Dying Light Review: Zombie Nation

Techland is once again dipping into the first-person zombie-killing genre with Dying Light. Find out if you should sharpen up your virtual machete once again to take on hordes of undead, of if you should just curl up and die in our review.

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Techland is no stranger to developing first-person action games that revolve around killing thousands upon thousands of zombies. The Dead Island series provided plenty of horde-killing mayhem all its own. As a fan of the series, hearing that it was working on another zombie game with more freedom of mobility through the use of parkour made me sit up and take notice. 

Dying Light is a culmination of Techland’s past experience with the zombie-killing genre that feels like a natural evolution at times, while also feeling like the studio could fine tune some areas in order to reach the pillar of excellence fans know the studio could attain. What's left is a spiritual successor to the Dead Island series that takes two steps forward and two steps back.

Dead Country

In Dying Light, players assume the role of undercover operative Kyle Crane, who has been sent by the GRE to infiltrate the quarantined city of Harran as survivors fight to survive the infected. Crane finds the city has been broken up into two separate factions: Runners and Bandits. Both factions fight for precious resources while Crane himself is torn between completing the mission he was sent for and protecting Harran’s survivors.

Techland was largely criticized for their B-movie style of storytelling for its Dead Island series. While Dying Light doesn’t offer as many moments that are perfect for eye rolling, the story is still hokey as there were some moments that I gave an audible sigh in response to its story. One piece of the story that stuck out in particular was learning your leader used to be a parkour instructor, which is why a lot of members of the group are able to perform it, including Crane. Crane’s response? “Wait - you’re responsible for this? You saved everybody’s lives with your lessons!”

As you make your way through Harran, you’ll be given the opportunity to upgrade Crane in one of three categories: Survival, Agility, and Power. Both Agility and Power skills can be unlocked as you perform more parkour moves or attacks. Survival skills, on the other hand, can be earned through story progression, completing side missions, or completing other tasks around Harran.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

When Crane first starts out, he’s pretty weak compared to his evolution into a lean, mean, zombie-killing machine. By unlocking abilities within the three skill trees, Crane will be able to move around at a faster pace, exert less energy when performing melee attacks, and be able to carry more weapons inside of his backpack. Even though Dying Light attempts to keep its gameplay balanced through these three major skill categories, I still felt using Crane’s parkour skills was the best course of action considering the weapons are even less durable than they were in Dead Island.

In Dying Light, Techland decided to change how weapons degrade and how you upgrade them. Instead of having to run to a workbench to tweak your weapons, you’re now able to fix, upgrade, and modify your weapons while on the go. This is a great improvement over Dead Island’s methods as there was nothing more annoying than having all of your weapons broken and no workbench in sight. On the other hand, Techland decided to allow weapons to only be fixable a set number of times. Early on in the game, I was very selective with what I attacked as my weapons were only able to be repaired two or three times, at most. As Crane is upgraded, I was able to unlock a skill that gave me a better chance of a fix not counting towards a weapon’s limited number of fixes. As helpful as that is, it’s still a major annoyance to have a weapon I worked so hard to upgrade and modify into the ultimate zombie- and bandit-killing machine to only wither away into nothing just because I favored using it.

Speaking of killing things, Dying Light has a large number of enemies that you can beat, blow up, and cut down, with an equal variety. You’ll fight your standard zombies, known as Biters, Runners, which are much more agile, heavy zombie types that require more effort to take down, and the most terrifying: Volatile. The Volatile is the main reason why I felt a bit of real anxiety when I ventured out at night as they’re extremely fast, agile, and ferocious when attacking humans. Thankfully, Dying Light rewards players with twice the agility and power earning power when you travel at night, although you’ll probably die way more in the process. There are more infected enemies you can encounter, but you can find those out for yourself when you play Dying Light.

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join' Em

Dying Light includes a special multiplayer mode called Be the Zombie, an asynchronous 4v1 game mode that pits up to four survivors against one player-controlled Volatile. The survivors need to work together to destroy five hives, while it’s up to the Volatile to stop the survivors from doing so.

As the Volatile, you’ll be able to unlock a number of skills as you kill survivor after survivor that will make you even more deadly than you were before. You’ll be able to spit a corrosive liquid, attract Biters and Runners by spitting out bile, and you can tackle survivors, among other things. As devastating as the Volatile is, it’s extremely weak and can be taken down by a few swings of melee weapon. It also doesn’t help survivors are equipped UV flashlights that can sap the Volatile’s power if he’s caught in the ray.

I found Be the Zombie to be really fun, especially if you play as the Volatile and know exactly how to fight as one. As much freedom as the player has with their parkour abilities, the Volatile is able to move much faster, jump much higher, and use tendrils to pull himself across great distances. And just like the main campaign, your Volatile only gets better the more you play as him and unlock skills.

Good Luck Indeed

As someone who enjoyed both Dead Island games, warts and all, Dying Light certainly feels like a vast improvement. The inclusion of parkour allows the player to be much more agile than they were in Dead Island, which helps in giving them a better escape plan if they get in the middle of an undead pickle. The variety in infected also kept me on my toes, and missions that needed to be carried out at night required me to pop an extra Zoloft to help from having a complete breakdown.

Unfortunately, Techland is still unable to deliver a story worth telling. I didn’t feel any emotional attachment to any of the characters, nor did I care if they ended up surviving or not. The addition of an overall weapon durability was also something I could have done without as I prefer to cut down my enemies without having to worry whether or not my weapons will disintegrate in my hands.

Senior Editor

Review for
Dying Light

7

Pros

  • Parkour is freeing
  • No more workbenches
  • Night time can be anxiety inducing
  • Playing as a Volatile in "Be the Zombie"

Cons

  • Story isn't interesting
  • Weapons slowly disintegrate
  • Crane feels extremely underpowered early on

From The Chatty

  • reply
    February 3, 2015 7:00 AM

    Daniel Perez posted a new article, Dying Light Review: Zombie Nation

    • reply
      February 3, 2015 7:28 AM

      I'm thinking this is one of those games that will split people on what they think about it, depending on what they've played. I've pretty much skipped the entire zombie/survival genre. Tried Day Z for a while, too broken. The rest I've not even tried. So, for me, the zombie/survival aspect actually feels rather fresh, as strange as that is after years and years of zombie games. At the same time I can totally see someone going bleh pretty quickly if the parkour is the only fresh aspect in the concept compared to Dead Island/whatever.

      I agree with most of the criticism in the review. The weapons breaking after a few swings is really just annoying. If you want to make me play with varying equipment and style, then reward me for doing so - don't take my toys away from me, that's a cheap way out. I also agree that the players character is frustratingly weak at the beginning of the game. Several missions became a frustration as I didn't have the right equipment with me, and didn't want to go back to base, with no quick travel and all. That said, the more I've played, the more the game has enabled me, and that's often a sign of a game that I'll end up looking back at with more love than I'm feeling right now.

      I'm ok with the story, but then again I've never been one to care that much about stories in games outside of straight out RP games and the likes of TLOU.

      Oh, and put bluntly, the violence is just about the most brutal violence I've seen in a video game. Not because it does or shows things that other games such as Shadow of Mordor don't, but because there's this immense "impact" to the hits you deliver. The animations, sound and controls work really, really well together to deliver that feeling of actually hitting something in a way that hurts. The beast within me is pleased.

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        February 3, 2015 8:26 AM

        I've played a lot of it since release. Nearly level 12 across the board and I 'get' the systems now.

        At the beginning of the game the available weapons are terrible, and their durability is terrible. You also chew through them faster based on not having anything invested in the skill tree.

        Everything starts scaling when you start leveling up. New zombies appear, far stronger weapons appear, and when you get the right skills you won't be chewing through weaponry. I've been using the same decked out garden scythe for two hours now and it still has 2 repair opportunities.

        The systems generate invisible peaks and valleys of difficulty. There are times when you are an unstoppable headstomper. When you hit level 7-8 across all three trees, the zombie hordes start getting A LOT more aggressive. Climbing, spitting, poisoning, EXPLODING. The past two hours I played were really frustrating until I managed to unlock an XP multiplier for my combat skills. It's a gate. Without it the grind is awful, with it you suddenly spring forwards in that tree again, renewing your ability to kill en masse.

        It's also a game that does not reward you for hoarding. Have 30 molitovs and are still beating zombie heads with a pipe? Dumb. Use what you have and you progress far faster.

        The violence is indeed intense. The turbo zombies are part human / part zombie, and scream STOP STOP when you start beating the shit out of them. It's pretty ugly.

        I am willing to say that this verges on Skyrim with zombies.

        • reply
          February 3, 2015 8:51 AM

          Thanks for your input. This comment might have convinced me to go ahead and get it. I just care about replayability. Like, that urge when I get home from work and the gym and just want to bash in zombie faces would be nice.

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      February 3, 2015 8:35 AM

      ugh why are they so attached to the weapon durability mechanic. that alone will keep me from buying it and it's the thing that kept me from finishing Dead Island or ever picking it up again after release.

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        February 3, 2015 8:56 AM

        Has not been an issue so far. Maybe in the first hour. Typically I'm replacing a weapon with something better before I run out of repairs.

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          February 3, 2015 8:58 AM

          hmmm that's good news. sounds like the durability isnt too bad relative to dead island

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          February 3, 2015 9:15 AM

          Yep, I agree. However, there are a couple of weapons (Machete) that doesn't have a repair function. Once it's used, it's gone.

          I do think it would be great to be able to repair broken items with certain items you can find so you're not always having to create new ones.

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            February 3, 2015 12:16 PM

            This isn't all Machetes, only special things like the Korek Machete and other special weapons.

            I'm currently running with a machete called Tahir's Weapon, and it had like 4 repairs.

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            February 3, 2015 2:06 PM

            I have not found a single item I felt compelled to keep. The game keeps dropping better weapons all the time, and I've taken to ditching weapons that aren't even close to being broken because I can make a better one with a new drop at a new level.

            I really, really do not understand people's complaints with durability in this game.

        • reply
          February 3, 2015 1:58 PM

          yeah, I pretty much discard weapons before they are done. There's no shortage so it keeps it fun. I am kinda surprised they didn't put in some mechanic to allow you to "repair" at the vendor or something when it's done. They could make it expensive or whatever.

      • reply
        February 3, 2015 9:35 AM

        I'm going to have to agree that it's not that bad. There are so many weapons to be had you have a feeling on which ones to upgrade. Once you get all the inventory slots it helps too. I thought I was going to be pissed about it as well, but it's a pleasant surprise that it's more than tolerable.

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          February 3, 2015 9:38 AM

          alright then i think i'll have to get this

          • reply
            February 3, 2015 10:57 AM

            Check for GMG coupon. Hopefully still active.

      • reply
        February 3, 2015 10:04 AM

        It's a complete non-issue for me so far. Weapons are plentiful and it's not hard to find upgrades from your current weapons.

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        February 3, 2015 10:10 AM

        Its annoying, but 2 hours in you can carry like 12 weapons, and you get a dice roll for infinite repairs (on the move). So its really not bad.

        You get so many damn weird weapons u will be constantly switching

      • reply
        February 3, 2015 11:11 AM

        Enough weapons drop early on that it's a non issue. Later you get skills that slow down durability loss, but also still get a steady stream of new weapons. It's not nearly as much of a hassle as it was in DI.

    • reply
      February 3, 2015 9:28 AM

      Weapon degradation is really not a concern. Once you get past the idea that you only use one weapon, then you stop worrying about durability. I'm up to level 16 now and there are so many weapons that I only choose "orange" level items. I've never had a weapon completely lose its durability the entire game; something better always comes along.

      The only thing I wish was more prevalent are weapon upgrades. I want those +2 or 3 modifiers. I only get the really good ones about once or twice an hour even at this stage (weapons have 3 slots for these).

      • reply
        February 3, 2015 9:50 AM

        Yep, there's always something new I want to make or that I find. Weapons get deconstructed or sold before they wear out for good.

    • reply
      February 3, 2015 9:38 AM

      So this game is basically Dead Island with better graphics?

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        February 3, 2015 9:52 AM

        Nope.

        + Parkour
        + Extremely scary night time play
        - Workbenches
        - Islands

      • reply
        February 3, 2015 9:52 AM

        I'd say that is an excellent description. It is the same developer that did Dead Island after all.

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        February 3, 2015 10:13 AM

        That's not a bad description, it really is a vastly improved Dead Island in a better engine. Dying Light is a proper sequel even if it doesn't have the name. If you liked Dead Island, or liked the idea of Dead Island but found the game too janky in one way or another, or didn't have a way to play coop and found SP too boring, Dying Light might be what you want.

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        February 3, 2015 10:13 AM

        Yep, dead island with climbing dynamics.

        Better art and animation. Facial animation is still very meh, but the voice acting is actually decent.

        Little bit better fleshed out world. But to me, the game feels like far cry 3/4 with zombies and no vehicles. Its almost creepy how similar alot of the feel is.

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        February 3, 2015 10:22 AM

        sounds like dead island with parkour, better durability mechanics, and more of everything

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        February 3, 2015 11:15 AM

        A large part of Dead Island was the class system, and that's been entirely removed. Everyone has the same 3 skill trees but can branch out as they choose.

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          February 3, 2015 1:59 PM

          and you basically max all the trees, there isn't any trade-offs.

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            February 3, 2015 2:05 PM

            If you play co-op with other people, there will be instances of differing strengths and weakness/general abilities, but yeah, if you play enough, you'll all reach the same end point.

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              February 3, 2015 6:28 PM

              yeah I'm playing with my buddy and I've way outleveled him, he's fine joining my game for story progress, but he's using weapons that do like 80-100 damage, whereas I have a couple items I built up that are 1 hand and do north of 500

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        February 3, 2015 11:45 AM

        From what I've seen, it's the Crysis to Farcry 1. Same developer, different engine, different design, but if you liked Far Cry 1, then you might like Crysis.

        • reply
          February 3, 2015 1:31 PM

          So... if I got my math right... you're recommending Dying Light?

    • reply
      February 3, 2015 10:53 AM

      Anybody on PSN with this game? I want to try coop a little.

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      February 3, 2015 1:06 PM

      I still cant believe I got this game for $20 during the gamestop goof. On top of that PSN gave me the season pass for free. Loving it so far. Wish the co-op didnt disconnect me all the time though.

    • reply
      February 3, 2015 2:07 PM

      I just picked this up on PC. I've only just finished playing through the intro.

      Anyone have good tips for noobs?

      • reply
        February 3, 2015 2:14 PM

        Don't worry about weapons, the game basically shits out better ones all the time as you level.

        Don't worry about ammunition, once you get to a point where you can buy guns, they stores will also stock ammunition for them. It is infinite, but there are "restocking" periods (which are easily overcome by just finding more vendors and buying their stock of bullets).

        Don't worry about using too many mods. While rarer than weapons, the game will give you plenty of them. If still isn't enough to alleviate your usage woes, just use the non-coloured ones and save blues/purps/oranges.

        At the start, buy crafting components from vendors if you like to make shit all the time.

        Skills that unlock killing finishers or special evades will change how you interact with enemies entirely, and are generally super fun/useful.