The first Dying Light’s parkour system made simply running around its dangerous world the highlight. Leaping between rooftops, grabbing onto ledges you were sure you wouldn’t reach, and using zombies’ heads as launch pads were exhilarating, but the world and story were somewhat bland.
Gruff faction dudes and mean bad guys who were hauled up in high-security compounds were about all the interaction you got from the story, and it was difficult to get invested in.
For Dying Light 2, however, making a compelling narrative that’s full of meaningful choices really seems to be Techland’s focus, allowing them and the player to create a world that feels important as you leap around.
At E3 2019, we saw an extended, behind-closed-doors demo of the game, which showed off not only the new parkour elements but how choices impact both the extended branching narrative and the smaller moments in missions.
In one 30-40 minute mission, Dying Light 2‘s new protagonist had the opportunity to make not only two choices that would influence the whole city, but others that could influence how the mission played out.
Even from a basic level, the sequel’s story is more complex than it has been before. It takes place in what Techland is calling a ‘Modern Dark Age,’ 15 years after the virus took over the world.
Aiden Caldwell, Dying Light 2’s new protagonist, is infected, just as the entire population is, and everyone is fighting to stave off the infection and stay alive. Factions have developed over time and there’s a struggle for both power and resources, with it all taking place in a decaying metropolis.
Starting with the larger choices, the consequences can often be more widespread than they initially seem. The focus of the mission in the E3 demo was Aiden trying to infiltrate a particular leader’s compound to turn on the water pumps to keep everyone in the city alive.
On his way there, an important faction member called Frank, who likely plays an important role in the full game, is shot and Aiden gets to choose between staying with his him as he bleeds out or chase after the assailant to try and stop him and get the water supply back in the process.
Which you choose will have huge consequences on not only how the mission plays out, but how the world looks and acts as you continue.
The demo version of Aiden chose to chase a truck which was heading to the source of the water. After a showcase of how far the combat and parkour systems have progressed since the first game, as you approach, you get into the truck and you can decide whether you want to threaten the driver to get inside the base, or kill him and take on the front gates yourself.
One will be risky and more cinematic, but the other relies on you trusting an idiot bandit you just met.
Then, as the mission continues, you start to see the influences of your choices in just how this mission plays out. Trusting the driver allows you to get into the compound quietly, but the friend that you left earlier on dies.
Staying with Frank earlier on could have seen him survive, but you wouldn’t have the options for what comes later in the mission, nor would it have made for a particularly action packed demo.
Then, after more impressive and complex action, you come face to face with the man who controls the water supply, but all is not what it seems. Maybe there’s a plot against him, run by another faction, or maybe he’s lying to see all the infected in the city die.
Choosing to believe him could lead to a new partnership and changing relations with other factions, while choosing to turn the pumps on will open a brand new section of the map, introducing brand new parkour moves, quests, and zombie types.
Speaking to Twinfinite following the demo presentation, Dying Light 2’s Lead Designer Tymon Smektala outlined how choices can affect each mission, saying, “So by your decision you can make it a more stealth like mission or more all out guns blazing, well, machetes blazing experience, or you can skip a part of a mission because of your choice, or you can decide to play a mission during the night.”
These choices, ranging from the smaller ones that change how you approach one individual situation to the larger scale single choice moments really change how the narrative plays and how the world works, seemingly more so that most other games that feature a branching, choice-based narrative.
It’s exciting to hear that whole areas of the map could remain uncovered for large sections of the game if you choose one of two options. The story wasn’t engaging at all in the first game, and Techland seem to be adding more than just a fun story to the sequel.
If the entire game is choice and narrative focused in as deep a way as the demo I saw today, it could make Dying Light 2 an excellent combination of thrilling parkour gameplay, brutal melee combat, and one of the most engaging stories we’ve seen in an open world action game.