How can you feel anything but astonishment as you look out upon what Techland is engineering here? There’s this moment in the opening minutes of the new Dying Light 2 gameplay demo that immediately sells the concept behind this monstrous creation, where player protagonist Aiden Caldwell opens up a door from the dimly lit confines of Frank’s bar and steps out into the sprawling metropolis that is The City. Here, gazing out across the shattered highrise structures of District 2, I’m met with this sickening feeling swelling in the pit of my stomach.
I honestly couldn’t tell you whether that’s just my vertigo kicking in – right on time! – or if it’s just my brain attempting to process a sense of awe on a scale that I’m not yet able to properly parse. Regardless of which of the two it is, I do know and recognize in an instant that Dying Light 2 is operating to a scale and scope the likes of which I have never seen before in an action-RPG. To that end, everything about Dying Light 2 feels impossibly well realized.
And listen, I understand that the demo is running on a PC powerful enough to render the National Missile Defense system inert, but the impressiveness on display here extends far beyond the shimmering graphical and performance presentation on full display from Techland. If it wasn’t apparent when you’re standing atop a rooftop, it sure as hell is made clear once you get yourself down to street level; Dying Light 2 makes you feel like little more than a loose thread in a large tapestry.
As you look up and around you, all you can see is warped steel and towering structures. It takes a second before you truly grasp that it can be scaled, that all of it can be scaled. Techland has doubled down on what made the original game so successful, doubling the amount of parkour mechanics available to you and improving the systems working behind them to ensure that spatial navigation, generating momentum, and transitioning between sections of the environment is as close to seamless as you could ever hope it to be.
It was only a decade ago that we were praising Mirror’s Edge for its expansive environments and thrilling sense of motion, and here is Dying Light 2 making all of EA DICE’s accomplishments seem so small and unrefined by comparison. That only speaks to the mindset that Techland has approached Dying Light 2 with, a desire to give the 17 million players that enjoyed the original game not more of the same, but beyond what they could ever have reasonably imagined a sequel would look like.
What this Dying Light 2 demo does such a wonderful job of showcasing is just how integral movement and momentum are to the series at its core. It isn’t just a means to an end, but an expression. It’s easy to become distracted by the wickedly gruesome combat, the reactive AI, irresistibly absurd modified weapons, and population of well-sculpted characters that live out across The City’s seven distinct districts, but really you should be focused on the parkour and the systems that enable it. It’s where the quality-of-life-improvements are best demonstrated, and where the lessons Techland has learned since Dying Light launched in 2015 are best reflected.
The return of the grappling hook in Dying Light 2 and the addition of a paraglider are the most obvious additions to play – giving you a whole new suite of opportunities to navigate the monstrous spaces between skyscrapers – but they aren’t the most notable. No, they are small enough that they are easy to miss. Physics based pieces of the environment that react to your presence and momentum, opening up new running lines and closing off others entirely. The refined way in which you are able to chain movements between rope-swings, slides, wall-runs, and vaults; the ways in which you can use enemies to break your fall or as springboards to new locations. When it comes to scaling the environment and crossing vast distances, Techland wants you to treat parkour as the way to solve a broad puzzle. The studio hasn’t said this explicitly, but it’s made implicitly clear in what it has shown of the game so far.
What’s less clear still, is just how malleable the story and topography of the world will be. The studio went into great depth on this side of the game when it spoke to GamesRadar about the evolution of Dying Light 2 earlier this year, but I’m still yet to see this clearly demonstrated. I understand why this is, of course; the concept behind Dying Light 2 is that every decision – no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential – could have some impact to the game’s moment-to-moment action, its story, and the narrative sandbox that it all resides in. That is near impossible to demonstrate in short, hands-off demonstrations. I understand that, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have questions of the viability of this ambitious creative framing of the game’s structure and opportunities.
This will all come in time, of course. And I suppose I’m just being impatient. But I think that’s a valid response given everything that we have seen here today, yet more proof that Techland is building something that is unrivaled in scale. The notion that it has an open world four times the size of the one seen in Dying Light sounds impressive in writing, but it doesn’t really do the reality of what is inside of Dying Light 2 justice.
When Dying Light 2 launches in Spring 2020 – if this new gameplay demo is anything to go by, at the very least – I don’t think I’ll be following down story threads, improving my parkour maneuvers, or even modifying my weapons to do horrible things to anybody that dares step (or shamble) into my path. I think I’ll be at street level, marveling at the size of this world as it evolves around me. I’ll be staring up at buildings, wondering how best to reach their rooftops, fearful that my stomach will lurch just a little too much at even the mere thought of navigating the ascension. Dying Light 2 is a game that I’m gladly going to get lost in; 2020 can’t come soon enough.