Dying Light 2 Stay HumanFebruary 4, 2022
PlatformPC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Trying to follow the development of Dying Light 2 Stay Human over the past several years has been a bit of a rollercoaster. The game was announced with much fanfare at E3 2018 and showed off a very impressive demo at E3 2019, but then creative director Chris Avellone left the project amid accusations of personal misbehavior at previous studios, the game was delayed multiple times, and reports of behind-the-scenes turmoil at Techland emerged. Ultimately, when Dying Light 2 staggered back into the light last year, it looked rather different than what was originally promised and demoed.
These facts would usually be red flags, but Techland has shown an impressive ability to adapt over the seven years they supported the original Dying Light. Have they managed to make the best of a bad hand and delivered another zombie-slashing cult hit? Or has the shambling specter of development issues terminally infected the game? Grab some good shoes; it’s time to give this one a thorough run-through.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human is a soft reboot of the series’ story – while it takes place in the same universe, it’s now 15 years later, and the world has slid into a feudal state. We leave Harran behind, instead focusing on Villedor, simply known as “The City” to most, as it’s one of the last major settlements in the world. Players take on the role of Aiden Caldwell, a “Pilgrim” who travels between the ever-shrinking number of settlements on a quest to find his long-lost sister. As children, Aiden and his sister were subjected to cruel experiments into a possible infected vaccine by a doctor named Waltz, and it seems he’s hiding out somewhere in Villedor. Of course, finding him, and possibly your sister, won’t be so easy.
Dying Light 2’s plot is relatively straightforward, essentially consisting of an ever-escalating series of complications. For instance, you’ll discover early on that Waltz and your sister are likely somewhere in the downtown “Central Loop” of the city, an area guarded by the militaristic Peacekeepers faction. So, you have to come up with a plan to get past them, but in doing so, you’re caught and pressed into solving a complex murder mystery. While you’re doing that, you inadvertently set off a full-on war between the Peacekeeper and Survivor factions, and so on. “Get to the Central Loop” may seem like a simple goal, but it ends up requiring many, many diversions and over 10 hours of playtime.
That said, while Dying Light 2’s overall story is simple and sometimes frustratingly slow to get to the point, it does offer up some memorable individual characters and moments. Techland does a good job of making The City feel like a complex, living place with its own unique politics and concerns. The various storyline choices presented are also well-done, rarely falling into naïve “obvious good choice and obvious evil choice” binaries. You may find yourself having to side with bad people for the greater good of The City, and your quest and the results of your choices aren’t always easy to predict.
I should clarify that what I just said most strongly applies to the first half of the game that takes place in “Old Villedor.” Once you get to the Central Loop, it almost feels like you’ve started an entirely new story, with a new cast of characters that have few ties to those you’ve met up until that point. The heavily-promoted character Lawan, played well by Rosario Dawson, doesn’t even show up until about 60 percent into the campaign. It’s odd. It also feels like the number of choices available to you is reduced in the second half, and those you already made don’t have a huge effect. I staunchly supported the Survivors faction in the first half of the game, but the latter half had me constantly helping the Peacekeepers. There still are a few big choices to make once you get to the Central Loop, but it feels like they’re less of a focus.
Moving onto gameplay, Dying Light 2 is largely an evolution of its predecessor. Combat deemphasizes ranged weapons even more than the original, to the point where guns are (almost) nonexistent. In their place are a wide variety of brutal improvised weapons made from post-apocalyptic scrap and a greater ability to chain your attacks together using parkour, somewhat making up for the lack of long-range options. It’s a solid system, and I’m sure streamers will be able to pull off some cool sequences, but enemies (both human and zombie alike) are pretty dumb. To succeed in most fights, all you need to do is dodge, block, and whack enemies as often as possible with the biggest, nastiest weapon you have.
Speaking of weapons, some players may be disappointed to learn degradation is still in the game and more punishing than ever. You had limited opportunities to repair broken weapons in the first Dying Light, but that is now out the window. You can boost the durability of weapons by applying mods (which can now be freely mixed and matched), but once a weapon is gone, it’s gone. Give up the idea of “favorite” weapons because Dying Light 2 is all about getting by with what’s on hand.
While some of Dying Light 2’s combat and weapon tweaks may not be to every taste, the changes to parkour represent a more successful evolution. Many moves from the first game return, but everything feels a bit less herky-jerky. Movement is more fluid, you can truly climb on everything now, and Techland plays with time in interesting ways, slowing it slightly during big jumps and other moments to make it easier for players to react. Everything just feels smoother and more satisfying, even if most of the changes aren’t groundbreaking (with one exception, which I’ll get to in a second).
As with its predecessor, Dying Light 2’s greatest strength remains its level design. The day-night mechanic, in which the streets are less dangerous by the day, but the various dark hiding places actually clear out by night, remains clever and well-balanced. Plotting the perfect rooftop path to avoid the streets, finding scattered secrets, and slowly learning the full layout of the map is as satisfying as ever. The City is a colorful, sometimes-visually-striking place and runs well on the PS5, but it is pretty obvious this is a game that’s been in development for some time. The big vistas are impressive, but individual assets and animations are sometimes a bit rough. The game’s Quality Mode goes surprisingly heavy on the ray tracing for a console title, but given the sort of fast-action game this is, 30fps may be too high a price to pay for some. Personally, I played most of the game in the 60fps Performance mode.
As good as Dying Light 2’s level design is, some small annoyances make getting around a touch harder than it should be. Respawn points are way too few and far between, given this is a game where a single misjudged jump can kill you, and your map is significantly less readable than in the first game. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the glitches, which aren’t as bad as a certain other recent Polish-developed open-world game, but crashes and other oddities were fairly common during my playthrough. As for the new system that lets you decide which faction controls each neighborhood, it’s a potentially-interesting addition, but also a bit shallow at the moment. There are only two factions to choose from (the Peacekeepers and Survivors), and you’re rewarded for simply giving all the territories to one side or the other. Still, small issues aside, Dying Light 2’s level design remains fun in a familiar sort of way, at least for the first half of the game.
As mentioned, it feels like Dying Light 2’s story is split in half, and the same goes for its level design. The first half set in Old Villedor essentially feels like a refined version of the first game, but the second half in the Central Loop introduces perhaps Dying Light 2’s only truly game-changing concept – the paraglider. Needless to say, the ability to glide freely around the world completely changes the feeling of Dying Light, and the Central Loop is clearly designed around it, with a focus on much larger buildings than we’ve seen in the past and vertically-designed missions. It’s a surprising and exciting change at first, but ultimately, I think I still prefer the “classic” feel of Dying Light 2’s early areas.
At this point, I’ve had a lot of things to say about Dying Light 2, both good and bad. Still, overall, Techland has created another exceptional parkour proving ground here, one that’s bigger, easier to traverse, and packed with lots of great characters and fun moments. It’s just the overarching story and a few polish issues that hold things back. But the playground is in place, and perhaps that’s what matters, considering Techland has promised to expand and improve the game for many years to come.
Not that you’ll have any shortage of stuff do to at launch. That 500-hour estimate Techland threw out (then partially retracted) was likely an exaggeration, but you’re looking at a solid 20-hour main campaign, twice that if you want to clean up all the sidequests. I could also see some folks playing through the game multiple times to check out the results of all the story choices, particularly if you want to take the game on with friends. Speaking of which, I wasn’t able to test co-op during my playthrough, but Wccftech’s Alessio Palumbo did get to experience a demo of the feature on PC, which you can read about below.
Alessio Palumbo: The co-op mode of Dying Light 2 was not freely available during the review period. Techland opted to open up a separate co-op enabled branch of the review build for a dedicated two-hour session, where I joined with another fellow colleague from the press and two developers.
This decision alone was probably enough to indicate that co-op was never the primary focus for Dying Light 2. Indeed, during the scheduled session, one of the developers even pointed out that the studio’s preference is for players to go through the game solo the first time around, and I’m inclined to agree. Given how much more story-heavy this sequel is compared to the previous installment (Dying Light 2 packs as many dialogue lines as Mass Effect 3 or Fallout 3 and as many words as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina novel), chances are playing with a bunch of loud friends jumping around all over the place would only diminish your immersion into the post-apocalyptic city of Villedor. Sure, when you’re the host, the other players can only suggest dialogue choices that you alone can finalize. But if they’re talking over quest givers and generally pushing to rush through the content you haven’t done yet, playing in co-op may still be more detrimental than beneficial to your experience with the game.
What Techland does want, though, is for players to check out how different their friends’ versions of Villedor can be once they’re done with the story. The game relies on an RPG-like choice and consequence system that modifies the city’s layout in some ways, depending on the factions helped or hindered by the player. The review co-op session didn’t really shine a light on this, but it should prove to be an extra incentive to replay Dying Light 2 a second and maybe even a third time.
As for the co-op action itself, it’s pretty much what players were already used to with the first game. It can be very fun to kill zombies with friends, though the flip side is that the enemies become bullet sponges to accommodate the increased player number, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. There isn’t any specific co-op content, either, with the closest thing being the repeatable parkour and challenges scattered through the map. However, I reckon it won’t take long for those to get repetitive. In short, I wouldn’t buy Dying Light 2 for the co-op mode, though it’s still a welcome bonus to the solo mode.
Having access to the PC build, I also checked out how the game looks and runs on the platform. First of all, unlike recent PC ports, the game supports Exclusive Fullscreen mode. Disappointingly enough for a 2022 game, there’s no HDR customization guide. Dying Light 2 only features the regular gamma slider, which doesn’t really help when fine-tuning brightness for an HDR display. The general video settings also include the always welcome film grain effect toggle and a colorblind mode.
NVIDIA DLSS wasn’t added to the main branch until yesterday. That said, the wait was more than worth it, as the DLSS Performance preset is sharper than the FSR Ultra Quality preset when playing at 4K. The image quality gap between DLSS and FSR appears to be more pronounced here than in other games we’ve seen.
The advanced video settings offer a generic sharpness slider that works on DLSS, FSR, and the game’s own ‘linear’ method. Using an upscaler is pretty much mandatory, by the way, if you want to turn on those sweet ray tracing effects (more on them later). The performance still won’t be perfect due to some occasional stuttering (to lessen that, you should cap your frame rate, though you’ll have to do it externally as there is no such in-game option), but DLSS Performance Mode did run the game at an average of 73.5 FPS during an open world gameplay segment recorded with FrameView on our GeForce RTX 3090+i7 12700KF powered PC.
|GPU||CPU||Resolution||Runtime||Avg FPS||Min FPS||Max FPS||90th %||95th %||99th %||GPU
|GPU Util%||GPU Temp (C)||GPU NV Power (Watts) (API)||CPU
|CPU Util %||CPU Temp (C)|
|NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090||12th Gen Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-12700KF||3840x2160||D3D12||73.48||14.33||441.33||59.10||59.18||51.03||1456.34||108.22||86.56||253||4478.22.||36.00||83.22|
That is, of course, with max settings (including Async Compute) and all of the supported ray traced effects enabled. There are quite a few of those in Dying Light 2, as Techland had promised for quite some time: ray traced sun soft shadows, ray traced ambient occlusion, ray traced global illumination, and ray traced reflections. Additionally, you may also enable ray tracing for the flashlight, which adds indirect lighting to the player’s flashlight.
With everything pushed to the max on PC, Dying Light 2 can look stunning in places, easily adding itself to an ideal list of the best looking open world games. The visual difference with the PS5 version is as significant as it should be; you can see for yourself by comparing the two gameplay videos embedded into this article.
On the control side, Techland offered a great deal of customization. Those looking for a more hardcore parkour experience can turn off options like ammortizer landing assist, auto ledge grab, and edge fall assist. When using a gamepad, you can also separately disable aim assist for ranged weapons and melee weapons. Additionally, Dying Light 2 natively supports PlayStation icon prompts and the DualSense controller. In fact, it features the same great haptic feedback and adaptive trigger support seen in the PS5 version, so you should pick the DualSense controller over the Xbox controller if you want to play with a gamepad on PC.
Overall, if Dying Light 2 is your kind of game, your interest is unlikely to expire before those five years of additional content begin to arrive.
This review was based on PlayStation 5 and PC codes of Dying Light 2 Stay Human provided by publisher Techland. You can pre-order a copy of the game here.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human is another exhilarating parkour and zombie-pummeling playground from Techland, although at times, the seams holding it all together are a bit obvious. Given the game’s glitches, minor gameplay annoyances, and crudely bisected story and world, reports of behind-the-scenes issues feel all-too-plausible. That said, the foundation here is rock solid, and Techland has proven they’re capable long-term builders, so I’m confident Dying Light 2’s embers can be stoked to a full flame in time.
- Parkour is more satisfying than ever
- The City is packed and exciting to explore
- Lots of interesting characters and missions
- Some genuinely tricky decisions
- Offers some impressive sights
- Lots of content
- Looks stunning on PC with ray tracing enabled
- Story and world jarringly split in two
- Overall plot is fairly straightforward
- Plenty of glitches
- Co-op appears to be an afterthought
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