I know, I know, I’m late. As always. E3 2019 seems like a distant memory by now, but I’m finally putting my thoughts on Dying Light 2 onto the page.
I got the chance to sit down for a hands-off demo at E3 2019 with developer Techland as they showed off what makes Dying Light 2 so different from its predecessor.
I’m a big fan of the original Dying Light game, and I must have played well over 100 hours by this point, so it’s safe to say that I was giddy with excitement as I sat down inside the theater to watch the gameplay demo play out. It was also my first E3 2019 appointment, so I was doubly excited. They also had a free bar, so I was also a little bit tipsy on Jack Daniels. It was 11am, but anything goes at E3, apparently.
The demo started off in The Fish Eye, a bar. Yes, an actual bar! Dying Light 2 is set some 15 years after the first game and the difference is stark. The first game was all about survival. The world had recently gone to shit and everybody was either dead, dying, or trying not to be dead or dying. It was grim and everyone you came across was in a state of despair and desperation. Dying Light 2 didn’t look like a world that was having a barrel of laughs, but it did at least have barrels of beer to keep its people jolly.
The world is on the mend, kind of, and society is on the up. People are sat around laughing and joking, swigging from their dirty pint glasses. Music plays loudly with no care given as to whether the zombies can hear it or not. It’s a different time and a different world. A new era for mankind. But it’s not all good, and as I soon saw, it’s going to go tits-up very soon.
People have divided themselves up into different factions, and one faction, The Renegades, control the flow of water into the city. Water is as good as gold in a society that isn’t being run by shitty governments and corrupt banks, so you can see where this going, right?
Aiden Caldwell, the game’s protagonist, walks through the danky bar full of happy people, before confronting his faction’s leader, Frank. It’s obvious that the people sat around having a nice evening aren’t aware that the water will run out by tomorrow. Aiden is pissed at Frank for not informing the people that they’ll soon be drinking each other’s piss to stay hydrated. But Frank has a plan. He’s hoping to cut a deal with The Renegades, with a little help from some of the other factions scattered around the city, without alarming his own people to their incoming Big Thirst.
Frank leaves the bar to go to the meeting. A few moments later, gunshots are heard and Aiden darts outside to see what’s gone down. Frank is down on the ground, bleeding out after having been shot. It’s all gone belly up. This is where the game introduces its first dilemma: do you stay to help Frank, or do you pursue the bastards who shot him? It’s choices like these, the developers said, that will determine how the game plays out. It’s something we’ve heard a thousand times before, but I’m interested to see how it is put into play with Dying Light 2; because, according to Techland, it’ll also influence how the game’s world looks.
The demo saw Aiden leaving Frank with his comrades while he gave chase to the bad guys, probably because it makes for a more exciting demo than having Aiden holding a rag to the bullet wound…
By choosing to go in pursuit of the bad guys, we got to see Dying Light 2’s parkour in action – and it was smooth. Aiden is just as agile, fast, and cunning as you could want him to be. I saw him leaping over zombies, kicking them in the head as he scrambled around inside dilapidated buildings. I saw him leap from building to the next, swing around street lamps like Spider-Man, and even paragliding his way out of a sticky situation. It was fantastic to watch, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to have a go for myself. No doubt I’d have botched it and ended up as zombie dinner, but still, it would have been nice…
Eventually, Aiden catches up with the bad guys and takes over one of the trucks. Here we are presented with another choice: kill the driver, or spare him, albeit with a gun to his head, forcing him to co-operate. The demo played out with the latter option. Then a voice came over the radio. Another choice presented. Do you let him answer, or stay silent and risk arousing suspicion? The demo went for the former, and Aiden and his hostage made their way towards the Renegade’s headquarters. And boy, what an impressive little den they’ve set themselves up in.
At first glance it resembles a medieval castle, but on closer inspection, it’s actually a water plant of sorts. It’s surrounded by a moat that has to be crossed by a medieval-style drawbridge. Humanity may be on the up, but people have definitely regressed to simpler times. The truck crosses the bridge and enters the fortress. It doesn’t seem all that bad. Earlier in the demo, it’s implied that the Renegades are a mean bunch who live like animals, eating other humans and enslaving the ones they don’t fancy munching on. That’s clearly not the case, but we’ve yet to meet their leader, The Colonel, who controls the faction and the supply of water. Apparently he’s a real mean bastard.
Once inside the fortress, the plan is to go stealth mode and sneak through the place, but that idea goes out the window because of an earlier choice made in the game. The guy who was driving the truck honks the horn to let everyone know that there’s an outside within their safe space, and so Aiden runs for his life, parkouring his way to the Colonel.
Once there, The Colonel explains that it wasn’t his people who shot Frank, but instead another of the city’s factions, The Peacekeepers. The Colonel also says he won’t turn on the pumps to deliver the water. You’ve got another choice here: believe The Colonel, or dismiss his words as bullshit and turn on the pumps anyway. After a bit of brutal combat – and it is brutal, several others let out cries of “oooooooh” as the demo played out – Aiden is free to turn on the pumps and save his folks from thirst. However… It turns out that something is amiss. The Renegade’s certainly didn’t seem like the monsters we were led to believe they were, and there was a very good reason the pumps weren’t operating. Turning on the water pumps does more than we bargained for – it drains the moat surrounding The Renegades’ castle, exposing a whole new area to explore. But that’s not all. As the demo comes to an end and The Peacekeepers are invading the fortress, a zombie hand emerges from the mucky gunk. The moat was keeping these monsters at bay, but now the dead are rising, and these aren’t your regular zombies. The Colonel wasn’t so bad after all.
It was a thrilling half an hour and I genuinely enjoyed every moment of it, even with the obnoxious Hip Hop Gamer making his presence known by shouting every four seconds. I’ve never found any joy in watching a game be played by somebody else – I’ve never watched a Twitch stream, for example, yet I was hungry for more once the lights came up.
Dying Light 2 is an ambitious game, that much is obvious. It’s also refined. The developer is using a brand new engine to power Dying Light 2 on PS4, and the results are impressive. The graphics were brilliant, though it wasn’t stated what console it was being played on, if it was a console at all. My guess is that we were watching the game being played on a PC, but that’s neither here nor there. If the end result ends up looking close to what I saw, nobody will complain about the graphics. There’s still some juice left in the current-gen consoles.
Combat is still a tactical affair with dodging and blocking making up a large part of the experience. It’s brutal, too, with zombie heads departing their dead bodies with the swing of a blade. Blood splashes and splats on walls and floors with each slice, whether it’s human or zombie blood. Parkour has been improved and the city is wide open to those who dare to scale it. I’m excited to see more and I can’t wait until I can see the game in action again, but this time with my choices shaping the game’s story and the landscape of the city.
Dying Light 2 will release on PS4, Xbox One and PC sometime in Spring 2020.