E3 2018: An Intimate Look Into DYING LIGHT 2’s Modern Dark Age

Oh zombies, will we ever stop loving you? They’re the perfect mix of infinitely spawning, moderately menacing, and entertaining to dismember. Just human enough to make murdering them satisfying, but without any of that personality or potential for redemption that makes you feel guilty about it. For a while there, it seemed like gamers were experiencing a zombie fatigue. But nuts to that, I say. Just like any good fight to the death, the flood of zombie games killed off the weak and allowed the strong to bite and claw their way to the top. In the chaos and carnage, Dying Light managed to parkour its way close to the top, slide tackling and decapitating many a competitor in it’s wake. Now here comes Dying Light 2, ready to take new leaps and bounds up and above the first.

Dying Light 2 makes some bold promises, and this is for a series that is no stranger to plopping their goods on the table with mixed results. Originally dipping their toes into the water with Dead Island, Techland’s inaugural zombie survival adventure received mixed reviews at best. Some say that the trailer was just too good and set the game up for failure. But it’s not like Techland didn’t dig their own hole by promising a near endless open world zombie cooperative zombie survival game, and then releasing a buggy and horribly inconsistent mess.

Then Dying Light came around and basically hit every tile on the video game Bingo scorecard. Open world survival game with crafting, parkour, settlements to liberate, a day/night cycle, and a heavy melee focus? Shit Techland, are you trying to sell me a video game, or get me to join your exciting new business opportunity? I hear that if you get just six more friends and loved ones to sign up for your “team,” you get a free Carnival Cruise. The craziest thing about all of this is that the game actually kicked a ton of ass. Despite having a weapon degradation system that can go eat a whole hazmat container of zombie ass, Dying Light was a unique experience that pushed boundaries all over the genre spectrum. It refined first-person melee combat, proved that first-person parkour games can work, and made zombies actually scary again. Sure, the plot was a bit… terrible… but never have I ever had so much fun slicing off a zombies head while leaping from a car onto a rooftop.

So you might think you know what to expect from Dying Light 2. For the most part, you’re probably right. Parkour action with a zombie flavoring and some sick melee combat? All green lights, so far. While the heart and soul of Dying Light 2 is still very much what made the first Dying Light so fun, this sequel also comes with some significant changes. Changes I got to see first hand during Techland’s demonstration at E3 2018. While I couldn’t take any footage or test the game for myself, I got a good sense of what’s in store.

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Gameplay started with the protagonist (who I’m just going to call bill) amidst the barren streets of a post-apocalypse city. You know the type, burnt out cars, overgrown sidewalks, newspapers with the headline “ZOMBIES!” fluttering in the breeze. Boarded up windows and storefronts as far as the eye can see. Surprisingly, actual zombies were quite scarce. One or two shambled around, heads ready to leap from shoulders at the slightest provocation, but otherwise the streets were quite barren.

Bill parkoured around for a bit, proving that Techland are still the reigning champs in developing new forms of “the floor is lava.” The fun was short lived, as Bill soon ran into a group of bandits that he was ill equipped to fight. No big deal, Bill can just duck into this nearby boarded-up storefront. Nothing bad ever happens in boarded up storefronts. Well unfortunately for Bill, this storefront also served as a daytime nest for the infected. If you remember, the infected are allergic to sunlight, preferring to spend their daylight hours huddled upright and twitching in comfortable darkness. Now Bill had to sneak through the slumbering horde and make it out to the other side. Crawl under some tables, climb a bookshelf, jump onto a chandelier, leap onto the second floor, chandelier crashes… oops. As the zombies awake and begin their pursuit, Bill makes his way through a window and into the safety of sunlight.

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With the zombies now behind him, Bill is free to make his next tragic decision by ambushing some nearby bandits. The bandits are just minding their own business, looting a nearby building with the aid of some UV floodlights. Bill sneaks up behind one of the guards, snaps his neck, and then trows his weapon at one of the other clueless guards. Dick move, Bill. It’s the apocalypse, why not just loot and let loot? Well it turns out that the bandits have dealt with this kind of thing before, and sound the alarm before Bill can silence them all. Uh oh, time to run again.

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As Bill runs from rooftop to rooftop, the fluidity of the parkour really cannot be understated. It’s super impressive how easy it is to leap from a rooftop, onto a rope, up a wall, onto a pipe, and up to another rooftop in a few seconds. Now it’s still to be seen how it all comes together in the final product, but it all looked believably natural in the demo.

Speaking of climbing, more climbing was in store for Bill when he cleared the bandits. A water tower reaches into the sky, just begging to be climbed. And who’s Bill to say no? This water tower is one of the primary settlements of the game, serving as both a climbing puzzle and branching decision point to change the world. As for the climbing puzzle, there were a few ways up from any one point. Some more plausible than others. The name of the game is stamina conservation, figuring out how to get to the next spot without using all of your energy and falling to your likely death. Some of the paths up were clearly dead ends, a cheeky little middle finger to all the gamers expecting to breeze their way through Dying Light 2’s challenges. It looked fun, and not in that Far Cry way where it’s mostly just a time sink between machine gun orgies.

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After that, you get to the moral choice point. Two dudes (I’m just going to call them Joe and Jim) have taken control of the water tower and killed the peacekeeper sent to negotiate with them. Does Bill kill them and give the water tower to the goodly yet authoritarian Peacekeepers? Or does he work with Joe and Jim to earn some sweet sweet blood money? Ultimately, the choice is up to you.

The choices you make will ultimately shape the world around you, and is the primary selling point of Dying Light 2. It’s a promise we’ve heard before, but the way they are going about it looked impressive. We got to see a glimpse of what the two worlds would look like, one under the peacekeepers and one ruled by Joe, Jim, and other such bandits. The peacekeeper world is safer, but with peacekeeper rule as absolute law. Along with patrolling the streets, the peacekeepers have set up a number of helpful parkour assistance points to help you get around more easily. The developers hinted that helping the peacekeeprs might have lasting consequences, so my money is on them betraying you.

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On the other hand, the world controlled by the raiders is far less safe. Not only are there no guards patrolling the streets, but those useful parkour assistance points are all gone. Joe and Jim give you some lovely cash from their water revenue, but other than that you’re on your own. You’d expect such decisions to be simple re-skins of the same outcome, but that wasn’t the case. What was even more interesting was in what ways the economy changes based on who you help. With the peacekeepers comes strict law, meaning that lethal weapons are much harder to come by. Let the raiders rule, and the black market economy thrives, with all the death dealing devices of delight you’d expect.

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The presentation was pretty long by E3 standards, and there were a few key points that give us some insight into the final game. First, the keyword they were going for was “modern dark age.” It’s been 15 years since the first Dying Light, and technology has reverted to clubs and bows. Society is factions and feudalism. At the same time, humanity also seems to have their shit more or less together. Survivors in the first Dying Light were little more than scared pockets of life among the vast zombie hordes, scraping for survival in makeshift UV lit safehouses. Even the biggest of the safe zones seemed more like refugee camps than actual settlements. But the clearer streets and established towns of Dying Light 2 show that despite not always having clean water and indoor plumbing, people have more or less got this whole zombie thing down.

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As a result, the human conflict is brought to the forefront. Now the struggle isn’t to reclaim the city from the hordes, but to decide who gets to control what. So expect more human-on-human action, and the necessary upgrades to the combat system that comes along with it. Dodges, parries, disarm moves, all that stuff that would be regularly useless against zombies now takes the spotlight in Dying Light 2.

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That doesn’t mean that there aren’t zombies in Dying Light 2. From what we have seen, most of them are just huddled in their nests during the daytime. They were sure not to show us any of the night time stuff yet, but I’d be willing to bet the danger is even greater than the first Dying Light. Given that the zombies have had 15 years to mutate, there’s a much higher ratio of dangerous Volatiles. If I were to make an educated prediction, expect zombie nests to be much more of a thing in Dying Light 2.

Two more things that need to be covered are guns and cars. Now guns weren’t the focus in the first Dying Light… until they were. There’s hardly a gun to be found for the first half of the game, then suddenly they’re everywhere. I asked the devs directly how guns would play into Dying Light 2, to which their response was delightfully strange. They stated that, “as this is a modern dark age, imagine what it would be like for someone to have a gun in the actual dark ages. It would seem like magic.” So I’m rooting for shotgun wizards.

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There was a brief moment in the demo that also showed that driving will be part of the game. While walking past a water truck, a prompt appeared to drive the truck. That’s it. The devs were very hush hush when pressed about this. It’s not much of a surprise, as The Following DLC was basically a dry run for implementing the mechanic. So yes on cars, no on details.

From what it looks like, Dying Light 2 is looking to improve on the concepts that never got to really be fully implemented in the first game. Actions now have consequence, and you have a real say on how the landscape of the world changes. The combat system is also much more “focused and intense” than “swing a sword and watch heads fly.” Exploration is also more meaningful, with deserted streets very quickly leading into dangerous nests. Also, less guns is always a plus in my book. As if I needed to even say this, but Dying Light 2 is definitely an apocalypse I can’t wait to fuck shit up in.

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Written by Ted Hentschke

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