E3 2019: Dying Light 2 preview - Survival instincts

We got to see a gameplay demo of Dying Light 2 at E3 2019. Here are our thoughts.

1

A world where a zombie outbreak has completely leveled human civilization as we know it. During the day, humans fight amongst themselves for the remaining scraps of supplies and resources the world has to offer. When night falls, do everything you can to evade the clutches of the infected that flood the streets. This is the world of Dying Light 2. Developed by Techland, this survival game looks to raise the stakes in terms of story and gameplay.

A modern dark age

Several characters fleeing from burning buildings in Dying Light 2.

In Dying Light 2, you play as Aiden, an infected survivor just trying to see another day. Aiden is a brand new character that players will shape and mold in their own image. As the story unfolds, Decisions will be made that have clear ramifications on the world around you. This was a key talking point during the E3 demo. Players will constantly be met with moments in which they have to make a tough call. Some of these decisions will be much larger scale than others. For example, during the live gameplay demo we watched, Aiden had to decide whether to threaten a character or convince him in order to get what he wanted. The player chose to threaten him. Aiden got what he wanted, but the threatened character ended up pulling an alarm and alerting foes to Aiden’s location. We were told that things would’ve gone differently had Aiden opted to be more reasonable. These decisions will come in several different forms. This includes killing/sparing characters, destroying structures, and choosing who you trust.

Although Aiden has several different people that he works alongside and may consider allies, he holds no allegiance to any of the seven factions of survivors scattered across the map that’s four times bigger than that of the first game. Instead, his relationships with said factions vary depending on your actions. These systems were well exemplified during the demo.

When the gameplay demo begins, Aiden is in the bathroom of a tavern hallucinating, struggling to maintain his consciousness. Without context, you’d assume Aiden was high on party drugs. However, we already know that Aiden has been infected with the disease responsible for the zombie like creatures everywhere. It’s safe to assume this is the cause for his behavior in the bathroom. Shortly after exiting the bathroom, Aiden speaks with Jaun and Matt, two characters that appear to be in his circle of allies. It’s determined that you should go and help Frank (another ally) in his negotiations with the Renegades, one of the factions in Dying Light 2. You head outside but before you can even get to the location, Chaos breaks out below.

Taking matters into your own hands

Aiden jumps down and lands on an enemy, kicking off a full sequence of combat gameplay. The fight is brutal and grounded. When enemies walloped Aiden, he’d crash hard into the ground. In these cases, an opponent would pounce on Aiden, triggering a quick-time event where the player must repeatedly press a button to avoid death and get back on their feet. The player doing the live demo was using a modded melee weapon. The customizations done to this weapon caused for some devastating blows. On a couple of cases, we see the heads go flying off of members of the Renegades.

When things wrap up, a small handful of enemies escape in a car. Just a moment later, Aiden realizes that Frank was shot in all of the commotion. Players are then prompted to choose between staying with Frank, or chasing after those who wounded him. There were only five seconds to make a decision, and the player opted to chase after the Renegades. Later on in the demo Aiden is informed that Frank died from the injuries he suffered. We were then told by a developer that perhaps Frank’s fate would’ve been different had we stayed with him. This just further drives home the idea of choice and branching story arcs. In fact, after the demo was over, we were told that after one full completion of the story, it’s possible that, we’ll only have seen 50% of the content Dying Light 2 has to offer. Many adventure games feature player decisions, but all roads end up leading to a similar outcome. It’ll be fascinating to see if Dying Light 2 truly delivers on its promise once we get our hands on the full game.

During the sequence in which Aiden chases after the Renegades, we’re exposed to the biggest component of Dying Light 2’s open world - traversal. First and foremost, Aiden has a grappling hook. This nifty device opens up several new and dynamic ways to move around the map. We see the grappling hook used to climb up to a vantage point, and then used like a swing to propel Aiden into the air. He then paraglided to a nearby rooftop. Aiden’s daredevil antics don’t stop there. We see him wall running, pole jumping, and doing other acrobatic moves that would surely solidify him as a gold medal athlete. Although it seems like a stretch, Aiden’s wide range of physical abilities make world traversal look fun. The parkour action came to a screeching halt when aiden falls several stories into a den of infected.

Zombieland

The infected in Dying Light 2 are harshly weakened by UV rays.

I had almost forgotten that Dying Light 2 was a zombie game until Aiden tumbled several stories into the bottom level of an abandoned building. With this mission taking place during the day time, the infected were nowhere to be found, seeing as they are incredibly weakened and harmed by the UV rays given off by the sun. It was pitch black in this building, and things quickly flipped to a horror game when the player found himself surrounded by a pack of disgruntled infected. He immediately began swinging his weapon around at them, but after taking out a few infected, it breaks. This was a quick moment during the demo, but confirms a major survival aspect of Dying Light 2 - the weapons have durability.

Out of weapons, Aiden’s back is against the wall as the group of zombies close in. The player then whips out a portable UV light and waves it around. The infected are incapacitated long enough for Aiden to make his escape. The combat and traversal scenes also show off how stamina will work in Dying Light 2.  The stamina bar is depleted when climbing, jumping, fighting, etc. We didn’t see a specific moment that spotlights what happens if you completely run out of stamina, but I picture it won’t end well for Aiden if he tries to pull of one of his stunts while out of gas.

Lastly, Dying Light 2’s story can be played alone, or entirely online with up to four player co-op. You can join one of your friends games and play through their story and vice versa. When playing in another players game, you will see how the decisions they’ve made throughout the story have shaped their world to look quite differently than yours. The developers also confirmed to me that playing co-op will have cross progression. If you find a sweet weapon while adventuring in a friends world, you’ll keep the weapon when you return to your own game. When in another players game, they drive the stories and make all of the narrative decisions. This compromises the sense of choice that the developers want all players to have, but is a sacrifice that they were willing to make for the sake of online play.

Conclusion

Aiden paraglides towards an enemy below.

Overall, Dying Light 2 looks like a promising game that builds on the survival and action elements of its predecessor. The new forms of infected and their redesigned patterns of behavior make for some moments that feel like a straight up horror game. I didn’t get to play the game myself, so it’s hard to tell if the combat and mobility feels as fluid as it looked. Dying Light 2 definitely talks the talk, and I can’t wait to see if it can walk the walk when it releases on Xbox One, PS4, and PC in Spring 2020.

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. Donovan is currently studying broadcast journalism at Bowie State University with hopes to join the Shacknews team full time after graduation. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

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