Dying Light is a game that I’ve heard endless praise about, but have avoided due to some of the more negative criticisms. In particular, the polish it had at launch and some of the subpar story elements. So when I was given the opportunity to review Dying Light 2 for the site here, I went in with healthy skepticism. While I hoped that the parkour and combat would carry the game forward, I had very little hope for how the story would pan out. How did that work out, you may ask? Find out in my review of Dying Light 2 Stay Human!
A Surprisingly Awkward Quest for Family
Dying Light 2 Stay Human follows the story of Aiden, a pilgrim (people who roam the world as couriers) who’s come to the last bastion of civilization on Earth in search of his long-lost sister Mia. Given the colossal size of this last city though, and the increasingly boiling politics surrounding it, the journey isn’t going to be as simple as he had hoped. With several complex characters to meet along the way, and choices to make that will forever shape the future of the city, Aiden’s actions will have larger ramifications than those affecting him alone. His actions are entirely up to you though.
With the necessary exposition done, where do I even begin? To put it bluntly, my expectations of the story being somewhat subpar were not only met but exceeded negatively. The initial few hours, while slow and monotonous, did a good job of building up this unfamiliar civilization, if you want to call it that. Once you break out into the open-world section of the game though, things take a rather bizarre turn. As one spoiler-free example, one of the first things you do when entering the open world is head to a human stronghold known as the Bazaar and meet some of the folks there. Then you’ll be left to continue the story with your friend Hakon before heading back to the Bazaar to meet with its leaders, Sophie and Carl. Only instead of meeting both the leaders, you’re being introduced to the Bazaar and everyone in it, again. Mind you, the introductions are fleshed out more this time around, but the double introduction is bizarre on its own.
That’s just scratching the surface, as the remainder of the game is littered with awkward, useless dialogue that leaves you confused more than anything. Translation blunders have a big hand in this fault, but it doesn’t excuse how bad the total 180s in opinion and tone are, especially when it prevents you from being able to sympathize with your AI companions. This isn’t even the fault of the voice actors who, while imperfect, are merely doing the best with the material they’re given. Rosario Dawson’s Lawan is arguably the strongest of the bunch, yet even her character is far from free of these problems.
To its credit though, the main story’s reveals are mostly well done. Aiden’s flashbacks to his time in a GRE Lab are sprinkled well through the story, never revealing too much but leaving you asking questions about Aiden and Mia’s time as children. That is until we make our way to the game’s ending. I can’t explain too much here to avoid spoilers, but be ready to be left with more questions than answers (for the incorrect reasons). It was a surprise too, as events seemed to be leading to a predictable but solid conclusion. Instead, it was a messy concluding act capped off with a choice that’s so poorly designed it makes the original Mass Effect 3 endings look diverse.
While I’ve been mostly tearing the story and dialogue a new one though, I do have to give points to the design of choices (again, beyond the ending). Many games featuring choice systems lack moral ambiguity, making them simply a black and white answer. Thankfully, Dying Light 2 Stay Human is not one of those games. There were countless times when, despite the countdown, I would pause and weigh my choices out. Even after I made my choice and moved the story forward, the thought that I perhaps made the wrong choice lingered in my mind. While I’m admittedly surprised the choice system is as good as it is, I’m nothing if not reasonable with my criticism.
An Unstoppable Killing Machine
I recall that a month before the game launched, Dying Light 2 Stay Human showed off its skill system and thought on paper that it sounded unique and intriguing. I’m happy to say that this holds in practice as well. Beyond consistently including new mechanics to help stir the pot, plenty of smaller gameplay changes naturally weave into your gameplay thanks to the skill point system. See, rather than having a simple XP system like most RPGs, you earn XP from both engaging in parkour and combat scenarios. This culminates in a beautiful gameplay loop of being rewarded for using the old and new tools at your disposal and was a great follow-up to the first Dying Light. Plus what can I say? Knocking zombies down to stomp their heads in never gets old.
This works great in tandem with the variety of activities you can take part in, both during day and night. Techland seems to have done a better job of evolving the side objectives, offering not only better sprinkling throughout the game but with more depth put into each activity. Small puzzles allow you to take part in some interesting side content while on your way to the larger objectives, giving some bonus rewards to use during the various main missions. While I wouldn’t generally recommend you focus on side objectives unless you’re a completionist, doing some on the way can add some much-needed variety to the adventures going from mission to mission.
Now while I love most of the gameplay on offer here, admittedly the night wasn’t quite as threatening as it should’ve been. The opening hours imply that night sections are incredibly threatening and should be tackled with careful precision and strategy. What you instead get is sticking to rooftops and the odd, linear stealth section. The only darkness section that is genuinely difficult is during one of the main missions later on in the game, and even then that can be easily cheesed by simply gunning it for the exit. Even the chase sections when you’re caught by a Howler seem more threatening than they are, especially when it’s as simple as finding a UV-lit mini-base.
But credit is deserved where it’s due, and by comparison to the story and dialogue, the gameplay is a godsend. It makes those awkward dialogue moments tolerable because you know around the corner, a zombie’s head is waiting to be sliced off.
Beauty in Infection
A post-apocalyptic game, or at least a good one, needs to be able to sell its world effectively to immerse players in that setting. I’m happy to say from my review of Dying Light 2 Stay Human that they’ve done an astounding job in that department. I’ve always been one to appreciate some serious craftsmanship in creating an atmosphere and setting, and the team knocked it out of the park with some truly next-gen visuals. Details from something as simple as your average zombie to a decrepit building stuffed with infected genuinely sell this idea of a world that’s lost to the zombie hordes in one way or another. While your ability to be a badass zombie killing machine goes against this somewhat, the atmosphere matters in the end.
The animations also play a massive hand in the gameplay itself. Similar to something like Dead Space’s necromorphs, repeated attacks on enemy limbs will cause them to be dismembered. While most humans will be down after losing a limb, zombies will only be hindered with a missing arm. But above all else, seeing said arm or head sliced cleanly off is endlessly satisfying in combat. It shows that the art and animation teams truly have a knack for their craft, so you have to give them some props.
This continues into the sound design, which makes up at least half of the satisfaction when it comes to combat and parkour. Sure, you can slice your enemy’s head clean off all day, but it’s the blood-gushing sound and sounds of their body stumbling to the ground that makes you feel like a force to be reckoned with. The same goes for music which, unlike most games, can weave into the gameplay and react to your actions. Those moments where you’re running and jumping from rooftop to rooftop get audibly enhanced with some bombastic tracks that dampen on those massive jumps and enhance once you’ve made them. These are small details for sure, but they make for a noteworthy impact.
Though with that being said, the polish does leave something to be desired. I’ve heard some reviewers call this on par with Cyberpunk 2077’s launch polish and while I’d say that’s an overreaction, the game isn’t free of faults. Jumps will fail to connect, crashes happen every once in a while, missions were bugged, and plenty more. It won’t hamper your experience too much, but you’ll know it’s there. I just hope the team at Techland work to iron this out in the time following release.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human Review Summary
Verdict: If this review of Dying Light 2 Stay Human was centered on gameplay and presentation standpoint, this would be a great experience I could easily recommend. There’s a lot to love about the combat and parkour, being able to chain moves together and feel like an unstoppable killing machine. That’s not even mentioning the stellar presentation if on the buggy side. But with a story that feels so poorly translated and given so little love in the eleventh hour, I can only call the experience “good”. With that being said, for the RPG fans and Dying Light lovers out there, Dying Light 2 Stay Human should still provide plenty of the zombie-killing goodness you came for.
- Morally ambiguous choices
- Inventive skill system
- Wide variety of engaging activities
- Incredible visuals
- Satisfying animations
- Music that melds seamlessly with gameplay
- Terrible concluding act
- Awkward character dialogue
- Plot holes galore
- Night time sections aren't very threatening
- A few too many bugs