Publisher: Square Enix
Rating: Rating Pending
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Dying Light delivered on its promise of giving fans a fun, parkour-packed post-apocalypse, but with Dying Light 2, Techland is striving for much more. In addition to improving parkour and polishing combat, Dying Light 2 promises unprecedented impact stemming from players’ decisions. Choices you make may have consequences both telegraphed and unforeseen, with your decisions having potentially sweeping implications for entire regions of the city, and entire branches of the narrative.
In fact, according to Techland, players might miss up to half of the game’s overall content based on the choices they make throughout the game. The consequences reach far beyond multiple endings on the same track. In the gameplay demo I saw, the player has multiple choices to make over the course of a mission. Do you stay with your friend who was shot or do you chase down the alleged assailant? When you catch him, do you kill him or hear him out? These choices have immediate implications for the mission at hand, but it’s potentially much further reaching than that.
According to narrative designer Chris Avellone, Techland sees these kinds of consequences as an integral part of creating a great open-world experience. “The push for the game when Techland approached me with the narrative, they realized they already had a really strong open-world game, but what they really wanted to do was have an open story as well,” Avellone says. “It’s one thing to say, ‘I have this great open world,’ but if there’s only one linear storyline that every player follows, that’s kind of contrary to the world that’s set up. This is about giving the player more freedom to explore the story as they make their way through the game. It’s more agency.”
I see one such consequence play out later on in the mission, as the demoer decides to leave their wounded friend, Frank, behind and hunt down the assailant right before the group embarked on a quest to convince The Colonel, a powerful man in a stronghold, to share his vast supply of water. The resulting sequence sees protagonist Aiden Caldwell take off as an NPC tends to the wounds. The demoer warns that every decision has the potential for consequences. Decisions are often required to be made in the moment, meaning you just have to act on instinct.
“There are no good choices in Dying Light 2,” lead designer Tymon Smektala says. “These are you choices and that’s your ending. You have to live with it, whatever it is. It comes from you, what happens in the game.”
This choice kicks off a chase sequence. Much like the first Dying Light, the protagonist relies heavily on parkour. Dying Light 2’s Aiden Caldwell has a much more impressive moveset than the first game’s protagonist, Kyle Crane. This chase effectively showcases this as Aiden sprints across the rooftops. Standard moves like sliding, climbing, and mantling return, and Aiden can still ride along ziplines, but he has a few other tricks up his sleeve. The Dying Light 2 protagonist can wall run into a jump to adjacent platforms. Aiden can also parkour off zombies and even use them to break a long fall. He can even ride on doors as they open and thread the needle through holes in doors and walls.
If the standard moveset isn’t enough, you have a few traversal tools to aide you. As Aiden comes to a long gap, he breaks out a grappling hook so he can latch onto a nearby rooftop and swing across the big drop. He spots the truck he’s been chasing in the distance, but it’s just too far away. Thankfully, you also have access to a paraglider, which the demoer uses to drift softly onto the roof of the truck.
Watching an expert player chain these free-running moves in rapid succession is entertaining as hell, but Smektala wasn’t satisfied with only catering to the best players. “We wanted to create the most immersive parkour game out in the market,” Smektala says. “The important thing is anyone can pick up the game and play it. As soon as they [learn the controls], they’ll be able to feel like this really agile guy and just fly through the environment. Then, if you are a skilled player and you start thinking about the skills that we give you and how these skills interact with different parts of the geometry, you get faster and faster and faster. There’s a really obvious difference between a novice Dying Light player and someone who is very skillful.”
Once inside the truck, Aiden comes face to face with the man he was told killed Frank. You can either kill the truck driver and exact revenge, or keep him alive and hold him hostage. In this playthrough, Aiden keeps the truck driver alive as the two drive to the compound together. Because the driver knows the correct signal to open the gate to The Colonel’s stronghold, we’re invited right in; if we killed the driver, we would have had to find another way.
After stealthily infiltrating the Colonel’s stronghold and making his way to The Colonel’s residence, Aiden learns a sad truth: his friend Frank died as a result of his injuries. Techland says that things may have played out differently had Aiden stayed with him, but there’s nothing that can be done now; all that’s left to do is complete the mission.
The gameplay demo culminates with a choice: Do you carry out your mission of turning on the water pumps to bring fresh drinking water to a region in dire need of it, or do you trust The Colonel, who promises he can help you find a better way? The demoer follows the path of carrying out the plan against the Colonel’s wishes. The Colonel isn’t happy about that, so an intense gunfight ensues.
Aiden quickly dispatches two nearby guards with his gun, then gets up close and personal to another henchman with his modified knife that electrocutes and dismembers with every slash. Things are going as well as can be expected given the uneven odds. That is, until a heavy enters the room. Bullets and knives are no use thanks to the thick armor, so Aiden has to be a little creative. Using grappling hook we saw during the parkour sequence, Aiden latches onto the ceiling and swings into the heavy with full momentum. The impact stuns the enemy long enough for Aiden to get in and deliver a killing blow.
Aiden turns the nearby valves to drain the reservoir around the compound, delivering fresh drinking water to the drought-stricken region of the city. His mission is accomplished, but the consequences don’t end there. You now have access to an entirely new gameplay area that would have stayed hidden underwater had you not drained the lake, but the consequences are further reaching than that. Not only is the compound vulnerable to attack from a nearby faction with a plot against The Colonel, but something long-dormant in the lake bed is now free to awaken. The final cutscene shows a mutated zombie clawing its way out of the muck at the bottom of the now-drained reservoir, with razor-sharp spikes on the side of its arm.
Avellone loves the idea of telling others about your story by inviting them to your city in co-op sessions. In multiplayer, the host city is the one both players see, so showing your friends how your decisions have affected the city is simple. “When you’re able to see the reactivity mattering that much, and you realize it could have gone differently, but now all these other opportunities popping up because of your choice, suddenly it makes all the other choices impactful too,” he says. “One thing we noticed with RPGs is that people would compare their storylines and builds, and then brag about it like, ‘I feel really good that I made this choice!’ When the game showcases the differences like that to such an extent… it’s going to be a good thing.”
Avellone says that with RPGs, you often see how your choices affect others through interactions with NPCs. He wants more with Dying Light 2’s choice system. “Dying Light 2 has that [NPC interactivity with your choices], but then they kind of went one step super far and went, ‘And the environments will change!’ and the scope to which they do that is impressive,” he says. “It’s like new gameplay spaces and new enemies completely. I was very impressed.”
Dying Light 2 impressed me from the very beginning of the demo, and set up high expectations. With a gorgeous world, smooth combat, impressive parkour, and lofty choice-driven ambitions, Dying Light 2 has quickly become one of my most anticipated games of 2020.