It's a remarkable feeling, sprinting across rooftops with wild abandon. A horde of infected hot on your heels, clawing at whatever ridiculous outfit Dying Light 2 has spawned for your torso. In the daytime, there's a freedom to Dying Light 2's exploration that is truly exhilarating. Whether you're racing through decaying city streets, scrambling up splintering window ledges, or bounding between buildings, Techland has rendered such a compelling sense of movement and momentum in its first-person systems that you'd be forgiven for ignoring Aiden's quest for answers entirely. Caldwell has a past and the questions it is dredging up threaten to throw the City around him into turmoil, but screw it, there will still be routes to run should it all burn down around you.
Dying Light 2 shines brightest in the light of day, when you're free to move and explore with impunity. But by nightfall you learn a disappointing truth – it also has a tendency to stumble in the dark.
Fear of the Dark
I think that one of the most enjoyable aspects of Dying Light 2 is Old Villedor. It's the first of two large areas that you'll venture across throughout the campaign, and arguably the strongest at reflecting the core appeal of Dying Light as an experience. Old Villedor is such a playground, realistic and lived-in on the surface, but a pure product of haptic video game design upon closer inspection. It's a balanced space that's focused on letting you move, on keeping you moving, with minimal interruption – the sun always shining a bright HDR-imbued light on accessible running lines within your peripheral vision.
The second area is fun too, but more classically metropolitan. It's full of towering skyscrapers and layered vertical spaces – designed to showcase how the paraglider, and later, a grappling hook, can complement your movement abilities. If Old Villedor is the place to play out a parkour power fantasy, then The Central Loop is where Techland is able to flex its affinity for puzzle design. In this area, navigation requires lateral thinking, trading stomach-turning exhilaration for rewarding carefully weighted jumps and precise movements. It's still fun, but requires more considerable investment in the Parkour Skill Tree to settle into its rhythms – Active Landing, Far Jump, Firm Grip, Fast Climb, Tik Tak, and Enemy Jump are essential.
I love this side to Dying Light 2. In lieu of a Brink, Mirror's Edge, or Titanfall revival, Techland is serving up a type of experience I can't get elsewhere, and in a way that is arguably better than any of its predecessors in the first-person parkour space. The problem I've had while playing is that this side of Dying Light 2 is reduced come nightfall; it's where the game shifts its focus from expedient exploration to stealth and survival.
The day is for the survivors and the night is for the infected. That's what Techland spent the better part of three years communicating in the run-up to release. The game features a dynamic day/night cycle and, once darkness descends, your ability to move unimpeded is hindered by the mass of infected that begin to populate the world around you. Special-types alert hordes to your presence, pushing you to abandon your quest log and break cover for UV lights – the wash of the blacklight holding the living-nightmares, and the momentum of action, at bay.
It's during these periods of nightfall where Techland not so subtly changes the game out from under you. You're encouraged by an invisible hand to stop moving and start crouching. To leave the rooftops behind and to begin crawling slowly through emptying buildings for rare resources. You can fast-forward the world state back to daytime, but you'll need the crafting materials and weapons you loot in the night to help you survive an escalating difficulty curve. You have to spend time ransacking Dark Zones, navigating toxic GRE Facilities, surviving GRE Anomalies, and breaking open lockboxes until your brain begins to shut down, or your capacity to survive in the day will be severely weakened.
I understand why Techalnd has sought variety in this fashion, but the appeal of Dying Light 2 is reduced significantly when you aren't able to sprint freely. The stealth mechanics are poorly conceived and combat isn't interesting enough to survive encounters with a mass of rotting bodies. The idea, I suppose, is that you're supposed to play it safe at night and then make use of the movement systems to escape once it all goes to shit. The problem is that while navigation is easy enough when pathways are illuminated by light, where the streets are clear enough that you're able to quickly recover from mistakes with little penalty, there is friction in the pathfinding – and it's exposed most severely at night.
Occasionally, you'll struggle to scale pieces of the environment you know – or think, as is more likely the case – you should be able to. The last thing you need when you've got a level four horde chasing you to a safehouse is to be wrestling with a dwindling stamina bar because Aiden has suddenly decided he doesn't know how to clamber up a ledge. These frustrations are present in the day but they are minimized by the easy rhythms of exploration. At night, when the stakes are higher, any friction or impediment feels monumental.
The style of play that emerges under the cover of darkness doesn't spoil the fun that Dying Light 2 can offer when it's working at its best, but I did find myself longing to see the sunrise and starting to loathe the sunset – just not in the way that Techland intended.
Dying Light 2 The Only Way Out choices | Tell the truth in Dying Light 2 Cheers or make a deal | Help Hakon or leave him to die in Dying Light 2 Revolution? | Go to Aitor or Sophie in the Dying Light 2 Raid quest? | Keep a promise to Alberto or go to the center in Dying Light 2 Revolution | Dying Light 2 Meet the People of the Bazaar | Dying Light 2 Water Tower choice | Split the goods or fight in Dying Light 2 The Ball is in Your Court | Help Anderson or not in Dying Light 2 | Dying Light 2 radio tower | Dying Light 2 Juan choices | Dying Light 2 Aitor quest | Dying Light 2 True Friends