Earlier this year, developer and publisher Techland released Dying Light 2: Stay Human, the open-world zombie game, on all major consoles and PC platforms. We didn’t have time to sink into a full playthrough of the game at its release, considering it boasts RPG elements and allegedly requires 500 hours to complete (which is not accurate at all), but now that I have finally gotten around to completing the entire campaign, I have some thoughts…
A sequel to 2015’s Dying Light, Stay Human takes place 15 years later and follows a wandering Nomad (coined “Pilgrim”) named Aiden who is searching for his missing sister Mia amid a pandemic that has wiped out the majority of the earth’s population. After “The Fall” of humanity caused by a second zombie virus outbreak due to the GRE’s illegal testing on the virus from the first game, much of civilization has crumbled save for a few settlements that are struggling to survive, such as the city of Villedor.
Aiden attempts to find answers as to the possible whereabouts of Mia in the city all the while tracking a sadistic scientist named Waltz who experimented on Aiden and Mia when they were children. Believing Waltz knows where Mia is, Aiden follows every possible lead he can which ultimately puts him in the middle of civil unrest between multiple factions of survivors.
The plot of Dying Light 2: Stay Human seems reasonable enough at first but as Aiden continues to search for answers, it is clear early on that a lot of content was cut or scrapped leaving many plot threads dangling without resolve, especially the ending. And while many players were satisfied with the story due to the gameplay being more significant to the experience, I could not help but notice that almost every aspect of Stay Human felt significantly lacking.
The game is not without its fun, of course, but those moments are overshadowed by the missing content, atrocious writing, and unbelievably stiff voice acting from people who clearly do not do it by profession. Additionally, the RPG elements eventually crumble faster than the civilization in Villedor due to there being far too much loot that can be sold at low cost but amassing wealth quickly and being able to sleep through the days in the blink of an eye in order to reset vendor inventory so you can get what you want.
Perhaps the biggest feature of Dying Light 2 is its parkour abilities. While the game centers around a unique way to traverse around the city and its surrounding areas, I often found that the controls were clunky, occasionally non-responsive, and difficult to master. Within my first twenty minutes of the game, I felt like the controls were working against me and I had hoped this was due to a skill try that might improve Aiden‘s abilities but I never truly felt like I had even come close to even slightly mastering the parkour tricks by the time I had finished the campaign.
In fact, I think each of the above points is worth its own dedicated section just so you can get a clearer understanding of how frustrating they are and why they nearly ruined my experience with Dying Light 2: Stay Human.
Before the game even truly allows you to explore its open world and get into the action, you may immediately get the feeling that the voice actors are a little inexperienced. This only gets worse as time goes on as you will come across more and more boring, lifeless characters that are either under-acting or simply just reading a cue card while others come across as over-acting as if they were in a high school play.
It doesn’t help that the writing is also painfully dull and uninspired as much of it is painful to listen to. If it was not for Jonah Scott‘s solid work with Aiden Caldwell, the bland voice delivery of everyone else may have killed the experience early enough to pause my playthrough indefinitely. It gets that bad at times.
There are a few standout performers here, in addition to Jonah Scott. But I quite literally mean a few as there are no more than three other performers who are able to maintain their accents without breaking a couple of sentences in or actually seem to know what they are doing. Lawan, voiced by the always exceptional Rosario Dawson, is one such character.
As soon as Lawan is introduced, you will either begin to hold every other voice actor to a higher standard or just assume the budget all went to Dawson and Techland was left with selecting barely capable voice actors from the accounting department.
I mentioned earlier that I felt the content of Dying Light 2: Stay Human felt off due to content that was clearly cut which forced some changes in the game’s pacing and therefore, new dialog lines had to be added. There is one such moment where this clearly happens with Dawson‘s Lawan as she speaks of a subject before taking a long pause and then delivering a handful of lines where Lawan is voiced by an entirely different person. It was jarring and way too noticeable to the point where Techland clearly didn’t even try to be subtle about it.
The bread and butter of the Dying Light franchise is its parkour, which is a real shame considering how lousy the controls are in Stay Human as it makes some moves unbearably difficult to pull off, especially in crucial moments.
Dying Light 2 attempts to improve its parkour by adding new moves like wall-running and the ability to chain them together for combos but I found these often difficult to master by the time the end credits rolled. You may think that this is entirely on me as the player but you would only be partially right. You see, a game that is all about parkour and free-running should make it easy to master right from the start so players can feel a sense of fluidity while chaining movement and attacks together in seamless ways. Dying Light 2 does none of this well.
As Aiden gained more experience and unlocked new abilities, the controls never felt smoother or tighter which often made doing simple tasks like climbing upward painfully frustrating. The camera struggled to keep up with Aiden’s full range of motion which made certain actions feel almost impossible as Aiden was climbing up while the camera was looking in a different direction.
Further still, when Aiden finally gets the grappling hook, I thought that my prayers had been answered. You will recall that in the first game, the grappling hook made traversing the city incredibly fun and easy while providing a great means for a quick escape from a tough spot. None of that exists in Stay Human.
Instead of a grappling hook that pulls you forward and up, you get more of a lasso-type tool that you can swing from. It is incredibly useful when scaling buildings or doing story missions but it doesn’t pull you out of tough spots, nor does it work all the time. It is slow, unreliable, and a huge step down from what Kyle Crane experienced in the first game.
One final point on the parkour subject is Wall Running. While I was most excited to unlock that perk out of all of them, I found that I gave up on it rather quickly as it never worked when I wanted it to.
Even when I was alone against a flat wall on top of a building trying it out with no pressure from enemies, I could not get it to work more than three out of ten attempts. Then, when inside a building trying to climb upward, the Wall Run perk would take over and I would find myself running into a group of enemies on either side of me rather than climbing upward and out of harm’s reach like I intended. For whatever reason, that perk got in the way and was a major inconvenience rather than a useful and fun way to navigate the urban jungle as I had hoped.
As for the other perks, they all sort of fall by the wayside either because they are not responsive or unreliable or they don’t add enough usefulness to be remembered. The only Parkour perk I found that I relied on heavily were the ones tied to increased speed which helped Aiden run faster for longer and clear larger gaps when jumping. Other than that, I couldn’t tell you about a single other perk that made a difference in my gameplay.
When I first started getting weapons and clothing/armor items in Dying Light 2, I was really impressed with the diversity of classes and perks that come along with them. However, I was quickly disappointed when I realized that, just like the first game, you could completely circumvent the search for quality weapons and clothing by sleeping as often as you want to reset the vendor inventory until they carry the exact item you are looking for.
The weapons and clothing items you find scattered around the city are abundant but you will have to get used to them being mostly white (common) and green (uncommon) while the blue gear (rare) is actually, as the name suggests, quite scarce. Regardless, you will find yourself drowning in weapons and gear quick early in the game which can all be sold for a heft sum. Higher-tier weapons, such as purple (unique) and gold (artifact) can be earned by taking on higher challenges in the game, such as dark zones and GRE Anomalies, or waiting for a vendor to sell them. Which completely ruins the loot system almost immediately.
This crucial design decision to have vendors sell all rarity tiers for weapons and armor may at first seem really beneficial to the player, and it is, until you realize that you quite literally do not need to explore the city for better loot or take on harder challenges for the possibility of a purple or gold reward at any point. Instead, if you have the money, and you will, you can simply sleep it off, check vendor stock, and rinse and repeat until the vendors have what you are looking for.
With most loot-based games, the weapons and armor available to you are often based on your own individual level or your rank. In Dying Light 2: Stay Human, you can work your way up to Rank 9 by the game’s end with weapons and armor to match. I personally got all the way to Rank 6 but found that no enemies were Rank 7 or above, often matching my own rank or below, by a tier or two.
This meant that upon hitting Rank 6, I could find Rank 6 loot in the world around me. However, this didn’t matter at all as I could just go to the nearest vendor and see that their stock refreshed to reflect my current rank. Then, all I had to do, was sell my current equipment, sleep a day, then check to see if they had my same weapons and gear in the higher rank. Which they almost always did after a few sleep cycles. It was totally bonkers that the game worked this way, making the best gear far too easy to obtain and far too early to boot.
To reiterate, if you had a gold-tier artifact machete such as the Paper Cutter (my personal favorite 1H weapon) at Rank 5 after reaching Rank 6, then you could just sleep at a Safe House and wait for them to sell the Paper Cutter at Rank 6. Never did the vendors sell gear below my rank which meant I was always able to get weapons with increased damage to match my current ranking and gear that provided added bonuses as well.
The weapons in Dying Light 2 are fun to use and I can say with certainty that they feel much better connecting to enemies than in the first game. You actually feel the weight of the weapons and the recoil when they connect against enemies which helps with the immersion immensely. However, none of that mattered any longer when I acquired my first bow and arrow weapon.
Once the first bow was unlocked, a blue (rarity) tier, I immediately knew vendors would be selling them at higher rarities so I set out to the nearest location that sold weapons, slept a couple of days, and bought a gold tier bow that I never took out of one of my four weapons slots. At least until I ranked up and slept a few cycles so I could buy the same bow with a higher rank and damage increase.
Clothing items come in the same rarity tiers but with added perks like less stamina use on one-handed weapons for the Brawler class or faster healing for the Medic class. The higher the rarity, the more perk bonuses you get along with an armor rating that, honestly, I never understood. Armor seems to matter so little, Techland did not include an overall armor rating and what exactly it did to benefit the player.
Sure, higher is better, but the armor rating doesn’t explain just what it does. You can assume it increases the amount of damage you can take but nowhere does it explain this, or nowhere I could immediately find, at least. It would be nice if it showed an overall stat like how much in XP gains you have based on your currently equipped gear or how much less damage you take from enemies, etc. Instead, you have to individually inspect each piece of gear and do the math yourself which feels tedious and frustrating while you are in the heat of a battle against a mob of Renegade bandits or a horde of flesh-hungry zombies. And, just like the ease of getting better weapons from vendors on a rank-up, you can do the same with clothing/armor.
The simple fix for all this would be to just not have vendors reset their inventory on a daily basis when you can just sleep through it. Change it so that either the vendors reset in real-world time and not game time, and or just remove purple and gold tier items altogether.
Otherwise, as it is currently, players are not encouraged to take on more challenging objectives and activities as there is no real point to explore those locations when you can just get your ideal loot and build by resetting the vendor inventory every couple of minutes by sleeping. And that is a very big oversight on Techland’s part.
Perhaps one of the bigger blunders in Dying Light 2 is its ending. Throughout the entire campaign, you are left making choices that put you on either side of the war between the military-centric Peacekeepers, or the survivors of the Bazaar, a local trading outpost and settlement. Every choice you make leads to small outcomes until the end, which is disastrous. I am going to do my best to elaborate without spoilers but the game did come out in February so we are a little past that at this point.
As you continue through the campaign, you make temporary alliances with enemies or you can make them permanent by siding with them. The two shadiest characters are undoubtedly the Peacekeeper’s leader Jack Matt, and the Renegade’s leader, Colonel Chris Williams. You have a choice to join either or turn against either but in the end, it doesn’t seem to matter as both of those plotlines abruptly end with no closure whatsoever.
Okay, now here are some spoilers.
For instance, as you work with Jack Matt through the campaign, you can turn against him on more than one occasion but the story still requires you to work with him to move things forward so I never felt like there was anything major going on for siding with someone opposite of Jack Matt. Then, at the end, you have a choice to side between Matt or believe Colonel Chris Williams. I opted to side with Williams and the result of that was a threat by Matt and nothing more.
When you do finally face Matt in the final mission, there is a brief cutscene where his men disobey his orders to attack and Matt and his men run off leaving us with no closure and never hearing from them again. Colonel Williams, on the other hand, seems to be honest and respectable, which makes no sense considering his renegades are all ex-prisoners who loot and murder innocent civilians across Villedor.
Williams never faces justice or judgment and neither do his men- unless we kill them on the streets which never results in swaying Aiden’s alliance to or from either opposing side. This is a whole other problem the game has because Aiden can literally kill anyone he wants out in the world (outside of Safe Houses) and there is no punishment or acknowledgment by any faction for his indiscretions.
At the end of the game, you are faced with a choice- either save Villedor or save Lawan. I opted to choose Lawan, thinking that the game would reward me for my chivalry but instead, the game punished me for it. Never be a romantic. The game ends with Lawan collapsing in silence over our choice and then she just, disappears from the game without a word. The glaring problem with this, is that after the credits roll, the game tells you that if you want to keep playing, it will alter your ending choices so things make sense when you jump back into the world.
This means that, despite you choosing the bad ending by picking Lawan over Villedor, the game opts to punish you with a dreary cutscene but then makes it so when you jump back into the game, it feels like you chose the good ending. Like, what is the point then? If we choose Villedor, Lawan dies, and if we choose Lawan, the game cries foul and then kills her anyway so we can keep playing.
Why not just give us unique dialog and give us one definitive ending then?
And, to make matters worse, the game doesn’t let you save freely when you want so you can’t go back to an earlier save to make the right choice and see how things should have ended. All that and we get nothing but a middle finger from Techland in the end? What the hell?
So not only does Lawan seemingly die regardless (although I did hear there was some choice involving Frank that results in her leaving Villedor with Aiden), we have no resolution with Jack Matt or Colonel Williams and there is nothing left to do but side quests that don’t really matter as the game doesn’t ever once push you or guide you to stray away from the campaign. And it’s not like any other RPG where the missions might be diverse enough to be interesting.
Most of the side quests I experienced were just fetch and retrieve types that rewarded me with a blue weapon that looks like a shovel or finding a missing person that has probably gotten themselves infected and turned.
Dying Light 2: Stay Human let me down more times than it lifted me up or impressed me. Somehow, Techland took all the best things about the first game and made them worse (parkour traversal, controls, grappling hook) or added new features that should have made Stay Human better but flopped hard (loot, perks, grappling hook). While I did get roughly 40 hours out of the game, and essentially got my money’s worth, I can’t say I had more fun than not. Too often the game frustrated the hell out of me by being wildly inconsistent or sloppy in its functions while also being too easy to earn quality loot.
At the end of the day, I expected way more out of a sequel and instead of getting something better than its 2015 predecessor, the game failed in story, voice acting, and gameplay in more ways than one. And despite how many hours I put into it, I can’t say I recommend anyone else do the same. To put it plainly- there are better games out there that are better worth your time investment while also being way more fun.
The first episode in the playthrough is below, for your convenience.