Here’s a plain fact: Zombie games are very fun to play. Gunning down hordes of undead monsters is a simple pleasure to grasp. Whether it is Back 4 Blood or Dead Rising, we all take morbid joy in cracking some undead skulls. When a new zombie game comes out, we spend little time wondering if the combat will be fun, because nine out 10 times, it will be.
This leaves space to look at what surrounds the combat, the chunks of the game that separate one cadaver killing spree from another. These parts can be the reason why a good zombiekilling game rises up to be a great zombie-killing game. Dying Light 2: Stay Human answers this call by giving players a large city to play in, puzzle-like exploration, and most importantly — actual humanity amid all the dead.
I got a chance to sit down with Dying Light 2 during a virtual preview event and got my first glimpse at Villedor, the city where the game takes place. It has been 20 years since the first game, and it’s 15 years after the zombie apocalypse took over the world. Villedor is possibly the last bastion of humanity left on Earth, and it is quite huge. The area of the City (many residents just call it that) I was able to explore was certainly expansive, not only in area size but also in terms of verticality, as well as fleshed-out buildings.
Villedor is a huge city that is densely packed with buildings and points of interest. When trying to get to the story objective, I thought cutting through a courtyard would be a solid shortcut. This decision led me to a courtyard that was actually a military outpost filled with armor and weaponry. Of course, there were zombies and bandits, too, but a couple of bonks from my weapon solved that issue. It felt like every block of the city had something new and interesting to offer. There were many times where I would duck into a random building to escape the gnashing maws of the undead, only to climb a flight of stairs to literally get the drop on them. This was a random building I found, and there is a myriad of them throughout Villedor.
Of course, Dying Light 2 brings back the parkour that allows you to traverse this huge city. What I appreciated the most is while the parkour is fluid, it still required thought and planning. I couldn’t just forge forward and let the pathing algorithm take me across buildings. I had to think and plan exactly how I would get from point A to point B, which I found refreshing.
Villedor is not just a giant sandbox to run around in without a care in the world. It’s also not just filled with enemies that want to kill the player. Oftentimes when I was jumping rooftop to rooftop, I would stumble upon survivors trying to live their lives. It’s probably not fair to call them survivors; the game does take place 15 years after the big zombie apocalypse, after all. They have already survived and have made new lives for themselves.
We often see zombie games take place in the heart of the apocalypse where the player is watching the world they knew get literally eaten in front of their eyes. Some say that this makes sense, as many stories take place during the most interesting events in their world. While this is certainly the most visceral part of a zombie story, it’s not always the most compelling. Fortunately, developer Techland is smart and wanted to explore where a zombie story can go several years after the cataclysmic events that ruined the status quo.
During my time in Villedor, I met many people. Some of them were story important quest givers, but I stopped and listened to many of the background NPCs as well. Through all of them I understood what the City means to people who live there. I learned about the stories they tell and the myths that they hold on to. I also saw youths who are too young to know anything about life before the apocalypse and how that has shaped their minds.
What excites me the most about Dying Light 2 isn’t that I can eviscerate zombies or the cool weapons that I can craft, but what humanity looks like years after its supposed extinction and how it thrived in the face of overwhelming odds.
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