Techland's Dying Light 2 envisions a Modern Dark Ages that is brutal, primal and merciless, where survivors 15 years after the outbreak of infection attempt to restore some semblance of order to a collapsed European city. Although devastated, decaying and still dangerous, there are opportunities to help the city rise from the ashes.
The pre-alpha demo that the developer explored at E3 covers the same territory as the trailer, however, it adds detail in between some of the more cinematic moments on display. This early part of the game follows the main character as he acquaints himself with this new city, which is four times the size of all maps combined from the original game.
There are new areas, quests, activities and characters throughout the city, including factions that command respect in exchange for goods and services. But how factions are treated has a much greater impact than merely one's access to goods and services. The choices one makes in this regard could alter the city's course and help decide its fate.
The mission on display in the demo involves discovering the fate of a Peacekeeper emissary who went missing while visiting a rival faction at their water tower. The journey there highlights the game's platforming and combat options, including the freedom of movement available to players. The city itself was designed as a parkour playground.
Dying Light 2 features twice as many parkour moves as its predecessor, and many will come in handy while traversing the city and its environmental puzzles. This is where the game's day/night duality comes into play. One key consideration is the infected, who mostly sleep in buildings during the day to avoid the sun, which has weakened those outside.
The buildings they inhabit therefore have not been looted to the degree others have, so returning to them at night when the infected are outside can yield precious items. Sometimes, however, entering might be worthwhile during the day to avoid areas outside where the player is outnumbered by gangs. But the risk is in waking them with noise or light.
In one such sequence, the developer took a shortcut through a building only to discover a hoard of resting infected in a scene straight out of I Am Legend. One misstep alerted them to his presence, and a quick sprint through the building, down a corridor and out the window put some distance between him and that danger but there are few safe havens in this setting.
Shortly thereafter, another gang is encountered but this time there's an opportunity to take them out one by one. A lone enemy is quickly dispatched with a silent takedown from behind. Then a pole is found and used as an improvised spear to impale the next victim. In this way, using the environment can be a boon to combat, as various items can be turned into weapons.
These kills highlight how combat is more tactical, but what comes next demonstrates how desperate combat can become when up close and personal. Alerted by the last kill, enemies attack. Characters take big swings at each other, trading blows that stagger or injure, reeling under successive hits. The game's brutal melee combat reminds me of Condemned, which had some of the best fighting in any video game.
Soon others emerge from the building they were looting and our character is forced to flee. This sequence highlights the quick reflexes and environmental interaction Dying Light is known for, as our character sprints, scales building facades, leaps across gaps between buildings, swings and otherwise traverses the dense urban landscape to outrun foes including archers.
Sometimes platforming is less urgent but no less challenging. Scaling an interior can involve stringing together parkour moves while monitoring declining stamina. Such sequences remind me of Prince of Persia and showed off a wall run, monkey bar and leap, or a wall run, water pipe climb, shinny and pipe climb. Some moves are physics based, such as swinging from a hanging object.
Whether platforming or combat, gameplay in Dying Light 2 is designed to be deep and tactical. What players choose to do will also impact how the game unfolds. Veteran writer Chris Avellone (Fallout: New Vegas, 2017's Prey) is crafting what the developer describes as a narrative sandbox, which evolves with player choices.
For instance, helping the Peacekeepers restores some semblance of law and order locally, and even frees up water for our character (a precious commodity that also heals). However, they rule with an iron fist. On the other hand, helping their rivals at the water tower results in a thriving black market for goods and weapons, but also more chaos and human suffering.
In addition, new groups and people can appear and take the narrative in a different direction. All this reinforces that player choices have genuine consequences. Combined with more deep and tactical action in the form of brutal melee combat and a massive parkour playground, Dying Light 2 looks to surpass its excellent predecessor in significant ways.
It's worth noting that the pre-alpha build that forms the basis for the demo and the trailer is well-polished. Level design, including interactive elements, are well-conceived; textures and draw distance are impressively detailed; lighting is well crafted; animations for the environment and characters are smooth and realistic; and voice acting, dialog and syncing combine for solid performances. To top it off, the framerate holds solid.
As a glimpse of the intense action that Dying Light 2 offers, the demo satisfies with choreographed movement -- platforming, combat, objects or people in the environment, even framerate -- that forms the basis for a unique ballet of player agency amid a tale of desperate survival. And it's why Dying Light 2 is my favorite game seen at this year's E3.
(SEE "ABOUT" PAGE FOR LINKS TO SPECIFIC BLOGS.)