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‘Dying Light 2’: A Tense, Dark, Grim Game

Dying light 2” wants to force you to make, substantive, difficult choices you won’t be able to take back.

At E3 2019, “Dying Light 2” developer Techland is emphasizing the scale of consequences on the table in their long-in-development sequel to 2014’s “Dying Light.” “Dying light 2’s” main character, Aiden Caldwell (voiced by Troy Baker), will have numerous scenarios put in front of him that might lead not just to character deaths, but also the destruction, or, in some instances, the addition, of new locales, with new effects on the the generically “European” setting of The City.

Granted, in this case, The City is an appropriate name for what may well be the last human settlement on Earth after the events of “Dying Light.” The infection from that game spread beyond the quarantined city that contained it, wiping out most of the Earth’s population. Now, the survivors live precariously — everyone in the city is infected, barely keeping the disease at bay, and slowly running out of resources, particularly water. As Techland’s E3 demo begins, Aiden meets with one group of NPCs that run an independent enclave whose reservoirs are about to go dry, forcing them to make an uneasy truce with a militarized band of survivors sitting on the city’s last source of water.

This being an action adventure game, nothing is ever, ever allowed to go right, and, of course, things go sideways, forcing Aiden to make decisions about whether to chase after a group of assassins or seek medical attention for a leader of the enclave, and Techland quickly made it clear that Aiden’s decisions here are life or death.

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I’ll stop here to say that “Dying light 2’s” tone and content is, from what I’ve seen, more or less what you might expect from the trailers, or its aesthetic. It’s a very tense, very dark, very grim game, and while there’s a lot of very beautiful tech on display here — from some environmental destruction, some impressive lighting and shadow effects as Aiden falls into the depths of a sealed off building full of infected and struggles to make it out alive — it looks even more oppressive and brutal than the last game.

There is, at least, a fair bit of improvement to the original game’s melee combat mechanics. There are more options and a greater sense of reaction and response to enemy attacks. Dodging, when timed right, slows things down, allowing Aiden to deliver killing blows that, to be blunt, cut things off of people even more than in the original game. The weapon mod and crafting system returns, allowing Aiden to, say, electrify a machete to more efficiently chop down … well, who or whatever. But, as in “Dying Light,” weapons break quickly, so getting used to any one thing doesn’t seem like the greatest idea.

“Dying Light 2’s” larger city is traversable much more fluidly than in the previous game, by all indications. The limited clambering over obstacles and jumps of “Dying Light” have been joined by full-on parkour moves like wall running and jumping, and the grappling hook, which was previously buried under hours of progression to unlock, now seems available much earlier. Techland also showed off a paraglider that allowed Aiden to move across the city much faster.

This is all good news. The best parts of “Dying Light” were both its basic traversal and the giant structures that served as platforming puzzles of a sort, and the level of sophistication with which Techland is approaching that aspect seems roughly on par with its combat upgrades. Even combat avoidance seems similarly important and more developed — Aiden can approach an infected and sort of leap upward off of it, or, say, shoulder tackle one off of the roof of a building, using it to break his fall safely-ish. There’s also just the slightest hint of “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” type dynamics at play as well. Climbing and opening some doors requires stamina, and some require more stamina than Aiden might have, making areas inaccessible until the player can upgrade Aiden’s conditioning.

There’s a lot more to chew on here, from much more sophisticated character interactions and conversation trees to more varied enemy types and the addition of swimming and diving. But the biggest thing people will be talking about is the way the game state can vary dramatically based on your decisions. The most glaring example of this in the E3 demo has to do with the aforementioned reservoir. Aiden can eventually find himself choosing whether or not to open the reservoir gates, pumping water into the rest of the city. Doing so will provide life-saving water to other communities, but it will also expose the military camp’s defenses. Most importantly, it will reveal an old, flooded part of the city, and, it’s suggested, a new, more dangerous enemy that previously lay dormant beneath the water. And once you make your choice, you’re stuck with it. “Dying Light 2” saves automatically, and aggressively, which the team hopes will force players to commit to their decisions.

“Dying Light 2” is currently slated for a 2020 release.

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