It's been a long time since we've heard anything about Dying Light 2, and the world has changed a fair bit in the interim. Indeed, reminding ourselves of the game's E3 2018 reveal invokes memories of the pre-pandemic era, and Techland is well aware of that irony, given Dying Light's depiction of a world torn asunder by plague. Still, Techland is ready to talk about its sequel again, and more than happy to acknowledge that the last few years of development haven't exactly been smooth sailing.
"I think it's safe to say that all of us hoped we'd have fewer hurdles to overcome," says lead game designer Tymon Smektała, "but even though we faced some problems with the scope and ambition of the project, we didn't lose a day and kept pushing the game forward with each production milestone."
"We had to find an effective structure for the game, the right balance between gameplay and narrative, we had to deal with some pressure, but I think it made us wiser and more experienced as a team. The game also benefited a lot from that process, so thankfully we're now almost ready to start presenting it in a broader manner."
Back from the dead
Outriders review-in-progress: "A pulpy, pacey looter shooter with surprising levels of depth"
Smektała says that development of Dying Light 2 has been progressing "slowly but steadily" since Techland showed its last gameplay demo two years ago – six months before announcing that it would be delaying the game indefinitely from its Spring 2020 release window. According to the creative director, the delay gave the team more time to finesse Dying Light 2's unique narrative sandbox systems, in which its open world (known only as The City) changes in reaction to the choices players make as protagonist Aiden Caldwell.
"What surprised us was the complexity of the beast we've created," Smektała continues. "It's a game of choices, and each choice creates a different version of the game reality – which needs to be tested, balanced, etc. It's hard to single out one thing we improved during the time. The whole game got better, more focused, more polished. I'm especially amazed by our visual improvements."
"It also took us some time to finalize the design for City Alignment, a gameplay mechanic that allows you to shape the playable elements that appear in the game. At the early stages of the project, the mechanic was really complex, but then we realized we're not making a strategy game – and what we had was slowing the player's progress a lot. In the end the hard part was finding out how much of it we want to keep."
The challenges didn't end there. In January of last year, Techland held an opening party for its brand new, state of the art office in Wrocław, Poland. Two months later, lockdown was enacted across the country, and the team had to abandon its new space to begin working remotely. For the game's rendering director Tomasz Szałkowski, this adaptation to development from home meant turning his bedroom into "a NASA flight control center".
"There were often situations, especially at the beginning of the lockdown, that even after a whole day at work, when we felt that something still needed to be improved or fixed, we couldn't walk away from the computer. We certainly lack personal contact, and we miss each other, but frequent audio and video contact helps to some extent."
Techland is also now developing Dying Light 2 in an environment of new console generations. The sequel has always been pitched as a cross-gen title, but in the days before we knew anything concrete about the Xbox Series X and PS5, the studio could only talk in vague generalisations about how it was targeting the platforms. Szałkowski can now be more upfront about the ways in which Dying Light 2 will run on them, revealing that – similarly to many other cross-gen titles – Techland plans "to give the player the choice between enhancing quality or performance."
In other words, this means you'll be able to choose to play Dying Light 2 at a 4K resolution with ray-tracing enabled, or run the game at a silky smooth 60 frames-per-second. Given the action-RPG's focus on fast, improvised mobility across its urban landscape, the latter option seems like the obvious choice, but we're also tempted by the idea of being able to catch glimpses of our pursuers in real-time reflections of The City's dilapidated skyscrapers...
Light at the end of the tunnel
While Techland isn't ready to offer a release date for Dying Light 2 just yet, a recent teaser promised more details would be shared later this year. If the footage of various members of the team reading out angry tweets about the game's disappearance didn't make it clear, the studio is keenly aware of fan expectations for its sequel. All the more reason, Smektała says, to avoid pushing it out before it's ready. "Dying Light is our own IP and it's very precious to us. That's why we really want to make sure that all of the pieces of it fit one another."
Promising an open world innately intertwined with its branching tale of a society attempting to rebuild amidst the zombie apocalypse, recognising the sheer scope and scale of Dying Light 2 is all you need to understand why Techland is taking its time to fulfill its creative vision. The brief snippets of gameplay footage that were recently revealed are enough to keep us tide over for now, however, alongside the studio's promise of being more transparent about its development pipeline going forward. Silence may be a sensible strategy to avoid the infected, after all, but for Dying Light fans, the return of Techland's voice couldn't be more welcome.