Hold out your hands in front of you like Giorgio A. Tsoukalos and say “zombies.” Now go run toward the wall and do a little kick off of it. You pretty much got the idea behind Dying Light 2.
Not that the combination of those ideas is automatically a bad thing! Dying Light 2 more or less leans into the marriage of parkour and zombies, just like the first game, but it does it in such a fluid way that you’ll forget about some of its issues.
Dying Light 2 is going to be very familiar — not just for folks who played the first game or have watched a lot of zombie media, but familiar in general.
So the setup here is a time jump between games, with two main storytelling goals. It’s simply a bit all over the place, trying to balance both the personal plight of our hero Aiden, and the lore of the world (chiefly the city of Villedor): it gets about halfway there on both. This story is set two decades after the original, taking place in the 2030s, and things are a bit different now in terms of zombie world tech.
It’s all serviceable. While I would have preferred another hero entirely and more detail on some specific elements of the lore, this is far from a cringe-worthy zombie tale, which is so easy to ease into these days. Characters are generally lively with their performances, especially in the more intimate moments of the story.
That aforementioned familiarity comes into play in several respects. Dying Light 2 has a detective vision mechanic. There’s crafting and lockpicking. And radio towers (windmills). There’s also crafting and gathering, and even the materials are going to elicit memories of trouncing around Techland’s own open-world romps. But once you actually play it, a lot of what the game is trying to do comes together.
The parkour system really is the highlight of Dying Light 2, and carried the game across the finish line: I can’t stress that enough. If the narrative is on a downbeat, a bug pops up, or a mission is too generic, my blank stare is replaced with a smile right after doing a bit of platforming. The way everything flows — and how the parkour upgrades slot into one another — is a treat. Successfully running and chaining together spots feels like the best moments of a Tony Hawk game, especially when you’re creating “lines” in the moment as you’re moving.
It’s all facilitated through leveling up, which follows the “you gain experience when you actually do something” design philosophy. Big fan! Having two trees branching off of combat and parkour keeps things wonderfully simple, which are communicated with on-screen “you got [this much XP]” prompts. Both work in tandem with one another and open up combo actions, which are some of the strongest parts of the game.
The ability to riposte a melee attack, then jump on someone’s head, then do a 360-degree windmill turn off of a roof and grab an open window ledge is silly, in a real good way. Movement gets cleaner and crazier the more you play too, including wall-running shenanigans. We need more games that riff on Mirror’s Edge, and I’ll take it where I can get it. The gamification of these skills works to its benefit, especially when they come out naturally during some intense chases; because it’s easy for Dying Light 2 to take itself way too seriously.
Picturesque areas, set to the backdrop of trees and mountains, are stunning on a current-generation machine. Performance was not an issue for me on PS5, and as cliché as it sounds, I stopped to admire the scenery several times in Dying Light 2 — especially in the opening hour before you get to the city. The day and night cycle, which impacts how zombies and the player character interact, is smart, and done better than many other games that waste it.
For the sake of transparency, there was one game-breaking issue with a quest that was patched during the review period (that I did not encounter), and one very unclear questline that did impact me (a main story quest that asks you to simply visit a settlement and chat with the inhabitants, but it didn’t pop for me until I finished multiple seemingly optional sidequests). I also got stuck in a wall several times and had to load an autosave. Part of the issue is that there seems to be only one autosave in total: so if you encounter a glitch, you can’t rewind to a previous state on console by default. I wouldn’t call Dying Light 2 “messy” or “unpolished” by any means, but it has your bog-standard open-world baggage.
Dying Light 2 is safe in some respects, and bold in others; like its propensity to lean into some arcadey notions. The sandbox is the true heart of Dying Light 2. Not the characters, or the story, but the mere act of running around like an idiot, whether you’re doing errands or not. Whether it keeps you busy for “500 hours” or 20, open-world fanatics will probably find a lot to love here.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. Co-op was not tested for this review.]