It's fair to say that ahead of making a sequel, most developers look at the criticism the predecessor may have gotten and for the next game attempt to address said issues. The narrative may not have been a strong point for the original Dying Light (or for its spiritual predecessor Dead Island) but with Dying Light 2 Techland has set out to change that and create a strong narrative with more player agency than what's previously been the case in this particular sort of open-world action adventure.
The foundation is there from Dying Light, a game that offered fluid parkour mechanics, melee combat, a day and night cycle, a large open-world to explore, and co-operative play for up to four players. Elements that remain in Dying Light 2.
Techland's sequel is set 15 years after the events of the first game and the city it plays out in is four times bigger than the one from the original. However, unlike most sequels this fact is casually covered as a byline; it's not the size of the city that's important but rather the fact that through your actions and choices you will have tremendous agency over how this place will turn out.
As you can imagine in a world that's gone all to hell, access to water is very important. The mission shown in the E3 demo saw us try and capture a water tower from bandits for the Peacekeeper faction, but you have a choice here. Siding with the Peacekeepers will allow you to freely replenish your health through water, but taking up with the opposition will net you cash from a lucrative water racket. While the immediate effects of your choice to resolve this mission is local to the vicinity of this particular water tower, it also has more far-reaching effects on the city itself. Techland was keen to point out that the aim here is not to keep the player in the dark as to what effects will occur, but rather to empower the player to make an informed decision on how they want to shape the city.
From what we've seen the game gives you plenty of choices that will work to shape the world around you, not just in terms of who is control of a particular area, but how that will, in turn, have an effect on the player and how they can get around (siding with the Peacekeepers will give you plenty of handy lines and elevators, for example). Siding with the hoodlums will allow for a black market to rise giving access to some of the more potent and exotic weapons in the game, weapons that may be more difficult to obtain otherwise. Peacekeepers will keep the area safe, but at the cost of liberty and with harsh penalties for those who happen to stray.
Techland has also invested a lot in improving its writing staff, with several members of the writing team behind The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt joining the studio. However, perhaps most notably they have enlisted legendary narrative designer Chris Avellone (Fallout, Planescape Torment) to act as a consultant, specifically helping them carve out the branching narrative and reactive world.
"When people think of medieval times they think of things like intrigue, betrayal, infidelity, all of the things you see in say Game of Thrones," lead designer Tymon Smektała told Gamereactor. "That's the inspiration for the narrative, so in this game, you can be the Machiavelli of this world who tries to play with those people trying to feel in control and be the master of it and create the outcome in the end that he wants."
This naturally forces some adjustments to how co-op works, and basically, any additional players will join the game world of the host, and they won't affect choices and decisions made by the host. Story progression won't carry over (naturally), even if some character progression will. In some ways, this is a disappointment, but on the other hand, it will also mean that playing co-op you will allow players to experience how the decisions of others have changed the city differently to yours.
From a technical standpoint, Dying Light 2 delights with its seamless open world, beautiful scenery, verticality, and lighting. And it makes the reactive and changing nature of the world all the more impressive. As broken and tired as this post-apocalyptic city may look when viewed from towering rooftops, it's hard not to be impressed by the clarity of Techland's vision.
It's also worth reminding yourself of some of the strengths of the predecessor, namely the first-person parkour moves you're able to pull off. There is an art to reading your environment here and as you do you're able to quickly close distances or escape from those who chase you down. The number of parkour moves has doubled, but perhaps more interestingly the developer has added parkour puzzle challenges that will force you to learn how to best make use of the moves at your disposal while also requiring great timing and stamina management. These challenges may give you an advantage along the critical path or perhaps they will offer some secrets, but they won't be mandatory for progression.
One area that was not shown at this year's E3 that Techland felt didn't really become what they'd hoped for in the first game is night-time gameplay. After the presentation, Smektała hinted that this may be the focus the next time they show the game (perhaps as soon as Gamescom), and apparently many changes have been made to how things work.
During the day-time missions, for example, we witnessed the infected play a secondary role. We sneaked into a nest where they rest during the day, but generally, humans were the main enemy during this demo. Some of them featured rather advanced moves, and as you'd expect (particularly at this year's E3) you're able to pull off some rather brutal finishes if you time things correctly. It's the dark ages after all, and the visceral brutality matches that description, even if it's not quite as stomach churning as The Last of Us: Part II.
Dying Light 2 is an ambitious sequel, one that Techland has been building up to by taking their time with the original game, expanding it with both updates and the rather substantive expansion The Following. The studio has identified weaknesses that they're seeking to address while also doubling down on the strengths of the original. Based on everything we've seen, this could very well be your favourite sandbox adventure next year.