At this year’s E3
I sat in on the Dying Light 2
near hour-long presentation, laptop open (a new 2019 Alienware M15
, mind, so not really ideal as a rested note-taking tool on a narrow lap sidled left and right with other gaming journalists, but at least it was the prettiest. And brightest. Ahem
), and took zero notes. In fact, the only thing on the screen at the close of the presentation was “Dying Light 2 E3 2019 preso
”, “15 years after the first game…
That’s all I wrote.
Now, don’t mistake that for some amateur hour drop off, because I did take audio notes, but the point here is the game just mesmerised
. Bear in mind, this is now the third time I’ve seen this thing up close and personal, and I’ve covered it in in-depth detail in the past
, but at this year’s show it just presented with a level of design maturity, and openness that wasn’t as overly transparent in earlier showings (which is saying a lot). And what’s on show is that the DNA of what made the first game so good
still rings true, but in Dying Light 2 it’s turned up to 11, to revive an old cliche.
"We need to add something more. Not to create a sequel, but the sequel..."
- Kornel Jaskula
“So basically we could talk about this for ages, [but] I’ll try to sum it up,” enthuses producer Kornel Jaskula
when we ask about how exciting it must be to see the studio grow as much as it has, but to see the fruits of that growth presented in their current project. “From the very beginning, from the very start of pre-production, we said to ourselves: “we need to add something more. Not to create a
sequel, but the
sequel. Like, [Dying Light 2] needs to be our best game ever”.
“So to do that, we know how good the players are at second-to-second gameplay, and it was real; the community voices [we heard] were saying that the game is pretty good -- “every second we play [from] fighting to parkouring -- everything is perfect”. [And so] we knew that we had to add something
on top of that; another experience, [and that became] the narrative one.”
The “narrative sandbox”, as it’s already been coined, is that outcome, but narrative and story do not alone an open-world make. And so acknowledging the strengths of the first game is a shining UV light here. We’ve been vocal in the past about how important post-release support can be, and while we’re seeing it now in games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
with pure seasonal content, it’s arguable the first modern game to approach games of this nature like this was the original Dying Light
"from the very beginning, we knew that we had to add something and we added choice and consequences..."
- Kornel Jaskula
“So we learnt our lesson, and we talked to the best guys out there,” Jaskula continues. “And so Chris Avellone
is on board [and] he's helping a lot. But not just that we also have Marc Albinet
, Alone in the Dark
), as our gaming director [and] he's a crucial person on Dying Light 2 right now in terms of putting those systems together, you know, how they [work together] to get the best experience to the players.
“[So] from the very beginning, we knew that we had to add something and we added choice and consequences, and we believe that when you have a sandbox game with sandbox gameplay, which is basically combat, parkour and the counters you have -- so the systemic parts; we knew that we wanted to recreate [that] with the story. And so having taken our experience on the gameplay side, we put everything [from an effort perspective] into the story. So the story right now corresponds to the gameplay and gameplay corresponds to the story, so [with] each choice the narrative and the gameplay should have the same output [to the player].”
It’s an interesting concept given the first game’s story was actually pretty good. Though binary, it certainly grounded
the world and gave us reason to attach ourselves to parkour protagonist Kyle Crane
. And while it felt like we might have ‘saved the world’ at the game’s close, the truth is we didn’t. Rather, we just delayed the inevitable, or at least lived through its early days. As my single note reminds us, Dying Light 2 is set some 15 years after the events of the first game. The infection won, and the world as we now know it has decayed, to use an apt metaphor, to the brink of humanity. Thusly, survivors have congregated to The City
, and what we find ourselves with is a world full of character, disparate rules and in reconstructed ruin.
Or as I suggested to Jaskula “renaissance Mad Max
"So we knew that [the game-world] had to be multicultural; it's somewhere in Europe because we wanted it to be a mix of cities we know, and for us it was a perfect setting for the game..."
- Kornel Jaskula
“Yeah, yeah! Of course that was our goal,” he says almost jumping out of his seat at the phrasing. “Humanity lost it's war to the infected. So we knew that [the game-world] had to be multicultural; it's somewhere in Europe because we wanted it to be a mix of cities we
know, and for us it was a perfect setting for the game with the architecture; the medieval buildings correspond [with] what we call ‘Modern Dark Ages
The reason this is poignant, in mentioning multiculturalism with the idea of a ‘Modern Dark Ages’, is that one of the voices I heard in the demo was definitely Aussie
(hence the Mad Max reference), but that all of this rolls into why, and how, The City has descended into an archaic level of society. Freedom means different things to different groups within Dying Light 2, and the ideology of positive ‘multiculturalism’ is flipped on its head. This is not
a nice place to be, let alone live in, and we haven’t even gotten to the Infected who still populate its daytime interiors and nighttime streets. A Mardi Gras
of dread, fear and vertical requirement, from a gameplay perspective.
This gives the game an expected separation as far as how you approach time of day, areas and missions because they’re always in flux. But it’s currently not being presented as binary. And this is another shift beyond how the first game was delivered to the player, expansions and all. There’s fluidity to how The City appears to work, and your place in it, albeit one of a glorified courier -- the nature of games like this since the beginning -- is important, because your ‘deliveries’ will shape the world and its reaction to
you. So in many ways, while you do control Aiden, our infected protagonist (which we’ll touch on shortly), it’s largely The City that should be considered the main character. A not unusual concept in this renaissance of open-world gaming and super-tech.
“You see all of it -- like, the technology that has fallen,” Jaskula expands when we ask about The City and the game’s lack of a ‘survival’ mechanic. “Basic daily tools that we are using (in the real-world) right now, like... gyms or cars or trains -- everything we use now [in Dying Light 2] is useless. So we really want to show that, and one of our goals is to show that that technology is useless right now. And basically you don't have to use it to live in the city.
"Aiden is infected. There’s a constant reminder of his infection by way of his watch and a requirement to medicate to slow the transformation process. This is clearly going to be a major gameplay tool..."
“We treat Aiden not as a character, but as a vessel,” he adds. “He’s only, like, the outfit of a real
character -- we gave the moral compass to the players. [And] we believe there's going to be many
Aidens out there.”
This statement is almost at total odds with the setup for our new hero. Aiden is infected. There’s a constant reminder of his infection by way of his watch and a requirement to medicate to slow
the transformation process. This is clearly going to be a major gameplay tool; how you make decisions and what those decisions do to elongate his life. In the demoes we’ve seen, he’s almost always desperate and seemingly out of breath. Whether or not that’s us overthinking or a genuine tool to help sell his plight and your need to perform missions and tasks will remain to be seen, but if it is what we’re thinking, it’s borderline genius.
"We like to wax philosophical where game-design is concerned on AusGamers, and we see the “vessel” that is Aiden becoming a reflection of truth for players..."
And while the team is adamant Aiden is simply a puppet for players, his toolset is increasingly awesome. Parkour is already expanded beyond measure from the first game, but small things like using zombies from up on high to break your fall, or your grappling hook and paraglider suit, just there, to aid movement through this dense post-apocalyptic space reek of both growth and
character growth. We like to wax philosophical where game-design is concerned on AusGamers, and we see the “vessel” that is Aiden becoming a reflection of truth for players and how people play the game. Or even play
games. We stand by The City being the main character; the main motivator, but without an operator, no machine functions entirely to its fullest capability. Dying Light 2 is going to challenge on a number of levels we’re not even sure exist in gaming.
At least, that’s what we’ve taken away from what we’ve seen so far.
It’s important to round all of this out to where we landed with the Mad Max reference as well. The City is a lived in, functional space. And from a tech perspective the studio’s new C-Engine appears to be supplying level and art designers with quick and reactive options and roadblocks. And this is something Jaskula happily confirms.
“It's [both] really hard and very easy at the same time,” he explains. “With the [new] tech we can change everything; we have something called ‘City Builder’. So we design rules and the cities generate it. [So] if we have to change a rule it's really easy to recreate the city with the new rule [or rules], so we can do it on the fly. Let's say if it comes to one district or one area; one block -- when you want to just test something it's actually very easy to change it, to regenerate it and see the outcome of it. [And] we're doing that every time, so QA is testing it on-the-fly; checking every change and [seeing] if the experience is what you want, or a variant.”
The world of Dying Light 2, based on all of this and everything we’ve seen so far is tantalising
. What separates the game from so many others is the convergence of different gameplay loops, systems and concepts of design. Parkour, on its own, based on city-building, level-design and the emergence of how different traversal is
based on day or night, could be a game unto its own. If you add to this how the world itself changes based on narrative and faction decisions, then you have another game on top of another game that now creates something new. Then you have combat and crafting and, if we’re being honest, probably more -- all powered by tech that is both future-proof and capable on modern architecture.
Then you just have pure art. Story, visuals, voices… writing. It’s all there for this to be something truly special. The jury is still out, but based on our up-close-and-personal experiences with Dying Light 2, 2020 is already one of the best years in gaming.