Dying Light is a game that I felt held a lot of potential as I watched during its development cycle. In a generation full of remakes and sequels, this title was trying to bring something new and fresh to the table, one where you’re a person who can free run around an open world, fight zombies, and deal with a dynamic night/day cycle which also changes how you interact with the environment and walking dead in the city.
So far, the game has proven to offer a very different experience from the first few hours compared to the mid to later parts. Learning the controls, traversing the city, dealing with enemies all went through some sort of change with me as I played and as a result, it has also managed to alter the way I think about the game. It may be worth noting that I’m also someone who hasn’t played Techland’s previous work with Dead Island so my experience may be a little different as compared to someone who has.
So far, Dying Light has proven to be a game that is massively large with collectibles, missions, and side activities to accomplish and with my schedule currently the way it is, I won’t have this thing beat for a while. So instead of doing a proper review, here are my thoughts on the first few hours of Dying Light.
Read on past the jump to find out my full impressions…
You play Global Relief Effort agent Kyle Crane, dropped into the dying city of Harran to find an individual who has stolen important documents from your employer. The city was in the midst of planning to host some sort of large event when the outbreak hit the city hard. Interestingly enough, Dying Light doesn’t show you the city during the initial phase of the outbreak, instead you’re dropped in months after the zombie outbreak has taken hold and the city has sort of evolved into a new normal. After getting pounded by some thugs on the streets upon landing, your character is saved by a few members of The Tower, a group seeking to help displaced citizens and offer refuge.
So far, I’ve found the story to be mostly a prop used to advance the game’s designs as there are a lot of familiar tropes being used as well (group with ulterior motives, evil warlord, etc). It’s fine as is, but it’s not what’s drawing me back each time to play. It’s the gameplay that I find so enticing and the reason why I keep booting the game up.
The Parkour/Free Running system which allows the player to navigate through the houses and city streets of Harran is fluid and fun once you learn the controls. I’m preconditioned to associate the ‘jump’ button with the bottom most button on the controller (A or X depending on your system) so trying to remember to press the right bumper button (R1) to jump and grab ledges was a challenge at first. I’d press the ‘X’ button (I’m playing a review build on the PS4) which would fail to do anything and miss my jump. All of that preconditioning goes away with a little bit of practice which enhances the fluid parkour experience even more. Crane can pretty much climb up on any object sticking out which lets you clamber up buildings pretty quickly. The sense of verticality in the game is heightened further being able to enter buildings from roofs, open windows, or even crashing through weak spots. It’s a neat feature and is one of the reasons why exploring the city is so much fun.
With that said, as much as I enjoyed the free running and traversal systems, there were times when I wished I could just fast travel like in most open world games these days. The typical fetch quests you receive result in your character navigating over the same landscape many times through the course of this 20+ hour title.
Overall, Dying Light is pretty impressive to look at especially when looking out at the city of Harran. The draw distance and lighting especially drive home that this land was once beautiful but has since been ravaged by the outbreak and in fighting happening currently. The zombies themselves look a little plastic to me, but they’re well animated enough that they’re still scary especially in groups.
Combat, while a strong element, doesn’t seem to hold up as well as the traversal system. Let me first just say that stamina and weapon degradation systems are not something I enjoy in games. These systems seem to only serve as a sort of limiter or mechanic to hold the player in check. With Dying Light, it feels like I get maybe eight good whacks on a zombie and then the weapon breaks. Some can be repaired but at a cost and if you don’t have those resources, you’re out of luck. Not only that, you can only repair weapons a certain amount of times which really boggles my mind. That’s not a fun mechanic to me. If I find a good and interesting weapon, I don’t want to use it for fear of it breaking. Durability can be utilized in decent ways (Diablo does it as well IMO) but I’m not a fan of how it’s implemented here. A weapon like a steel pipe seems to break after a number of hits which just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a steel pipe it should be pretty durable.
At first I found the lumbering zombies during the day to be a little bit too durable. It took (what I felt) a ton of effort to put down one of these things which directly ties in with the whole weapon durability issue. A few whacks and they fall over, but continue to get up. As I continued to play, I unlocked new blueprints and upgrades that made weapons stronger. In addition, you’ll come across more powerful weapons that can also borderline on the insane like they came out of Dead Rising. It makes the combat a little more tolerable, but the unfortunate thing is that the durability issue becomes heightened as weapons continue to break down over time. You may find the best weapon in the game, but it’s still at the mercy of the item degradation system at work.
The other issue I found, at least at the initial stages of the game, is with character stamina. My character may look fit, but his stamina bar says otherwise. Early on in the game, it’s quite easy to get winded just after a few swings of your melee weapon. To get it to recharge, you have to disengage from combat which can be problematic in certain situations. Against day zombies which move incredibly slow, it’s not a huge problem, but as you face off against the quick night zombies or even human enemies, you’ll more than likely have to be more tactical and stealthy. As you progress though, you do unlock better skills which help upgrade your stamina but getting to that point will take some time.
Tacking a cue from games like Fallout or Skyrim, your character learns new skills and abilities by actually doing those actions. So there are three skill tress essentially: Survivor, Agility, and Combat. To gain experience and progress through these skill tress, your character needs to do things related to them. For example, actions that sees your character using agility, (dodging, jumping, climbing etc) will grant Agility experience. Fighting enemies through weapons and hand to hand combat will grant combat experience. It’s not a revolutionary system, but it’s one that I definitely enjoy as it helps taylor my character to my specific play style. Speaking of Skyrim, the lockpicking system is pretty much exactly ripped from that title. That fact doesn’t bother me at all, I just found that to be a little humorous.
One of the core elements to Dying Light is the fact that the sun dynamically sets giving way to night. While in most games, day/night cycles are just for effect, Dying Light instead uses the night time to power up the normally slow moving zombies and introduces the deadly “Volatile” zombies. Night segments completely change how the game should be played making you feel weak and now hunted by the more powerful zombie types roaming the streets. With all things though, Techland offers a reward for brave runners through double experience when doing things at night. It’s a nice risk/reward type of system and is completely optional for people who want nothing to do with night segments. Experiencing the horrors of nightfall are terrifying at first as you try to avoid combat and to make it to a safe zone. You feel powerless and helpless which I’m guessing is exactly what Techland wants. I can’t tell you how many times I bungled up being stealthy and then forced to run for my life to the nearest safe zone. It’s both unnerving and exhilarating.
Dying Light also features four player co-op and a “Be the Zombie” mode which allows players to invade other peoples games as a high powered stalker zombie. At this time, I have not tried out either mode and can’t comment.
Overall, Dying Light really surprised me. I went in with low expectations considering the middling success and quality levels of past Techland titles, but so far, I’ve really enjoyed my time in Harran. Dying Light offers a lot of interesting concepts and interesting systems which combine into a very fresh feeling experience. There’s a ton of stuff to do in this game and with ambient activities popping up randomly (like racing to air dropped supplies), you’ll be playing this one for a good long while. While the game isn’t perfect, I’m definitely glad I took the plunge into this one.