This article first appeared in PC Gamer Magazine Issue 361 in August 2021. Every month we run exclusive features to explore the world of PC gaming – from behind-the-scenes previews, to amazing community stories, to great interviews, and more.
Aiden Caldwell, the mysterious hero of Dying Light 2: Stay Human, is a member of the Pilgrims – a loose gathering of post-apocalyptic drifters who wander the ruins of the ancient world. He arrives in Medina, the nameless city where the game is taking place, looking for his sister Mia. “Aiden suffers from vague and detached memories of her,” says lead game designer Tymon Smektała. “When he learns that the people responsible for what happened to her have been found there, he embarks on a mission to find out the truth.”
This open world zombie game goes a step further than the original game, supporting its free-running swarms, swarms of the undead, and brutal combat with an interactive, branching storyline that can make a real impact. The city is not only home to countless aggressive sufferers, but also warring factions of human survivors. It’s a big old mess, but it’s a compelling setting for a survival horror game. And one of the most exciting features of Dying Light 2 is how the city changes dramatically depending on the time of day.
Night (non) life
When night falls, the streets are overrun with infection. The safe option is to stay on the rooftops and wait for the sun to send them rushing to their hideouts. But if you’re feeling brave, venturing deep into the city can give you some good loot. The interiors of buildings that would normally be infested with zombies suddenly become empty, leaving only a few maximalists left, allowing you to sneak in to grab equipment and upgrades. Then you just have to worry about getting out and back to the relative safety of the rooftops.
“The city changes at night,” says Smecta. Citizens hide in their bunkers, the glow of ultraviolet lamps is visible everywhere, the silence of the night is interrupted by the sound of monsters crawling through the streets. The world full of dangers by day becomes a completely different challenge at night. The caches of the infected become empty, giving you the opportunity to explore and find useful and sometimes very valuable items.”
Techland describes Dying Light 2 as a “modern dark age”. While most zombie games take place in the immediate aftermath of an outbreak, or long after it occurred, this story takes place just as the world has moved past the initial shock and begun to rebuild. “It has been fifteen years since the apocalypse that followed the emergence of the virus, and we tried to get the city to reflect that in a realistic and credible way,” says Smektaa. “We searched for inspiration in the cities we live in. We let our imaginations run wild and thought about what would change if such a major catastrophe occurred.
“We imagined which parts of the city would remain human, and which parts would nature restore. What kind of living spaces would people create, and what structures would be shaped during these fifteen years by people cut out of technology. This is how our modern dark age has arisen. A civilization that went back to the Middle Ages in the modern era, and with the memory of the world before the fall.”
Interestingly enough, the city is not a completely static and static environment. Parts of it can change based on the many decisions you make over the course of the game. Choosing a useful player is something the developer strives to achieve – including making you feel bad because the consequences of your actions are in front of you. As you advance in the story, you will affect people’s lives in small individual ways, but you will also change the layout of the city itself.
“Your decisions can shape the appearance of the sites and affect the species that live in the city, and you will see the result of that impact on the environment,” says Smektała. “It is worth playing the game more than once, or cooperatively, to discover everything that is affected by these choices. There are interesting side quests that will have their own consequences.” Some choices you may regret even when your actions inadvertently make the lives of the townspeople, he adds. Others are tough.”
Getting around town is made easier by the fact that Aiden is a skilled free runner. The parkour system in Dying Light 2 is more complex and has a more natural feel than in the previous game, and you’ll have access to more moves.
“Parkour is the essence of Dying Light,” Smektała says. “It is our beloved child who makes us proud. Bartosz Kowloon [programmer and designer] Came to Adrian Pyza Ciszewski [director] Several years ago they said, “Yes, Dead Island is cool, but what if we add running on rooftops and climbing?” And this was where the idea of Dying Light was born.
“There are thousands of animations that are based, among other things, on the movements of the legendary father of this system, David Bell. We have crazy parkour combos that allow you to do wild acrobatics and tools that allow us to diversify limited human movements with new possibilities. In addition, there are A regenerative hook and glider system, adding to the importance of gravity and natural movement in the game. It had to be immersive and satisfying because the main way for the player to move around the city would be on foot.”
David Bell is a French actor, choreographer, stunt coordinator, founder and pioneer of parkour – so having him in a game where parkour is a key feature is very important. “David is an important part of the game,” says Smektaa. From playing the character of Hakone, to the extra realism that a mocap session brought us, including many new animations. Of course, he’s been the “father of parkour” for many years, and since the first game he’s been an inspiration and guide to original parkour techniques and the amazing moves you can make. The body does it. We can’t imagine creating Dying Light 2 without David Belle.”
You’ll need to master Aiden’s parkour skills to take on Dying Light 2’s wider zombie squad, especially when you come across Howler. “Initially, Howler was a constant enemy, almost like a CCTV camera, who was exploring the area,” says Smektała. “But, while we were working on the game, we started to develop our stealth mechanics a bit more.
Howler naturally became a major obstacle in all situations involving stealth. The archetype of the enemy remained with us from the very beginning – it was supposed to be a guard who could detect the player and alert other units around him. But during development, we realized we could do a lot more with it, like patrol the area. Howls do not actually engage in sight. Instead, they let out a high-pitched shriek that attracts any injured in the area and draws them toward your location.”
I asked Smektaa about the balance of story and action in Dying Light 2. Storytelling is something the team clearly focuses on, but to what extent? “Dying Light 2 is an action game,” he says. “We have parkour as a way to move around the world freely, combat bonus, a variety of weapons and even parkour moves that you can use creatively during combat. The animation base is huge, allowing players to overcome many dangers in the city in an amazing way.
“However, it was very important for us to create a story that is also fun and engaging. People in the world will react to the player’s actions and choices, and they can become friends or enemies depending on your decisions. There is also a new system called City Alignment, where you can assign certain areas of the city to one Factions, which of course may also affect the world and the story in interesting ways.”
There are three main factions in Dying Light 2. The Peacekeepers are dedicated to eliminating all threats to humanity in the world. “They want to rally citizens for their opinions and secure the land for a new society based on their principles,” says Smecta. On the other hand, survivors believe that their survival depends on their ability to enhance craftsmanship and relearn ancient skills in order to thrive. They value experimentation, art, culture and knowledge, and pass this on to their children.”
Then, finally, there are the renegades. “They believe in sacrifice for the greater good,” says Smecta. “They are a cruel militarized criminal organization, resorting to immoral means to ensure their survival.” When you play Dying Light 2, you’ll be able to work with these three factions – but working for one team is another’s enemy won’t go unnoticed.
And what about the Stay Human subtitle in the name of the game? I ask Smektaa what he represents. “As you can imagine, at the end of the world, society becomes brutal and all its elements are re-evaluated. The title covers two issues, physical and mental. Physically, this is of course avoiding transformation due to infection: controlling disease through biomarkers and taking care of UV exposure. In short, “stay human” as a living being and prevent yourself from turning into a monster.
“The second layer, humanity, is about remaining human by the standards and principles we know. The post-apocalyptic world has changed in almost every respect, and it will be up to the player whether to be guided by the individual’s good, or the common good, or perhaps to take a completely different path.”
You can decide which path to take when Dying Light 2: Stay Human is released on December 7.