared to his first reveal in the E3 2019 Gameplay Trailer – and it’s reflective across the board.
These are more subjective opinions than objective, since the game really runs well and looks excellent in motion when playing in Performance mode. However, the fact that you can’t increase FOV or scale motion blur in options really irritates me, and I hope that there’s a fixed in the future.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human is a technical powerhouse compared to its predecessor, albeit with a couple hiccups here and there; the UI change and the way gear works is an overall improvement with some minor setbacks. Villedor is a delight to explore and one that is far better to do with friends. Despite the abruption with character interactions, Dying Light 2’s story is a thrill to experience and one that I will be revisiting for its different outcomes. It’s a shame the graphics department has some noticeable downgrades even if the game runs smoothly. For those who are eager to jump into Dying Light again however, is in for a treat.
REVIEW SCORE: 8/10
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