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When will we learn that the post-apocalypse never seems to have a happy ending? Set 15 years after the original Dying Light — we’re now at the post-post-apocalypse stage — Techland’s sequel definitely doesn’t deliver an easier ride for what’s left of humanity. While humans now exist in what the studio is calling a ‘modern dark age’ complete with castles and ramparts in the last great settlement known as The City, the infected have evolved too. The virus has changed, resulting in new types of monster who’d like nothing better than to rid the world of the rest of us squishy meatbags. The good news is that the parkour and crunchy combat of the original have had some serious upgrades. Phew. But that’s not all that Techland is doing differently this time around, as I saw during the behind-closed-doors E3 demo.
This glimpse at the freerunning sequel introduced new hero Aiden Caldwell, an infected survivor living in The City. While this sprawling settlement is made up of seven unique districts, the demo started off with Aiden alone in District 2, desperately trying to keep his infection under control. Afterwards, we met members of one faction that wanted him to help get the water turned back on. Someone called The Colonel is the leader of another, nefarious faction, and you're told that they hold the keys to the water pumps. Here lies the biggest change for the sequel. Quests in the original Dying Light were relatively linear, letting you parkour and slice up the undead to your heart’s content, but Techland has taken a new narrative direction. Decisions are now key and there’s no shortage of important choices to make in each quest.
Before Aiden could even get out of the compound, a fight broke out between the two groups, giving a quick glimpse at Dying Light 2’s upgraded combat. Guns are rare, meaning that brawls are up close and personal. Dodging at the right time now initiates a slow-motion effect, allowing Aiden to land killing and stunning blows quickly before moving onto his next victim. The fight was over quite quickly, but a member of his faction had fallen, which meant there was a choice of staying and looking for a doctor or chasing a van of fleeing enemies. There will always be consequences to your actions in Dying Light 2, warns the developer, as the decision is made to follow the van instead of finding medical help. Something tells me that this definitely isn’t going to end well…
While it clearly wasn't the moment to save someone’s life, it was a chance for Techland to show off Aiden’s new parkour skills. In pursuit of the vehicle, he hurtled across The City's rooftops, wall running when the opportunity presented itself, and even utilised a paraglider to keep the escaping van in sight. This upgraded freerunning looks super-slick, as Aiden uses doorways to launch himself forward and even gets an unwitting undead walker to assist him with a soft landing, as he ploughs it out of a window and onto a building below.
Environments are now destructible, too, as Aiden smashed a zombie through a wall before running along this new path. It was exhilarating to watch, let alone play, as there was a sense it could all go wrong at any moment. Well, it did, when Aiden tumbled into a dark basement packed with the infected. Instead of asking what innards the zombies would prefer, he set off a UV flare to confuse them, in order to find a new way out. While UV was a useful defence in the first game, it’s now an essential tool for Aiden to rebuild immunity to the virus and to keep himself safe in situations where he’s getting dangerously close to being a Happy Meal on legs.
When Aiden finally caught up with the fleeing van, I saw how decisions can make a real difference. He can choose to kill the driver or just hijack the vehicle, and it turns out that keeping him alive, as I saw, is useful when you want to get inside the Colonel’s Castle undetected. The driver knows the code to lower the drawbridge, so if Aiden had slaughtered him it would have been significantly more difficult to get inside, although obviously not impossible. When Aiden infiltrated the Castle, we found out that the man we didn’t find a doctor for is dead (oops), and the Colonel doesn’t actually seem that evil after all; there are children playing outside, and all seems well. Do you still kill everyone that stands in your way and turn on the pumps or believe the Colonel when he tells you that he’s been framed? We watched on as this Aiden turned on the pumps regardless, draining and revealing a whole new, explorable area of the map. Suddenly, a shrivelled, scaly arm popped up from the wet mud, Carrie-style, revealing a new creature.
Techland has said that these new narrative choices mean we’ll only ever see 30% of the game in our first playthrough; monsters may never appear and areas of the map might never be uncovered. Instead of wanting to make you play all over again, though, Techland wants you to see the stories of your friends by jumping into their games in co-op. The map is already apparently four times bigger than that of Dying Light, so no one is asking you to repeat the game multiple times over to see all the available choices. This hands-off presentation was short and sweet, focussing on choice – which wasn’t even a factor in the original game. If you don’t like your decisions, tough: Dying Light 2 has removed manual saving, so you’re going to be living, or, well, dying with your initial panicked choices. Just like the real post-post-apocalypse, then…
Dying Light 2 is out on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One on 2020