Before Dying Light 2: Stay Human came out and ended up impressing me with its world and parkour-infused combat, the game was subjected to one of the most forceful marketing strategies I’ve ever seen. In the months leading up to the game’s release, there was hardly a week where it wasn’t mentioned by gaming news sites at least once. Leading up to the game’s release date, its advertising turned more desperate, boasting enormous numbers like “500 hours of total playtime” and “40,000 lines of dialogue.”
But having played the game, I’m not sure why marketing focused on its story, characters, and massive word count to start with. Without a doubt, these are the weakest parts of the game, and yet leading up to its release, it’s what you’ve likely seen the most.
For Dying Light 2, the disconnect between actually playing the game itself and its marketing is staggering, so let me set the record straight: You shouldn’t get this game for its story or characters.
If you ask anyone who played Dying Light what that game was about, I would be comfortable betting that they’d answer with “zombies and parkour” or something along those lines. That’s because those two features, together, are what sets Dying Light apart from every other zombie game on the market. Left 4 Dead games are peerless co-op experiences, the Dead Rising games are perfect lessons on getting weird and campy with the apocalypse, and Project Zomboid is an exercise in self-hatred.
Dying Light is the franchise where you parkour to the roof of a building, find a zombie up there, and knock them off with a dropkick. And that experience is excellent. It’s unmatched. It’s fun as hell.
But chances are, you haven’t even seen someone dropkick a zombie off a roof in Dying Light 2 yet, or at least haven’t if you don’t have your hands on the game. Instead, you’ve likely seen countless videos about the game’s characters, like Lawan, who is portrayed by actress Rosario Dawson.
It feels like a lot of misplaced effort that misunderstands the game’s audience. Who is going to buy a game because Rosario Dawson is in it? Who is going to buy a game because it has 40,000 lines of dialogue? Techland put all of its marketing eggs in one basket labeled “story and characters,” but that’s not why fans loved Dying Light so much.
Dying Light‘s story was haphazard. It jumped from plot point to plot point about as smoothly as the game’s character, Kyle Crane, would handle a fall from 30 feet. It’s a mess of a time, filled with characters who arrive, ask the player to do some tasks, and then die. There aren’t any memorable characters or incredible plot twists that could hook you in. What I remember from the game instead is taking out swarms of zombies with a friend while we played together.
After playing Dying Light 2, any comparison to the first game is apt. Both are satisfying to simply move around in, and bashing zombies with makeshift weapons is, of course, fun. But Dying Light 2 has the sins of its father; its story and characters aren’t memorable.
Take, for instance, Aiden Caldwell, Dying Light 2‘s main character. His own personal story is fine enough, focusing on a search for his long-lost sister. But that story, like every other in the game, has very few peaks. Once an excitement spike comes around, you’ll spend hours running tasks for characters with silly names (one faction leader’s name is Matt Jack, the funniest dumb name I’ve ever seen) until another one arrives.
But that didn’t stop Techland from doubling down on Dying Light 2‘s characters. Throughout the Dying 2 Know series of streams, the developer even put the voice actor for Caldwell on the stage. He became a front-facing part of the game’s advertising, which is a shame because his performance isn’t a highlight in the final product. Oftentimes, Aiden Caldwell seems detached from whatever’s happening in the game. Like so many of its NPCs, Dying Light 2‘s main character is a pain to hear speak.
Dying Light 2‘s marketing campaign put the wrong foot forward just about every time. When gameplay wasn’t ready to show, Techland emphasized the game’s characters and its story. When gameplay had been shown, the studio began putting out giant numbers, thinking it would impress and attract more players. Really, all it had to show was a video of someone kicking a zombie off a roof.
Instead, players now have an expectation: That Dying Light 2‘s characters will be deep and engrossing, that along with being a great game to play, they’ll be treated to an equal story. But that’s not the case, and players can’t be blamed if they end up feeling misled.
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