I spent exactly 30 hours and 8 minutes on Dying Light. Much more than I thought I would going into it. There was still plenty left to do. I left some side missions alone and could have just spent more time exploring Harran. It is a game that could easily pass the 40 hour mark. During my time destroying zombies in a perverse amount of ways I had fun with over twenty hours of it. The rest was the story.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first. The story in Dying Light is filled with every possible allegory from any action game or movie you have ever played or watched. I can’t count the number of times I guessed what was going to happen both plot-wise and gameplay-wise before it happened. I am going lose all of my weapons and have to fight a tough enemy with a piece of wood: check, my disease will rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time: check, the agency I am working for want to control the world: cheeeeeeck.
It became so bad that I avoided story missions for the longest time just so I could run and parkour around the city for the sheer fun of it.
That is where Dying Light’s strength is: movement.
When first looks of the game were going around, Dying Light looked light a mix of Dead Island with Mirror’s Edge and thankfully that is exactly what it is. Running, jumping off of enemies, dropkicking zombies into spikes and climbing buildings to dizzying heights quickly become second nature. There were many times when it felt like I was playing a first-person Assassin’s Creed.
Combat is lifted straight from Dead Island with notable improvement. Your strikes feel like they have weight to them. These are fresh zombies just changed and one blow will not do them in (until later on with some good weaponry). You will feel the impact to their bodies and have to move constantly to keep them off of you while you attack. It is a natural step-up from Dead Island with its “floaty” attacks.
Another return from Dead Island is the ability to upgrade your weapons with an insane number of mods. Burn, shock, sicken the undead. The world is your undead oyster.
This is only the beginning of your character progression. Your strength and agility are given their own separate skill trees and the more you use them the more you unlock. Fighting opens up more powerful attacks like heavy blows and stealth kills while running and climbing will open up sliding, dropkicks and jumping over zombies. It is not just a flimsy leveling system thrown in for the sake of having one, it feels like you are progressing and gives you something you genuinely want to work towards. Too many games think that a leveling system makes them more “RPG like”. Dying Light’s actually does.
As you get the hang of becoming a parkour master remember this; it will be night soon. When the sun goes down Dying Light becomes more about survival than anything else. More powerful zombies lurk at night. They will end you quickly and you need to decide if running is your best option or using stealth and subterfuge is your approach. There are safe houses littered throughout the city that you must unlock and they will be your saving grace if you are trapped at night. Here is the great thing about Dying Light’s day/night cycle: at night all ability points are doubled. A great risk/reward debate will occupy your thoughts. You could just sleep until morning and avoid the danger altogether or you could brave the dark and level up quicker with death being an almost certainty. Decisions, decisions.
Techland has made Dying Light the next logical progression of Dead Island. So much so that I don’t know how I am going to go back to whatever control scheme Yager is developing for Dead Island 2. If it is more of the same it will feel antiquated next to Dying Light. Don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to Dead Island 2, but the first time I want to get away from a group of zombies and can’t climb atop a van then hop to the side of a building, I will be saddened a bit.
Dying Light released at the right time. If it had been a fall release it would have been lost in the deluge of holiday gaming. Now, more people can pick it up and see that Techland has crafted a fun, longer than expected adventure that makes up for the lacking story and sometimes buggy play with multiple hours of America’s new favorite pastime; destroying the undead.