Dying Light 2: Stay Human review - Mutating in the right direction

Face the horrors of Villedor as the Pilgrim (Image via Techland)
Face the horrors of Villedor as the Pilgrim (Image via Techland)

Dying Light 2: Stay Human from Techland has been one of the hottest anticipated games ever since its reveal at E3 2018. The upcoming sequel to 2015's iconic open-world zombie survival game promises to go above and beyond the scope of the original. The title's release is close too.


Welcome to Dying Light 2's Villedor

Before we delve into the finer gameplay-oriented details of the game, it's time for a history lesson. Dying Light 2: Stay Human takes place 15 years after the original game's events. Those who have played the first Dying Light and the DLC expansion "The Following" should know that it ends on a less-than-happy note.

After that, the Harran virus managed to ravage most of the planet and the remnants of the human race were forced to take shelter in massive strongholds. One of these is Villedor or the City, where Dying Light 2: Stay Human occurs.

Players are Aiden Caldwell, a Pilgrim - bold travelers braving the perils of this post-apocalyptic scenario. After being plagued by relentless flashbacks about past events involving experiments done on him and his lost sister Mia as children, he sets out on a journey to uncover the truth.

Throughout the campaign, Aiden will encounter a variety of NPCs, most of whom belong to one of the two factions in the game: the Survivors and the Peacekeepers. The former is your standard commoner, trying to make ends meet in Villedor. The latter, meanwhile, is a force of military-style people who have their vision for the city.


It's a game of style and numbers

Inventory management is crucial (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)
Inventory management is crucial (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)

From the get-go, it's very obvious that Techland took their promise of RPG-fying the sequel seriously. Enemies now have visible health bars.

Aiden also has different equippable pieces - gloves, shoes, pants, etc. They all have other stats (including armor value for some) and are classified into four categories: Medic, Tank, Ranger and Brawler.

Medics focus on healing and parkour damage. Tank centers around being able to take hits and boost 2-handed weapon effectiveness. Rangers specialize in using ranged weapons (which, frankly, are unavailable for use until a decent while into the game). Brawler, meanwhile, is about quick one-handed reflexes.

I went with a mixture of Medic, Brawler and Tank. Ranger is pointless since most of the game is melee-centric. The rest of the inventory includes slots for Accessories - like UV Bars, Grenades, Decoys, Throwing Knives, etc.; Consumables - Medkits, Boosters (to aid Health or Immunity regen).

The Journal tab lets you keep track of missions with difficulty levels (called Ranks). Aiden himself can level up his Rank, allowing him to deal with higher rank enemies more easily. There's also a tab with all the collectibles you may encounter while exploring (e.g., Notes and Audio logs).

Meanwhile, the Crafting tab allows the crafting of useful items (like lockpicks) using the bits and scraps collected during exploration. Some items will require Aiden to possess the relevant blueprint before being crafted (like UV bars). Players can visit Craftmasters to upgrade their items and go to traders to sell and buy gear.


A grander sequel

The City is a parkour paradise (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)
The City is a parkour paradise (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)

Techland claimed a while back that Dying Light 2: Stay Human's open world will be a lot bigger than the original's Harran map - four times bigger. That seems to be the case.

The map is split into two main areas: Old Villedor and Central Loop. The former is a smaller, quieter patch of ruined buildings that have been reclaimed by nature. The latter is similar but instead home to intimidating peaks of skyscrapers which seem very daunting to conquer.

The core gameplay loop revolves around traversal via parkour and taking on zombies (also called infected) that try to chew your face off. Both areas are dotted with a series of activities to engage in.

Certain activities make a comeback from the first game: from parkour challenges and military airdrops to saving survivors in peril. But there are new ones too, like taking on unique bosses in GRE Anomaly areas or Bandit Camps to overtake.

Interestingly, places of interest will not be marked on the map. Instead, players must use the Binoculars to scout out structures, which are then added to the map. Additionally, structures throughout the map can be activated for different purposes.

Windmills, for example, unlock Faction Structures in the vicinity. They also act as Safe Zones for Aiden to rest, store gear and take up side quests. Fast Travel is handled via Metro Stations, which must be unlocked by clearing out foes residing there.

More Safe Zones are scattered around the map (often in the form of Nightrunner's Hideouts). I recommend players unlock as many spots with UV lamps as possible for reasons discussed later.


Changes big and small

Explore Dark Zones while leashed by the Immunity timer (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)
Explore Dark Zones while leashed by the Immunity timer (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)

Dying Light 2: Stay Human follows the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra, which works in its favor. Fast-paced parkour and zombie-head bashing action is what the original was known for and that spirit is retained here. However, there are many changes, some of which might not appeal to everyone.

Run and jump across the concrete jungles of the City (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)
Run and jump across the concrete jungles of the City (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)

Parkour and stamina: Aiden's moveset is more or less similar to Crane's from the first game. However, he does not have a dedicated sprint ability (not at the start, at least). Thankfully, the standard running speed is enough to evade zombies on a general level but does limit parkour to an extent.

The "grappling hook" also functions very differently. Now, it acts as a medium for swinging between spaces.

Parkour in Dying Light 2: Stay Human has a heavier feel than the original and that's in many ways dictated by stamina, which seems to run out relatively fast. Note that actions like climbing or ziplining consume stamina.

Dark Zones are nests for the Infected (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)
Dark Zones are nests for the Infected (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)

Night exploration: This will undoubtedly be a dealbreaker for some. No spoilers, but at a certain point in the game, an immunity timer activates for Aiden when away from sunlight (starting at five minutes). Usually during nighttime or when inside Dark Zones. Of course, the timer hitting zero results in the game ending.

The only way to replenish the timer without spending consumables is to rush to the nearest UV spotlight. That is exactly why I suggested activating as many UV-safe spaces as possible. Considering how big the open world is this time around, the timer system hinders the gameplay loop as the player needs to run back and forth between the objective and the haven of UV.

Beware of the Howlers (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)
Beware of the Howlers (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)

Chased by the horde: The brand new chase mechanic is another element that ties into night exploration in Dying Light 2: Stay Human. The infected roam around in more significant numbers on the streets during the nighttime. There's now a new enemy type to make things even more perilous called Howlers.

These skeletal-looking freaks are dotted around on street level and act as alarms that trigger on spotting Ade, following which a horde of zombies will be on his tail. There are four chase levels and each level adds more dangerous zombie types to the mix, including Volatiles (which no longer roam the streets like the first game). Another reason you'd need those UV-safe zones on standby.

Skills and leveling up: The skill tree is more simplified in Dying Light 2: Stay Human than the first. There are only two categories: Combat and Parkour. Most of them get the job done and there are even familiar ones like aerial takedowns. But it's hard not to feel let down by how some picks can be downright incremental, like separate skills for blocking and deflecting projectiles. Or faster-climbing speed.

Collect as many as you can to raise Aiden's stats (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)
Collect as many as you can to raise Aiden's stats (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)

The only way to increase base health and stamina is to acquire inhibitors. These are special items located in GRE crates around the map. Collecting three allows raising either health or stamina stat. This will also increase the timer count, so be on the lookout if you want to last longer in the dark.

Puzzle time: Occasionally, players will be required to solve "electricity re-routing" puzzles by connecting terminals with a wire that must be physically connected from point A to B.

There is a set length on the wire, so players will need to find the closest route to get to the opposite end using parkour. Aiden may also encounter locked safes, whose combination solutions are often based on logical or mathematical questions or riddles.


Testing positive

Despite some odd design choices, there's still a lot to like about Dying Light 2: Stay Human.

Old Villedor is serene yet teeming with horrors (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human
Old Villedor is serene yet teeming with horrors (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human

Open world: If the scope of Dying Light 2: Stay Human wasn't impressive enough, the visuals add to that grandeur. The vibrant color palette of Villedor is a stark contrast to Harran's grittier aesthetic. Due to the game's new lighting system (thanks to the brand new C-Engine), scenes are beautifully depicted even at lower settings.

The character models are detailed and so are the environments. From debris-strewn building interiors to rooftops brimming with flora, the density detail of each environment is remarkable. It is undoubtedly a visually stunning game.

The level design also makes for near seamless parkour throughout the game. A decent chunk of buildings have explorable interiors. Paired with the Paraglider that is unlocked later in the story (without which maneuvring around the towering buildings of the Central Loop will be impossible), parkour is a joy.

It's no Sunset Overdrive, which is another open-world zombie parkour title by developer Insomniac. But it's more exhilarating than the original, despite notable changes to how traversal works. The chase system is also a cool mechanic to test the player's parkour skills on the fly.

On a related note, I don't mind the Immunity timer. It becomes less of an issue as you gain more inhibitors. Plus, there are enough UV spots inside buildings to allow replenishing. Regardless, it's not just tense but also adds to the immersion that oozes from the rest of the game.

Arm yourself with a wide variety of tools and weapons (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)
Arm yourself with a wide variety of tools and weapons (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)

Combat: The melee action in Dying Light 2: Stay Human is fun and weighty, as expected. Like in the first game, the human enemies can be challenging to deal with, especially in groups of three or more.

The zombies involve the same types as the original, just different designs. There are a few new Infected, though, like the Banshee. Basic combat loop is about staggering enemies via parry to move in for attacks, dodging Power Attacks (enemy moves that cannot be countered) and utilizing the environment to your advantage.

Stealth is also a viable approach in some scenarios, mainly when raiding Dark Zones at night since most zombies are out of hiding at dusk or when conquering Bandit Camps. There are even dedicated Hiding Spots such as tall grass that let players sneak by or ambush unsuspecting foes. Weapons can once again be modded to give them new properties, like flame or shock.

Though I would be lying if I said some elements didn't devolve into mindless repetition for me. There's a bit of monotony from combat to puzzles that seep in eventually.

Even basic, organic open-world encounters fall prey to this. You wouldn't believe the amount of times I saw a person stuck on a rooftop at nighttime or witnessed funerals repeating the same lines. Thankfully, the addictive traversal adds much-needed spice to these pockets of blandness.

Hakon is one of the many NPCs you'll meet on your adventure (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)
Hakon is one of the many NPCs you'll meet on your adventure (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)

Narrative and characters: It follows the same design as the first game. While the initial "find what happened to your sister" trope was cliche, the game goes through interesting enough plot sequences that kept me engaged to find out more.

The set pieces that the main plot consists of are varied enough, involving a balanced dose of combat, exploration, parkour, puzzle-solving and occasional bits of chase or timed sequences.

Dying Light 2: Stay Human's cast of characters is equally memorable. From the eager Hakon and hot-headed Lawan to the mysterious Peacekeeper commander Jack Matt, they all possess fresh personalities.

They're also each well-acted and voiced. Best of all, though, each of them has their motive for engaging with Aiden and that's reflected in the next segment.

Choice, consequence, and action: Easily the game's most significant selling point right here. Many games promise to let players partake in actions that truly affect the game world, but Dying Light 2: Stay Human allows that.

For starters, your choices seem to make drastic changes in how an NPC or event may unfold in the grander scheme of things. For example, I unlocked one of the faculties and routed the power to one of the factions. Later, I had an NPC acknowledge my deed that I'd done it beforehand, including the fact that I handed it over to the opposing faction.

This isn't exclusive to just the main quest. I encountered a side quest that would decide the fate of one of the more notable characters you meet, so that's saying something.

It's hard for me to say exactly how much of this affects Dying Light 2: Stay Human's narrative in the long run because the developers have claimed that fans won't be able to see all the game has to offer on their first playthrough. Rest assured, it delivers on that promise.

This matter of choice is also seen in gameplay. Players can assign Faculties (like water or electricity stations) to either the Survivors or Peacekeepers. This doesn't just change the types of resulting structures and NPCs globally, but also has traversal and combat benefits.

Allocating more resources on the map to Survivors unlocks options to make traversal easier. Doing the same for Peacekeepers grants access to gameplay elements that help deal with infected easier.

All of this changes the world in a way that ties into the narrative and your actions. Not many games out there do this.

Co-operative action: Dying Light 2: Stay Human features a full-campaign co-op with four Aidens swinging about at once. Since co-op was unavailable for the vast majority of the review build, I can't comment on it. Expect a piece elaborating on this aspect of the game soon in the future.


Performance and sound

The game is a beauty, especially in scenes like these (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)
The game is a beauty, especially in scenes like these (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)

Dying Light 2: Stay Human was reviewed on PC with the following specifications:

  • Processor: Intel Core i5-8300H @3.9 GHz
  • RAM: 8 GB DDR4 @2333 MHz
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 4 GB
  • Storage: 500 GB NVMe SSD

Most of the review is based on the version 1.0.1 build of the game, following which a recent 1.0.2 update was released. At 768p Custom (Low-Med-High), settings on the aforementioned rig achieve an average of 30 FPS. There wasn't a moment where the game felt unplayable or janky.

It's undoubtedly well optimized. However, there are a handful of bugs and glitches. I mainly had a problem where only the item in the fourth slot in my consumables tab would be usable in gameplay. Thankfully, version 1.0.2 fixes these issues.

On the audio side of things, there's nothing extraordinary to report. Dying Light 2: Stay Human's soundtrack is decent, but there are no memorable tunes to be found here. The sound design is expectedly well handled, with echoes of survivors crying out for help or the guttural screams of a viral racing towards you being audible at a distance.


Conclusion

The night is coming (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)
The night is coming (Screenshot from Dying Light 2: Stay Human)

Dying Light 2: Stay Human is truly a majestic evolution of the first game that takes ambition to another level even among its AAA peers. Some of the risks developer Techland has taken steer the game in a direction that some fans may not appreciate. Change is not something many developers are comfortable with. Kudos to the team for that. It may tread the same ground as the first game in some areas, but there's still fun to be had here.

The world that Techland has crafted is bound to wow players, new and old. On that note, the campaign is at least twice as long as the first game. Given the developer's claims of players needing 500 hours to see all the game offers in multiple playthroughs (since your choices can entirely lock out paths for the rest of the story), it's not unexpected.

Fans of the original should buy this. If you're intimidated by the change, consider waiting for a discount on the price to sweeten the deal.

Final verdict (Image via Sportskeeda)
Final verdict (Image via Sportskeeda)

Dying Light 2: Stay Human

Reviewed On: PC

Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS5, XB1, XSX|S,

Developer and publisher: Techland

Release Date: February 4, 2022