At E3 2019, I had the chance to take a look at the latest build of Dying Light 2. After checking it out last year and seeing the new trailer during the Xbox E3 2019 conference, I was eager to see how far it’d come.

What I saw this time, quite stressfully played live by the developers, has shot this game up several places on my most-anticipated list. Running on the custom, in-house C-Engine, Dying Light 2 looks amazing.

E3 2019 Dying Light 2 Preview

Techland describes the setting of the game as being “a modern dark age” and it’s immediately easy to see why. Decrepit skyscrapers look like fallen gothic castles. Melee weapons and armor are the new standards. Humanity has stabilized in a sense and the infected have been pushed back, yet civilization suffers.

This sequel takes place 15 years after the first game and our protagonist is Aiden Caldwell. When the demo opened and they began playing, the atmosphere reminded me of the bars in the Metro series. Height brings safety from the infected that roam in the night, so almost everyone and everything are on the roofs of different buildings: farms for crops, stalls and different shops, if there’s room for it, it’s off the ground. The atmosphere and lived-in sense that this provides works quite well.

During the demo, it became clear that our factions of survivors desperately needed water. Negotiations were being held to have the ruler of a small island turn the water pumps back on but during the meeting, something goes wrong and a fight breaks out. Much like the first game, it’s primarily melee-based combat. Aiden had an electrified weapon that could be used to shock enemies, as well as slice off limbs or deal damage in the gaps between their rudimentary armor. One thing I really liked was the attention to detail: when grappling with one particular foe, Aiden delivered a headbutt that broke his foe’s nose and blood began streaming down his face. Combat is both tactical and brutal.

While the surviving enemies fled in a truck, one of our friends took a hit in the battle and is bleeding out. It’s here that you see the choices and newfound RPG elements highlighted: we can pick to chase after the aggressors or try to patch our friend up. It’s a timed decision too, so you can’t take forever to pick.

Choosing to chase after the vehicle, it became obvious just how much bigger this city is over the first game. With an increase in city size comes an increase in agility as well – Aiden zipped along ropes, sped over rooftops and leaped between skyscrapers trying to find the escaping vehicle. Everything is ridiculously fluid and the animations were slick as he chained together different moves.

This time around, there’s a dynamic, physics-based system for parkour. If you’re using a rope to swing between buildings, it’ll only work if you’ve got enough momentum. Grab an infected chasing you and hurl them through a weak wall? You might just make a shortcut and if you time it right, you can use said infected individual to break your fall. Land on a rickety beam that’s carefully balanced? The other end will realistically shoot up in the air and you need to run quickly to jump off. It demands incredible skill and is very high-risk but you can pull off some truly insane stunts and moves.

You’ve got a grappling hook and a paraglider to aid you, as well as a pair of binoculars that can be used to find targets and objectives. The HUD as a whole is quite minimalist, though Techland did confirm that it can be heavily customized to your liking.

During the day, the infected huddle into buildings, hiding away until the night comes. So it’s quite unfortunate when you slip and crash through a rotten floor, landing in the middle of several dozen of them. You now have UV flares that can be used to escape in an emergency but you have to be quick, they don’t last long. One of the coolest moments in the demo came here, where after slipping under a garage door, Aiden grabbed the piece of metal that was holding the door up, gaining an impromptu weapon. If it actually works like that in the main game, color me impressed.

Eventually, after some careful decision making and intimidation, Aiden made his way to the island. Stealth mechanics seem to have been seriously improved over the first game, allowing you to bypass causing a bloodbath (if you so choose). When we met the leader of the island, he insisted that he didn’t have the ability to turn the water back on but that he knew how, if we were willing to help. For this demo, Aiden chose to fight him, so we had to carve through several bodyguards, including one hulking, heavily-armored brute that required some careful thinking. While all the combat so far had been melee only, there was a cobbled-together air rifle Aiden was able to use, disposing of two guards with ease, though it jammed afterward and was flipped around to use as a club.

After turning the water pumps on, water appeared to flow freely back through the city canals. It also unearthed a previously-flooded section of the map, an entirely new district to explore. Unfortunately, it also uncovered previously buried infected who, as Techland cryptically pointed out, are evolving. They won’t say much more except that they are “keeping the cards close to our hearts” regarding both the new infected and what happens at night.

Your choices in Dying Light 2 will change the story and we were told that the average playthrough will only see about 50% of the game. There are seven distinct city regions to explore and each one has its own theme, rewards and challenges that will force you to change up your playstyle. The soundtrack is being composed by Olivier Deriviere, whose work can be heard in Vampyr and more recently A Plague Tale: Innocence.

 Summary

When I first saw Dying Light 2 revealed at the Xbox E3 2018 conference, I was definitely interested and that interest only went up after seeing a behind-the-scenes demo. This year? Dying Light 2 has skyrocketed up to be one of my most anticipated games, period. I cannot wait for it. With multiple branching paths, incredible parkour, wince-inducing combat and some apparent nasty tricks with the infected coming, I have a feeling this is going to be not just a great game but something quite special.

If you’re interested in hearing even more about the game, I have an interview with Adrian Cisweski, Creative Director at Techland, coming extremely soon. Dying Light 2 releases on Xbox One, PC and PlayStation 4 sometime in Spring 2020.

If you’d like to read my other E3 2019 coverage, you can check out the links below: