When I play a video game that promises me a grapple hook, a clock starts ticking in my head, as I begin counting down the moments until that grapple hook—my precious—is mine.
13 hours into Dying Light 2, the delayed zombie parkour sequel made by a studio whose culture was described last year in a report as “toxic,” and I’m sorry to report I still do not have a grapple hook. While it would be mildly overstating to suggest Dying Light 2’s opening area is secretly a 13-hour tutorial, this is a game whose social media account recently bragged about the game taking “at least 500 hours” to fully complete. It’s perhaps not shocking, then, that playing Dying Light 2 like a normal person would reveal some consequences rippling out of a game with a world that big; gating cool ideas is one of Dying Light 2’s biggest problems.
As a founding member of the Dead Island Rules fan club from my Giant Bomb days, I’m still not sure why I never got around to playing the original Dying Light. Mirror’s Edge is one of my favorites, and I’m instantly drawn to any game that plays with momentum. Dying Light 2 felt like a fresh start, a chance for me to make good on that miss, and why I’ve spent so much time trying to find the motivation to keep playing, despite many reservations. Even as I write this, I’m likely to spend another 10 hours in this world, seeing what it might offer next.
The setup remains simple—a viral outbreak has transformed much of the world’s population into menacing zombies, and you’re an outsider with an agenda—but Dying Light and its sequel’s defining feature remains its electric fusion of parkour and platforming while players both fight and run from mobs of flesh eaters. It’s possible for players to take on small groups of enemies, be them human or otherwise, but frequently, avoiding combat is the best move, and Dying Light makes the act of fleeing feel so cool that running away isn’t failure, it’s fun.
But this is, sadly, also an instance where gating causes issues. One of the routes I routinely took back and forth through the opening area had me repeatedly running into a structure that I so very clearly could slide under. The game wanted my ass to slide. You could jump over it, obviously, but this was definitely a sliding section. Thinking that must be one of my basic moves, I held the crouch button and went for it—and nothing happened. Because sliding (!!) is locked behind an upgrade path. Every time I’d run into that same stack of wood and brick, I’d try to slide down out of spite, until I finally unlocked the actual sliding move hours later.
It’s now a cool move that I use all the time. It is cool and useful and would have been better suited being handed to me when the game started, because why can’t this dude slide?
I had the same reaction to discovering wall running was a locked skill, not a basic ability. Skill trees are at their best when they accentuate and enhance behaviors the player is already engaging in. Let me slide further, or maintain a wall run a little longer. This would be less of a complaint if actually unlocking these skills happened at a more frequent clip, but over and over, playing Dying Light 2 felt like a game where I’d be more excited to punch in a cheat code unlocking everything from the jump, giving me all its tools to experiment with.
These sluggish pacing issues are then exaggerated by the game’s boring story, clumsy attempts at ethical dilemmas, and monotonous side quests that aren’t useful for much more than experience grinding. For a game that worked hard to associate itself with Fallout: New Vegas and Planescape: Torment writer Chris Avellone prior to his being accused of sexual misconduct, there's little evidence of storytelling ambition and moral or narrative consequence here. A lot of what you’re asked to deal with are “do you wanna work with cops?”
Maybe those situations get more interesting later…which, coincidentally, is what I also keep saying about the combat and parkour, too. When the game adds the grappling hook, things are really gonna take off! (So far, I have a paraglider, which to the game’s credit is dope. I wish I’d had it much sooner.) When they give me a reason to not automatically side with the non-police factions that’re just trying to live their lives, maybe I will! But so far, it’s a game whose core element—exploration—is often engaging, but because much around it is boring, I need the exploration to be more engaging, and the game’s feature gating hinders that.
Again, maybe that changes by the end. But it sounds like it’ll take a long time to get there. Supposedly that's a selling point.