Dying Light 2 Stay Human is a sequel to the 2014 original developed and published by the Poland-based Techland. It follows Aiden Caldwell more than two decades after the zombie apocalypse. Aiden is what is referred to as a Pilgrim, somebody who travels between the remaining pockets of humanity to deliver news, supplies, and messages. While Aiden does so for the work, he also does it to search for his sister, Mia, whom he was separated from as a child.
Players are introduced to Aiden just before he gains access to one of the largest remaining cities of humans. There, a scientist that Aiden remembers being involved in the program that split him from his sister resides. Along the way, Aiden falls into the middle of a civil war within the city between the militaristic Peace Keepers, the unhinged Renegades, and the free but unstable Survivors. As the player travels throughout the city, they slowly unravel the politics and tensions of the factions, align themselves with either the Peace Keepers or Survivors, and dig into Aiden’s past.
While the foundation of the game’s narrative is nothing groundbreaking for a zombie game, its execution is. As action-packed, fun, and creative as the game is, its narrative is one of its most compelling aspects. The characters of its world have plausible personalities grown from understandable positions and opinions on the world around them. The Peace Keepers are a bit too strict, but they aren’t entirely wrong that a city fractured into too many warring factions will inevitably implode upon itself. The Survivors are right to reject the totalitarian occupation of the Peace Keepers but are evidently in over their heads as their rulers fail to maintain control of their impulsive followers.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human also promises meaningful consequences to players’ choices throughout their game, both narratively and mechanically. I’ll admit to some initial skepticism of this claim, but the developers and writers have managed to give one’s choices real, impactful consequences in both spheres.
Narratively, decisions can have both consequences that are light on impact and devastating ones. Causing the deaths of innocent people because of poor choices or wrong calls feels as devastating as it should and is supported by the counterweight of Dying Light 2’s more charming, light-hearted moments that successfully net a grin or chuckle. This helps make the world and characters of the game feel undeniably human. The setting is dark with a bleak, nihilistic future, but it is filled with characters trying to make the best of it and often help others in whatever small way they can manage. It helps the game really earn the title of Stay Human.
Mechanically, decisions can also have large impacts. Not only do the decisions one makes throughout the story entirely alter what missions are played and what areas of the map are visited, but players can also shape the city itself. For example, as Aiden improves the city by founding more safe zones or turning on the electricity, the player can assign those facilities to either the Survivors or the Peace Keepers. Both factions have a linear progression of improvements that they then make to their territory for each facility they are granted. Peace Keepers incorporate more facilities to make dealing with infected easier, while the Survivors make running across the rooftops and parkour easier. It mixes the emotional weight of these decisions with mechanical implications that give each one even more gravitas.
Outside of the narrative, the gameplay is split into parkour traversal, combat, looting, and crafting. Looting and crafting are what fans of the first game will expect. Locations in the world are littered with numerous resources that can be used to craft healing items, consumable equipment, and weapon modifications which range from throwing knives and hand grenades to mods that shoot fireballs or arc lightning between targets.
Parkour allows players to run across rooftops, scale buildings, jump from roofs onto mattresses below and take ziplines. Combat, on the other hand, is a delicate balance of parries, normal and strong attacks, dashes to dodge, and stamina management. The line between the two eventually begins to blur as well, with the player jumping on enemies to dropkick others nearby, leaping from high areas to perform takedowns on enemies below, and executing perfect dodges to slow down time. When it all comes together, it frequently feels like a chaotic dance that is as fluid as it is brutal. Improvised one-handed and two-handed weapons chop through infected and human alike, sending crimson arcs curving through the air with satisfying wet impacts.
These two tenets of Aiden’s kit can also be grown through their associated skill trees. Each skill tree branches into multiple paths, including moves like curb stomps, wall-running, and sliding. Not all of them are as useful as their peers, but the open world is very well designed to accommodate whichever traversal skills you have picked up. Aiden can also be improved by finding resources to improve his stamina and health and equipping different pieces of clothing and weapons. Weapons offer a range of playstyles, while Aiden’s gear comes with stat buffs that help players augment how they want to play, although optimizing them is not necessary until the latest stages of a playthrough.
Like its predecessor, Dying Light 2 also features a day/night cycle, although it is not as impactful as fans may remember. Nighttime still sees the streets becoming flooded with infected, but they are not as vicious or terrifying as they once were. Instead, nighttime is an opportunity to explore indoors to scavenge valuable resources while the hordes that usually nest inside are busy loitering around a burned-out car. Aiden can still activate a chase by crossing howlers that call their friends for the pursuit, but it is a far cry from what the original Dying Light offered, which is a disappointment.
Despite its solitary step back, Dying Light 2’s other successes make it a standout success. Its combat is as brutal as one would hope while bringing the mechanical density and numerous options to engage any type of player. Its narrative is gripping with veins of humanity throughout that make it nearly impossible not to get invested in it. While sometimes feeling a bit sluggish or as though they just need a tiny bit more tuning, its new mechanics have brought new life to the series in a monumental way. Dying Light 2 is a massive success, and it will be great to see where its dedicated studio takes it going forward into its promised five years of support.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human is available on February 4 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human
- Rating - 9/109/10
Its combat is as brutal as one would hope while bringing the mechanical density and numerous options to engage any type of player. Its narrative is gripping with veins of humanity throughout that make it nearly impossible not to get invested in it. While sometimes feeling a bit sluggish or as though they just need a tiny bit more tuning, its new mechanics have brought new life to the series in a monumental way.