It's been quite the journey for Techland's Dying Light 2 Stay Human, a title that was initially announced at 2018's E3 and then went radio silent for quite some time before re-emerging a few years later. The long-awaited sequel is finally here after numerous delays, and while it isn't perfect, it delivers on much of the promise from the first game. Dying Light 2 crafts a world that is filled to the brim with ways to die and yet still feels rewarding and thrilling to explore — all while creating tense scenarios that call upon your combat skills, strategic reasoning, and humanity in equal measure. It does take a while to settle into its groove, but once it does, you'll find yourself looking for any chance to jump back in.
When things are clicking, Dying Light 2 is a game you can easily get lost in, but it doesn't make the best first impression, and that's being kind. The opening levels of the game are, at best, slow and, at worst, plodding. It's not until you get to the city that you start to see what the fuss is all about. That's when the narrative and gameplay hooks really sink in. That said, there are still some issues within the city walls.
The early sections lean too heavily into the enclosed stealth aspects of the game. If you're following the first few missions of the story, you're just starting to get acquainted with the open world, but the game kind of halts that for more journeys into the darkened infected filled areas. While they are delightfully tense, they aren't exactly fun to play in the early going because you don't feel like you've got the resources you need or grasp on some of the gameplay elements to get through them in a way that doesn't feel like you're fumbling through it all. Also, the indoor areas are the clunkiest in regards to climbing and moving through the environment, even when you've already got a few upgrades in your pocket.
Likewise, the combat doesn't hit its stride until you've added more parkour abilities to the mix, so while it's fine in the early going, it doesn't hold a candle to what it ultimately becomes down the line. The long-term reward is there, but again, it just takes the game a while to get the engine running. Once you start unlocking more traversal options and new combat mechanics, the game just feels completely different, so much so that while it might not be the most strategic option, you will find yourself leaping into a scuffle simply because it's fun.
It's clear that Techland wanted to improve the parkour systems, and the effort shows, as moving through and around the city is a joy aside from the occasional bump in the road. There's an effortlessness to player movement at the best of times as you move across lamp posts, old bridges, wooden planks, and of course rooftops. The city populates enough side quests and activities to successfully derail you and move you off the beaten path for those not hyper-focused on the main narrative.
That's just the appetizer though because eventually, the game adds the Paraglider and grappling hook to your arsenal, which floods the player with new traversal options as they make their way through the city. This is where the game truly shines, as you'll find yourself pushing the boundaries of the many mechanics and pushing your own cautions to the wind, becoming more comfortable bouncing between systems. Few things provide as much of a rush as leaping off a high rooftop and gliding into a pitch-black infected filled building and then moving between them all as you make your way out another window and then pull yourself to another ledge with your grappling hook.
If that sounded fun, well it very much is, and that energy and perpetual motion compel the player to move around the city and make their way into some pretty dangerous places. It helps that while the journey to your destination is thrilling, the characters that live throughout this world are rich, varied, and — more often than not — more complex than you expect. The player character Aiden takes a bit of coming around to in the early going, but after you start to meet some of the other supporting cast, especially people like Hakon and Lawan, the edges start to become a bit less rough. Now, if we're talking all-star performances, Rosario Dawson's performance as Lawan deserves some applause, as does Jonathan Forbes' Hakon. Both inform much of Aiden's early time in the city, and while there are several other stellar performances, these two left a lasting impression.
Dying Light 2 also seeks to give you more choice in your interactions with these characters, but most of your options come in your dealings with factions, as you can help all three throughout the game but will gain more favor as you start to assign buildings and landmarks to one over the other. You'll also gain rewards when you do this, and the decisions make you feel as if you're putting your own stamp on the city, good or bad, and most decisions have a bit of both. Some of the consequences can be dire, and you can lose some people along the way.
While the story will give you a reason to move around the city and the movement itself is addictive, you'll be spending a significant part of your time in combat, dealing out brutal death to tried-and-true infected or some of the more lethal variants like Volatiles, Howlers, Demolishers, and Revenants. The combat doesn't feel all that satisfying early on (though the game's parry mechanic is a delight), but once you start gaining access to parkour abilities that you can utilize during combat, Dying Light 2 begins to open up. Vaulting over a stunned enemy into a distance dropkick, and then into a second vault, followed by a leap into the air as you bring down your axe for a seismic smash is an easy combo to fall in love with. And once you start crafting higher-tier weapons and upgrading your stamina, more and more options enter the mix and each one raises the fun and brutality of combat a few more notches. Also, whoever did the sound of that axe swing cleaving someone's head in half...well, kudos, because that is insane.
Because of the verticality in the environments, combat isn't just limited to a flat plane, and part of the fun is seeing just how much you can do without even engaging someone one on one. There's a rush in diving from a tall building into a crushing stomp before an enemy even spots you, though even if you end up facing someone close range you can use the environment to your advantage, grappling someone and throwing them off the side of a building or barreling forward and spearing them out a window onto the ground below. Once ranged weapons enter the mix that rhythm gets even more fun, as you dive out a window and pop an arrow at someone and dodge then toss someone off a roof as you keep moving forward. Compare this to the slow and haunting trips through an Infected den or tunnel as you try not to wake them up or the frantic scurrying through the city as you attempt to get to a home base or UV light to keep your own infection from taking you over and you see how varied and engaging this game can truly be.
Dying Light 2 gets off to a slow start, and some might even see it as a slog, but if you see it through just a bit longer, you'll discover a tension-filled journey through the zombie apocalypse that rewards players who are fearless and leap into danger. Soon you'll be gliding, leaping, and zip-lining through the world and cleaving the most deadly of Infected with precision and utter brutality. This is not an easy world to live in, and at times the darkness can almost overwhelm you, but more often than not the rich characters, compelling narrative, and thrill ride combat create a mixture that just can't be resisted, and it's a world I look forward to returning to.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Dying Light 2 Stay Human will hit PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on February 4th. A digital code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a PS5.