Open world games have dominated the triple-A market for decades because of the freedom they offer players to explore virtual worlds and create their own stories, and no game has ever done that better than Dying Light 2. Traversing the rooftops and discovering the countless POIs throughout the City is a thrill, and it only gets better as you progress through the game and unlock more abilities and tools. Marvel’s Spider-Man is the only game that comes remotely close to matching what Dying Light 2 has to offer, but even web-slinging is relatively one note compared to the free-form design of Dying Light’s parkour.
Dying Light 2 takes the traversal system from the first game and amps up every single aspect of it. There are more techniques to unlock, more infrastructure to interact with, more tools to help you move faster, and more upgrades to transform the city into a freerunner’s paradise. Techland has done an incredible job of designing a city that feels like a playground, and as you level up, improve your abilities, and discover new places to climb, it only gets better.
I wasn’t sold on all of the changes at first. After playing an early sample of the game last year, I wrote that Dying Light 2 feels like it has moon gravity. You can jump much higher than you could in the first game, and you fall slower too. After 80 hours in the original, it took some time to get used to the new movement. Once I unlocked some of the new abilities and explored the City, I started to realize how complex and rewarding the parkour really is.
There are so many new techniques you can use to help you move fluidly and with intention. With upgrades, every obstacle becomes a tool. You can launch yourself forward over low walls and gain extra height by double jumping off of mail boxes and traffic barriers. You can slide under fences and leap at the end to clear a wide gap. You can run along walls, or run straight up walls, or combine both techniques into a running, jumping wall combo. You can unlock a dash that gives you a burst of speed in your jumps and a perk called Sleek Runner that lets you dive through gaps and scramble through tight spaces without losing momentum. When you get into the flow and use all of your techniques with perfect timing, there’s nothing else like it.
The genius of Dying Light 2’s level design is the way that the City grows with you as skills develop. Old Villedor, with its low-rise buildings and congested neighborhoods, has a lot in common with Harran from the first Dying Light. The streets and rooftops are covered in flimsy structures and jerry-rigged devices like ziplines and jump pads that help you move around easier. Once you collect some upgrades and make your way to the Central Loop area, you have to start finding your own routes using less obvious means like scaffolding, streetlights, and leftover construction equipment. Eventually you’re given a paraglider and you can start flying from building to building using the City’s air vents to boost you up.
The paraglider helps you reach places that were inaccessible before. Climbing to the tops of taller buildings gives you a new perspective of the city and helps you identify points of interest you couldn’t see before. Eventually you find another tool, the grappling hook, which lets you reach the tallest skyscrapers, once again giving you a new perspective of the world and a greater sense of command over it.
Dying Light 2 gives you such a wide range of tools and techniques that are meant to be used together and mastered like no other game. Spider-Man’s web-swinging is great because you can leap from great heights, build up speed, and launch yourself great distances, but web-swinging has a low skill ceiling. There are upgrades in Spider-Man that give you new ways to build momentum and be more stylish with your movement, but the core of the web-swinging experience doesn’t evolve the way Dying Light 2’s parkour does. You don’t really get better at web-swinging, and the world doesn’t evolve to challenge your mastery of web-swinging as the game progresses.
In Dying Light 2, every jump is a life or death moment. Missing a grab or falling short can leave you plummeting 15 stories down to your death. In the early hours, you’ll find yourself jumping from one roof to another and barely reaching the ledge to pull yourself up. Later on, you’ll be launching yourself over the edge with a slide jump, swinging across antennas like monkey bars, opening your paraglider to catch an updraft, then latching onto the top of a crane with your grappling hook and swinging onto the roof of a skyscraper. In both scenarios you’re only ever one mistake away from certain death. Every moment that you’re out in the open world is an edge-of-your-seat experience - even when you get good chaining together your moves and maintaining your momentum.
Traversal is a skill you develop in Dying Light 2. You have to be engaged and react to variables, have precise timing, and use everything you’ve learned, even when all you’re doing is traveling from one map marker to another. Riding horses, driving cars, and even web-swinging can never compare to the Dying Light 2’s parkour. If open world games are all about the freedom to explore, Dying Light is doing it better than anyone else.
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