Tomorrow sees the release of the Dying Light 2, the long-awaited sequel to Techland's 2015 horror survival title.
Dying Light 2 has seen several delays since its unveiling in 2018, first pushed back from its launch window of spring 2020 to 2021, and then again to February 4, 2022.
The critical response has been mixed so far, landing the game at a reasonable 73 on Metacritic as of writing. For comparison, the original Dying Light sits just one point higher at 74.
Dying Light 2 largely sticks to the formula of the first game. Set in a post-apocalyptic setting 15 years after the events of Dying Light, new protagonist Aiden is tasked with deciding the fate of humanity's last settlement in this zombie-ravaged landscape.
It also builds on the mechanics of its predecessor, bringing back its trademark AI zombie hordes, open-world combat and crafting systems, this time with a much bigger scope.
"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," said Chris Carter, in a 7.5/10 Destructoid review.
"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."
"It looks and feels like the most ambitious Xbox 360 game ever made, and I'm fairly certain I mean that as high praise"Martin Robinson, Eurogamer
The familiarity to the first game is also noted by Martin Robinson in his Eurogamer recommended review, who said that Dying Light 2 is "a broad, brutal thing, occasionally rough-edged, yet for all its stumbles it is massively entertaining.
"Put a lot of that down to the fundamentals of the original, which provide the foundation and are here newly finessed. Underpinning Dying Light 2 is the same heavily pronounced day/night cycle: under sunlight the streets are speckled with the stumbling infected, while building interiors are awash with them; by night they come out and those streets are more ferocious still, and mere survival until sunrise becomes your priority, with safe houses and spots doused in UV light acting as respite."
While there's similarities between the two, critics agreed that Dying Light 2 is much bigger than its predecessor.
"It's light on innovation but Dying Light 2 has the scope and breadth of your modern AAA, rippling with systems and overwhelming in size," Robinson said. "It looks and feels like the most ambitious Xbox 360 game ever made, and I'm fairly certain I mean that as high praise."
Gamesradar's Leon Hurley agreed with this in his 3.5/5 review, and wrote, "You could easily spend 30 odd hours in Dying Light 2's opening area and walk away satisfied, without even realising there's another larger map to find and explore. So, yeah, it's big."
But while the game is ambitious in what it presents -- with Techland itself saying that it'll take 500 hours to complete everything -- some critics were left feeling disappointed with what the game actually offered for such an investment of time.
Keith Stuart also agreed with scope in his 2/5 review for The Guardian, but in this instance, size isn't a good thing.
"In its quest to go bigger, to be vast, to be endless, Dying Light 2 forgets that size doesn't matter when it comes to affecting entertainment," Stuart wrote.
"If all you want is a gigantic zombie-filled Skinner box crammed with loot and repetitive, incremental violence, Dying Light 2 absolutely works. Honestly, you'll love it. You can explore and level up and get into fights using increasingly powerful weapons, and the interlocking compulsion loops do their job of settling you into that grind. But oh for a moment of genuine surprise, a truly memorable line of dialogue, a spark of mechanical invention."
"In its quest to go bigger, to be vast, to be endless, Dying Light 2 forgets that size doesn't matter when it comes to affecting entertainment"Keith Stuart, The Guardian
On the subject of dialogue, many critics agreed that the writing and narrative performances in Dying Light 2 were underwhelming. Last year, Techland cut ties with former writer Chris Avellone following allegations of sexual misconduct.
"There are plenty of questionable performances, especially with side quest characters delivering lines that appear to never have been read out loud until they were recorded -- odd phrases and vocabulary choices that probably looked fine in print but sound weird and unnatural off the tongue," Gamesradar's Hurley said.
This was echoed by IGN's Travis Northup in a 7/10 review, describing the main plot as, "a story centred around a protagonist so uninteresting that he's all but (un)dead on arrival."
Stewart also agreed that the story was poor, and wrote, "This is a graphically impressive, professionally constructed world that desperately wants to give you stuff to do. So it's a pity that the narrative core of the experience is as dead as its stumbling zombie hordes."
"The characters and story threads are all tattered stereotypes of apocalyptic lore: we get the deranged general cut off from military order, the libertarian dudebro flourishing amid the chaos, the would-be messiah who imagines a socialist utopia rising from the ashes. But all their depth is delivered in a barrage of backstory and expository dialogue that tells us all about societal and emotional collapse - but shows us almost nothing."
Eurogamer's Robinson commented on how while Dying Light 2 offers player choices to make it seem like decisions make an impact, the result of that often comes up short. He says that choice is "somewhat paramount" in the game, and noted that the development of the city can change depending on who the player aligns with.
"Pick one side and they might strengthen up the defences on the infected-infested lower levels; pick another and you'll unlock more options up on the rooftops, with parkour equipment being put in place or putting big yellow trampolines on the streets that propel you skywards (why you wouldn't opt for the trampolines is beyond me)," Robinson wrote.
One redeeming aspect of Dying Light 2 appeared to be its traversal elements. As the game progresses, players can build up a parkour system which gives them more ways to move around the game's sprawling map.
"You'll leap from building to building, scale skyscrapers, and even swing around with a grappling hook with intuitive ease," IGN's Northup said. "Since the city streets are flooded with the undead by night and not-yet-dead bandits by day, sticking to rooftops quickly becomes one of the most intricate and high-stakes games of "The Floor is Lava" of all time -- and it's consistently entertaining even when you're just running from point A to point B."
Destructoid's Carter agreed, and said that "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."
"The parkour system really is the highlight of Dying Light 2, and carried the game across the finish line"Chris Carter, Destructoid
Even The Guardian's Stuart commented positively on the parkour system: "This was a hallmark of the first title, of course, and it's just as well implemented here. It never feels quite as good as, say, Insomniac's ludicrously instinctual Spider-Man, but navigating this intricate playground provides the game's strongest moments."
In all, Dying Light 2 presents a vibrant and sprawling open-world to get lost in, and an impressive traversal system to explore it all in detail. While those parts are somewhat enjoyable, disappointing narrative design and a lack of substance left some critics feeling like there wasn't a whole lot of detail to be discovered.
"There's a brutality to its breadth, to the vastness of its world -- this is the AAA experience served up with the subtlety and grace of a modified hammer to the head. It's rarely elegant, but it is most definitely enjoyable," concluded Robinson.
Gameradar's Hurley came to a similar conclusion on enjoying the core gameplay even where the story falls short.
"Simply careening around getting into zombie fights, uncovering things, picking up missions and activities is endlessly entertaining and it's almost a relief after the story's done to not worry about justifying any of it," Hurley wrote. "The world, and the things you can do in it, provide huge amounts of entertainment and there's plenty here I'm still going back to revisit. The undead fantasy is strong, even if the writing and characters don't always entice you to care too much about the living."
Meanwhile, Stuart concluded his review with a less positive sentiment: "Dying Light 2 hums not with mystery but with lethargy. I think maybe I'm done with the end of the world."