Dying Light was a funny old game. Mostly passed over by indifferent critics, it went on to pick up a considerable following who were more forward in their praise - chief among them being none other than the legend Fumito Ueda, a man of impeccable taste who in naming it his game of 2015 always made me curious to go back for more. I only ever briefly sampled Techland's parkour-infused follow-up to Dead Island, enjoying its cornball combat and open world full of athletic opportunities for half a dozen hours before moving on to pastures new.
Dying Light 2 looks like it'll do a lot more to get its hooks into passing players like myself. After several delays - and coming up to some seven years since the original launched - Techland recently offered a sizable chunk up to press to play. After four hours with a couple of generous segments of Dying Light 2's campaign, I'm certainly keen to get stuck in for plenty more.
So what's changed? Set 20 years after the events of the original Dying Light, the sequel introduces all-new protagonist Aiden Caldwell. It's an anonymous name for a lead character who seems like something of a blank slate (even if it is a fully voiced role, with Jonah Scott's performance completely nondescript), though I think that's intentional as Dying Light 2 puts its story firmly into your hands. This is a game world rich with rival factions for you to pick your path between, and branching storylines backed up by dialogue choices, all of which inform and influence the world around you.
Those small tweaks make a big impact on Dying Light, making for a much more immersive experience. Our time with Dying Light 2 kicked off in Old Villedor, a ramshackle and very much run down section of the game's vast map. Indeed, it's one of seven sections of a map that's supposedly four times larger than that of the original Dying Light, and even after three hours poking around it felt like there was plenty still left to see.
All that breadth would count for nothing if it wasn't backed up by some depth, and Dying Light 2 really delivers here on multiple fronts. A ramshackle bazaar acts as a sort of hub, and it's where you'll find shopkeepers as well as quest givers. Some will send you out into the wilds of the city with a simple fetch request, while others offer up questlines that can get a little more complicated.
The backbone of our time in and around Old Villedor was supplied by two bickering factions who set you about their busywork, while using you as a pawn in their own conflict. Through conversation choices and your own decisions about whether you take on certain missions or not, you're given a fair amount of agency in how things play out - and key moments are given urgency by a system similar to Telltale games and the Life is Strange series, where your hand is forced as there's limited time to make big decisions.
It's compelling stuff, and is another aspect of what was already an enjoyably multi-faceted game. Step away from the main story and there's still plenty to do in Dying Light 2, from open world staples like bandit camps to scout and conquer, windmills to scale so that you can unlock safe zones and items to be collected and crafted. Just like its predecessor, Dying Light 2 is governed by a day/night cycle that's more pronounced than in many other open world games by the fact that when the sun sets things get a lot more lethal. There's a brilliant sense of threat once night rolls in and you sprint from one mob of undead to another, and it's backed up by the series' brilliant parkour mechanics.
Getting from A to B in Dying Light remains a delight. It can make even the most mundane fetch quest feel like fun, as you pounce up on rooftops and leap athletically to your next objective. I can't pretend to be too much of an expert on the original's parkour to tell you precisely where improvements have been made, but there's noticeably more animations helping sell the spectacle and what I can say is that after a hefty amount of time with Dying Light 2 its traversal never let me down. Having a parkour mechanic that's both dynamic and dependable is no mean feat at all.
Dying Light 2 mixes up the formula a little too with the introduction of a paraglider - something I got the smallest of tastes of in the latter section of the preview offered up. As opposed to the more ramshackle, old world feel of Old Villedor, this section took place in the urban Central Loop that's full of towering city buildings. They're the perfect thing to paraglide off, of course, picking up thermals spouted up from spinning vents upon their rooftops.
Down on the ground there are some wonderful setpieces in the midst too - at one point in the main questline you infiltrate an enemy camp in search of some all-important crystals, stealthily taking down human enemies with necksnaps from within the shadows, only for the silent approach to go suddenly loud when a gargantuan zombie goon crushes through the wall. It's heartrate-raising stuff - and even if that doesn't do it for you, it's always entertaining landing a crunchy blow on a zombie skull with a bit of lead pipe.
What's really impressive about our time with Dying Light 2, though, is how Techland's made a world that's really rewarding to explore. The deeper story options make for a richer world, and a better sense of the catastrophe that unfolded beneath the rubble as well as the struggles of those still trying to piece that world together. It's got back some of that rough charm of Dead Island that wasn't such a big part of the original Dying Light, and it takes it to some interesting places too. It might be coming up to seven years since the original for Techland's follow-up to finally release, but if our hours with Dying Light 2 are any indication it's going to have been well worth the wait.