2019's Potential Masterpiece: Dying Light 2Back in 2015, Techland released the first-person hack and slash extravaganza known as Dying Light. In terms of Techland’s catalogue of recent releases, it is one of the most consistent in quality and scope. With the DNA of its spiritual predecessor, Dead Island (2011), the Poland-based game developer forged an entirely new action-adventure franchise that embraces RPG-lite elements in conjunction with a visceral melee combat system. Yet, unlike its open-world contemporaries, Dying Light mutates the essence of its exploration gameplay with seamless freerunning and climbing mechanics.
These acrobatics transform the expected stroll on the asphalt into a relatively graceful series of exciting leaps and dives across the quarantined skyline. As a result of sleek gameplay and an engrossing atmosphere, Dying Light’s Harran functions as a tangible city; it is an urban jungle gym occupied by feral infected and desperate survivors. The fusion of immersive parkour, character progression, crafting, and combat fuel a cycle of dynamic gameplay which guarantee dozens of hours of entertainment. Yet, Dying Light’s sequel might emerge as one of gaming’s greatest anomalies.
On June 10th, during Microsoft’s E3 2018 Press Conference, Dying Light 2 was revealed to the public. Many RPG fans were awestruck when the announcer revealed that the presenter, Dying Light 2’s Narrative Designer, was Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment, Fallout 2, Star Wars: KOTOR II). Being responsible for some of the greatest storytelling experiences in games, it came as a total shock that the writer/designer behind critically-acclaimed, role-playing classics was contributing to this project. The original Dying Light was successful because of its solid gameplay, exploration, and interesting world. Generally, characters and plot points were not as memorable, with much of the magic blooming from the mechanics of the world.
Dying Light 2 takes place 15 years after the events of the first game.
In my case, going back to Dying Light in the past year has ignited an appreciation of its open-world experience where I have full control over my playstyle and equipment. Quests and miscellaneous tasks offer sufficient context in binding Kyle Crane’s (Dying Light’s protagonist) actions to the world, but a lot of the zombie apocalypse tropes fail to impress as much as the level of freedom in tackling missions and encounters. Avellone is known for embracing a game design philosophy where players drive the story through choices that honestly situate themselves in the harsh reality of their respective fictional worlds. There’s a gray morality that’s enduring in many of the projects he is associated with, but one can also observe a complexity of character motivations beyond pure malice or righteousness.
Factions and events are never foisted upon a linear questline in CRPGs associated with Avellone. The stories act as stimuli which catalyze branches off of the narrative tree, stories with nuance that make gamers rethink their decisions often. By further promoting a sense of player freedom in the game’s questing, Dying Light 2 could refine Techland’s previous successes in gameplay and world design by infusing interactive stories usually expected from hardcore, story-driven role-playing games. In addition to Avellone assisting Techland in crafting deeper, branching consequences, the developer has also enlisted former writers from CD Projekt Red who worked on The Witcher 3 (2015). Considering the maturity of these writers’ past experience in the “Bloody Baron” questline, it’s not surprising that Dying Light 2’s setting has been advertised as “the modern dark ages.”
The degree of talent being applied to this area of Dying Light 2’s design illuminates a conscious effort to evolve the series beyond the cutscenes and cliches that critics have panned in the past. That’s not to say there wasn’t charm or potential in the original Dying Light, in fact; much of the original radiated with its variety of characters and overall ambience. If Dying Light 2 manages to capitalize on the wonderful, stat-based, zombie-clobbering action of the original in a package that simultaneously offers choice and consequence, the 2019 title could have some of the best questlines and gameplay in the open-world RPG genre.
With facts such as the game world being 4x the size of the first game’s content, a pivot to player-driven storytelling, and Avellone being on board, Dying Light 2 is my most anticipated game of 2019. Intuitively, this series seems to be making the extraordinary leap from its original open-world roots to realize truly thematic, narrative-driven RPG design.
What are your expectations; is anyone else expecting this game to come out as a masterful hybrid of zombie horde-harvesting and faction fence-sitting? Let me know in the comments if you are personally anticipating Dying Light 2’s scheduled 2019 launch, or if you're skeptical that it can deliver.