It should still be called Far Die
Dying Light surprised the heck out of me last year. While I mostly agree with Chris about the various faults and clichés found within (you can read my thoughts here, from back in my before-Destructoid days), it was well-made, and I found myself eager to return when an expansion was announced.
I wasn’t immediately convinced that adding a dune buggy to a parkour-focused horror game was the best idea, but The Following proves that Techland didn’t just get lucky with Dying Light.
Dying Light: The Following – Enhanced Edition (PC [reviewed], PS4, Xbox One)
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Released: February 9, 2016
The Following doesn’t weave into Dying Light‘s main campaign. To start the expansion, you choose it separately in the main menu. You can drag your character’s progress and inventory back and forth between the two campaigns at any time, but you can’t just go to a fast travel and warp from one to the other. Once you begin, a short cutscene cuts to the chase: your character, Kyle Crane, has become aware of a route leading out of Harran. In this wild outback area, there’s a cult that claims to have found some kind of immunity to the zombie virus. As this would benefit your cadre of survivors, you set out to investigate.
The new area, called the Countryside, is huge. Techland claims that it’s larger than the entirety of the original game, and I’d agree with that after playing to 100% completion. Since there are numerous open fields, it’s not quite as packed as the urban environments in Dying Light proper, but I found this to be welcoming. It’s not all open, either: you’ll go from farms, to beaches, to graveyards, to caves, to factory areas, so you’re constantly being stimulated in a new way. With a larger map, the customizable buggy goes from novelty to necessity rather quickly.
Using a new Driver skill tree, which you level up by doing racing competitions, ramming zombies, maintaining top speed, and jumping off of ramps, you’ll be able to improve your ride and add gadgets such as electrical pulses and UV lights. Since there are always zombies to squash under your wheels, this tree levels up rapidly. The buggy starts off entertaining, and gets better as you tinker with it. You can craft better tires, brakes, engines, and the like to make it faster and more responsive. I’m a sucker for driving in first-person games as it is, and driving in The Following might be the best incarnation I’ve played to date.
A crossbow has also been added to your arsenal, which is a nice way to take out biters without attracting a horde. There are four different bolt types that you can use: normal, toxic, impact, and stun. I generally stuck to the normal arrows, especially when I snuck around the new Volatile caves. In Dying Light, Volatiles are the creatures that only come out during the night and can kill you within seconds if you aren’t paying attention. In The Following, you can go directly to their nests to try to thin out their presence in certain areas. If you go in during the day, the caves will be littered with these bastards, and sneaking through with a crossbow was about the most tense this game can get. Going during the night is the safer bet, but I found it less thrilling when the odds weren’t stacked against me.
Another welcome addition is the Freaks of Nature, giant versions of the more devious types of infected strewn throughout the Countryside. The game recommends that you only try to fight these jerks with friends in co-op sessions, but if you find their weak point (or bring a really good gun like a cheater [me]), you can take them out solo. They offer special blueprints to create ever-more-vicious weapons. Usually you’ll find these Freaks when you’re on another mission, and suddenly a health bar will appear on the top of the screen a kick-ass John Carpenter-esque song will start pulsing.
As far as the missions and story go, they’re handled much better than the original game. This time, Techland is less interested in trying to make you care about certain characters and more interested in getting you to find out more about the cult. Instead of being a scary group of folks that are out to kill you, you’re tasked with earning their trust so you can learn their secret. This leads to a mission structure where the side quests must be completed in order to progress in the main story. I didn’t have a problem with this, because the side stuff, as before, is generally more intriguing than the actual story.
Looking back on it, there aren’t many story quests in The Following, but it all feels interwoven in a way that encourages you to scour every last bit of the Countryside. The only quest that I had trouble with was the penultimate one that involves some timed driving, and if you have no health packs, you’re sort of fucked. I eventually persevered, but it was frustrating to be locked into the finale and unable to make it easier. The final mission has some curious implications about the overall plot in Dying Light, but the ending shoots that momentum right through the head. I’m still hoping a sequel comes out of this, but I’m a little confused as to where it would go now.
At this point, I must mention a caveat: I found Dying Light to be too easy about halfway through the game, so I played The Following on hard. I usually don’t like to blather about the “right” way to play a game, but if you’re going to play this expansion, I urge you to play hard mode. Instead of the usual “enemies do more damage, and you do less” type of difficulty, Techland’s version of hard is an improvement in almost every way. Medkits are no longer an instant heal, and instead provide healing over time. If you want to craft something or look at your map, you can’t pause the game any more. Survivor sense doesn’t show you every little item in every little room, so you have to more carefully observe your environments. If this sounds tedious, I promise that it makes the game both more immersive and more rewarding.
Since this is part of the Enhanced Edition, which owners of the base game get for free (minus the expansion), there are a litany of other improvements to be found. There are daily bounties and a new Nightmare difficulty that have been added to rack up tons of experience, which you’ll want for the new legendary levels. After maxing out a skill tree, points that would’ve gone to that tree now go to your legendary rank. You can spend these points on various buffs: 50% more firearm damage, more crossbow damage, better health regen, and other bonuses. There are a total of 250 of these points to earn, and they make you incredibly powerful. You’ll earn them pretty slowly unless you play on Nightmare mode. In my 22 hours with The Following, I reached level five. Clearly, I need to jump back in there already.
The Following was larger than I expected, and it maintains a high level of quality throughout. Being pared down from the bloat of Dying Light earns it more moment-to-moment excitement, and I greedily consumed it over the weekend. The last few minutes have me pondering the future of what’s clearly going to become a franchise, and I’m ready for whatever Techland brings next.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]