Dying Light 2 is a very ambitious sequel. Its map, Techland tells us, is four times as big as its predecessor’s and players will see about 50 per cent of the game’s content in a single playthrough. The reason for this is that players will regularly have to make big decisions about the way the game’s action unfolds – the consequences of those choices can be as far reaching as determining whether a character lives or dies, sometimes even determining whether you unlock an entire section of the map or not. Having seen about half an hour of the game in a presentation at E3, I’m very much intrigued.
In the hands-off demo, we are introduced to protagonist Aiden Caldwell and The City – a European metropolis and humanity’s last true bastion on earth. Fifteen years on from the events of Dying Light, the uninfected population has dwindled to almost nothing, while the infection has continued to spread and change across the globe. Now, The City is on the brink of collapse with drinking water about to run out. Local tavern owner Frank has taken it upon himself to set up a meeting between The City’s two main factions – the Peacekeepers and the Scavengers – and a mysterious figure called the Colonel. The Colonel leads a group called the renegades from a fortified water treatment plant with the means and resources to resupply the city. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the meeting went sour, with Frank getting shot by the renegades who then fled in a truck. This is where we saw our first big choice – stay with Frank and help him seek aid, or chase after the truck?
Given there’s not much parkour involved in treating a gunshot wound, Aiden gave chase, giving us a chance to see some of the new parkour mechanics – a more versatile grappling hook, dynamic platforming elements and some refined wall jumping in particular – and the decayed European architecture of the city district. Eventually we caught up with the truck and infiltrated the stronghold – a well organised base of operations with crops, community projects and a surprising number of children. Fighting our way to a confrontation with the Colonel, we faced another big choice. The Colonel claimed that the water reserves surrounding his stronghold were the only thing preventing his aggressors from invading the compound and killing everyone inside – he was sympathetic to the plight of those living without water and willing to help, but turning on the pumps was out of the question.
Given the choice to trust the Colonel or fend off his goons and turn on the pumps, we took the fight – at one point using the grappling hook to launch ourselves into the air and smashing a massive warhammer down on a hapless enemy. Once the fight was over and water was restored to the city, we saw that the Colonel wasn’t lying – with the water drained, his adversaries came swarming in and sacked his stronghold, destroying the community he’d worked hard to build. Woops. On the other hand, shifting all that water opened up a new sector of the city – one that would only have been accessible by diving had we chosen to trust the now deceased Colonel. What’s more, a teaser at the end showed a zombie’s arm rising from the mire, with spikes erupting from its flesh as it began to claw its way to the surface. Opening up this part of the city, then, also unlocks a new enemy type – one that will then go on to populate the watery areas in the rest of the game map. Oh, and Frank died because we weren’t around to help him. Sorry Frank.
The two choices we saw resolved in the demo, in other words, had an enormous impact on the game’s world and story. These choices were cherry picked for the sake of a demo, of course, and I think it’s reasonable to expect that not all of your choices in the game will carry quite so much weight, but there’s an ambition to Dying Light 2’s storytelling that’s really compelling.
The gameplay changes are modest, from what I could glean from a hands-off demo, but well chosen – aimed at making the experience more fluid rather than overhauling it completely. The star of the demo, however, was undoubtedly the game’s narrative structure and it’s left me thinking Dying Light 2 has a promising future, for all the bleakness of its setting.