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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

[Hands-On Preview] ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’ Shows Great Promise For Techland’s Zombie Epic

In building upon previous mechanics and providing a more personal story with impactful player choice, Dying Light 2 Stay Human offers a grim world with much to explore. In having the chance to spend several hours playing the game, I have found that developer Techland has not only significantly improved upon what was laid out in the first Dying Light, but has crafted an experience that looks to be packed with thrills and tension.

In this preview, you’ll find my thoughts and notes on the story, environment, and mechanics of the game. Please note that while some story details will be shared, there will be no major plot spoilers.

Striving To Find Hope In The Modern Dark Ages

You don’t need to have played the first game to understand the story and world of Dying Light 2 Stay Human (DL2); this is a world where a viral outbreak has taken over humanity, except these events are much further into the future of such a world. DL2 takes a more personal approach to storytelling this time around; the player assumes the role of Aiden, a man who enters the City with hopes to find his missing sister. The writing provided to Aiden and his goal comes across sincere, providing a more intimate drive to progress the narrative and see where things head.

His mission isn’t all that’s taking place within the City, however, for players will come across an array of NPCs (who are associated among different factions). Compared to other NPCs that stand still and spew objective directions, these characters (for the most part) feel authentic. In my interactions with the few NPCs I spoke to, I found some of their dialogue and stories to be moving. In all the relationships made – bonds will be tested.

Who Lives And Who Dies – Your Actions And Consequences

DL2 follows who the player chooses to help. Throughout the game, options will pop up on screen allowing the player to make decisions aligned with a specific character/faction. These factions are the Peacekeepers – who are a militaristic force within the City, and that of regular survivors. Decisions not only impact the emotional narrative direction, but also what assistance is given. In helping one side, players may get additional support when it comes to combat; the other side may provide aid when it comes to navigating the landscape.

I didn’t get to see a great variety of choices, yet in what I did experience, I found myself tense. Some of these sequences are timed, requiring a relatively fast answer. When it comes to Aiden advancing towards his goal to find his sister or potentially helping others, DL2’s choice/consequence mechanics keep players on their toes. These moments can make for great moments of drama, for not every choice is an easy one.

A World To Explore And Challenge You

The parkour from Dying Light is back and better than ever. With more animations available for different moves, players have additional means to traverse the environment. While many movements require the player to look in a particular direction, parkour navigation is overall very fluid. Running, climbing, and jumping feel natural in the City, allowing the player means to find intriguing items or evade enemies.

That said, there will be times where things need to be taken a little slow. More specifically during missions, Aiden has the means to enter Investigate Mode; this provides him the opportunity to “sense” the area and find footprints or blood spatter (which he may need to follow for some reason or another).

But say you need a break from all the running, sneaking, and jumping. A feature DL2 offers to assist in travel is that of the paraglider; a useful tool that can help players cover larger ground in a shorter amount of time. Gliding to and from buildings can help one land safely; or if a player needs to cover more space, by hovering over steam vents, they can be lifted higher into the air and drift further.

With nice touches of environmental storytelling, the City makes for an intriguing landscape to explore. As an open sandbox, players can follow main storyline objectives from point to point, or can trail off the path and go looking around as they please. There was a location called Trinity that really sold me; this is where I got my first look at how humans have adapted to the struggles of reality. For all the misery around them, I saw people laughing at a bar, tending to gardens, and having a simple conversation with one another. The NPCs felt more authentic and it was surreal to walk about a place where one could feel life. As a world taking place in the “Modern Dark Ages,” it was interesting to see the settlements humanity had established after the rise of the infection. Locations like Trinity are more like small hubs, with the player being able to discover other locales that were once inhabited by humans.

Speaking of, when it comes to exploring some of those places once lived in by humans, one of the coolest features in DL2 is exploring infected nests (known as Dark Hollows). Similar to infected dwellings like those in I Am Legend, the player has the means to infiltrate these nests. The game follows a day/night system that provides focus to particular enemies (see the following section for more detail), but this is additionally important when it comes to infiltrating nests. During the day, one will find a lot more infected inside these nests, whereas the nests will contain few infected at night. Why would one want to even set foot in such hellish locations you ask? Well, that’s because of the possibility of finding large sums of money that’ll let you get more weapons and such. If the player decides to venture into one of these places, they’ll need to do everything they can to be quiet. Also keep a lookout for other dangerous locations that offer superb goodies, such as Forsaken Stores.

There’s Going To Be A Lot Of Blood

Enemies are essentially broken down into two categories; very much like the first game, there are humans and the infected. The infected are always present but don’t stand as much of a threat during the day. Though their gang mentality can be tough to deal with, the sunlight hours are for the humans. Minus one moment where a boss stood mostly still as a I shot him with arrows from atop a roof, the AI responds to combat well, blocking and attacking when Aiden’s defenses are down. Their weapons and movement can be challenging, pushing players to think and find the best opening for an attack.

Where I personally found combat and survival to be an absolute rush however was at night – when the infected run supreme. Besides those infected that still linger with a Romero-esque stumbling, players are bound to come across those of 28 Days Later variety. One infected on its own isn’t much – unless it’s one of those special types like a tank or those who spew out poisonous gases – but get a group together, then it’s time to start hauling ass. Where I wouldn’t mind stumbling from a rooftop jump during the day, at night is a whole other ordeal. Falling in the wrong place among infected can lead to disastrous results, as swarms of them can pile on quick. At night, one’s best bet is to use parkour skills to avoid run-ins with the infected.

During my playtime I came across a few different types of infected, though each did offer distinct challenges in how I confronted them. Techland shared that there are even more types as well! Along with the enemies provided via the day/night cycle, the real strength of that system is how it forces one to rethink strategy. Many of the actions one would go about during the day won’t work at night, requiring the player to adapt and shift strategy depending on time of day and who they are facing off against.

How You Survive – Fight, Parkour, Craft

For DL2, Techland stressed that they wanted to provide a strong focus on how first-person combat feels and looks; given that most of the combat is melee-based, the developer strived to create a flow to battle where the player feels the weight of their actions. Well, they hit the nail on the head there (or better yet, landed a critical blow to an infected skull).

Where some first-person combat experiences lend themselves to janky visuals and movement, DL2 succeeds in creating a flow that delivers on satisfying visuals and conveying heft to objectives. Take a swing with a big axe fashioned out of a pipe and sharped post-sign – the arm movement animation conveys the stress and effort Aiden is taking in his attack. Much of this is also thanks to the game’s use of stamina, which is tracked via a meter and will decrease with each of Aiden’s attacks. When the meter depletes, his attacks will be slower and he will sound exhausted.

DL2’s weaponry is also delightfully inventive. From blades fashioned out of hardware tools, to crossbows assembled from trash, the imagination and visuals behind the game’s weaponry make for haunting DIY projects. These weapons can also be built upon depending on items one may find in the City. Through the game’s crafting system and working with Craftsmen NPCs, players can further add to a weapon’s strengths, which can involve such power-ups like elemental-esque factors. At one point I crafted a blade that was coated in flames thanks to materials I had mixed.

Players can also level up Aiden and improve their combat and parkour abilities. There is one skill tree for combat, another for parkour, and then a smaller, more general tree for stamina and health. The combat and parkour trees allow players to take on new tactics and build Aiden into whatever specialist they want him to be, where the health/stamina tree provides an additional layer to one’s survival. Do you want to take more hits and live, or do you want to be able to throw more hits without being tired as fast?

Alongside the means of improving one’s skills and weapons, exploration rewards players with materials that allow for other useful tools. Means to heal, throwable weapons, fireworks and other means to distract enemies, etc. The crafting system is by no means difficult to get a grip on, allowing for one to not stress out too much on (they just have to be willing to find the parts for whatever it is they want to make). Other small touches to building upon Aiden’s skills is how players can customize his clothing options. Such decisions allow for improvements in strength and defense, along with other useful advantages.

A Brutal World Just Waiting To Be Explored

Upon my playtime with the game, Techland expressed that there could be some minor issues in gameplay (development of the game is still in progress). Over the course of my four hours, I ran into barely any issues. There was one case where a NPC’s mouth wasn’t moving when they were talking and one infected stuck in a broken-down truck – but otherwise – super-smooth playing. Most importantly, my time playing Dying Light 2 Stay Human got me hooked and wanting to see more.

I am intrigued by what this game sets up regarding Aiden’s primary mission, the NPCs players can interact with, and the potential for greater moral choices. While the daytime allowed for some fun and intense missions, I found myself with sweaty palms when it came to the night missions; the infected make for a thrilling threat, and one of the more compelling infected-zombie type combatants I have played against in some time.

A strong appeal for such games as Dying Light 2 Stay Human may be that of the infected-zombie monsters, but such games are far more interesting when there is human emotion at work. Though Techland would not comment much to avoid spoilers, they have expressed that that sub-heading – Stay Human – may mean more than just being infected. For whatever horrors lie ahead, I’m ready to venture forth and discover the dark secrets of the world. And while I did not get to try it out myself, the game will involve a multiplayer system, so that way you and your friends can battle the hells that await you within the City.

Keep a lookout for more news on Dying Light 2 Stay Human as it arrives! The game releases on Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Switch on February 4th, 2022.


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