Techland made waves with Dead Island: An open-world zombie game with RPG and FPS elements. The series garnered praise for an amazing promotional video and unique gameplay. It also had issues of a bad promo for the game and less than stellar sequels and spin-offs.
This could be why the developers have decided to abandoned the series and start fresh (no pun intended) with Dying Light. While Dying Light may not be a sequel to the franchise, it's a great way of growing what was already great gameplay.
The story of Dying Light takes place in the city of Harran, where a zombie-like virus has struck. You play as Kyle Crane: A government agent sent in to recover what could be the cure to the virus. Upon arriving, you are of course bitten and forced to find the cure while staying human.
As with Dead Island, Dying Light is all about open-world gameplay. You are given free rein to explore the city looking for items and quests to do. Dying Light continues Techland's mix of FPS and RPG-styled gameplay. You'll be using all kinds of scavenged weapons to beat, stab and dismember the zombies with. Items can break and must be repaired, but there is always a limit.
You'll need to be always looking for new items, weapons and anything that can aid you. Due to the durability system, you will never be able to hold on to one weapon permanently.
As you explore the city, you'll be able to craft all manner of items to help you. While the game is open-world, story progression is focused on missions that have you going all over the city.
What distinguishes Dying Light from Dead Island comes from the growth of the systems that Techland has implemented.
The original gameplay of Dead Island was good, but somewhat limited in its aspects. Everything from combat to the RPG side never really stood out. In Dying Light, the developers have gone through and improved almost every aspect of their design.
Starting with the RPG side of things: You now gain experience in four different tracks: Survivor, Agility, Power and Legend. Each track will gain experience separately depending on your actions, and in turn will give you new abilities. Perhaps the best part of Dying Light from Dead Island will have to be the new focus on agility. In Dead Island, movement was very slow and limited; leading to a focus on driving.
With Dying Light, the game shifts to parkour-styled movement, as you climb and jump across the rooftops. Guns are rare in Dying Light and noise attracts the zombies; making it very hard to be a one man zombie killing machine. Instead, you'll need to avoid combat and only fight when it’s necessary; all the more so with the durability system.
As with any open-world game, you'll find side quests and challenges off the beaten path to go after. Since completing tasks are the only way to improve your survivor level which also gates upgrades, you'll always have reasons to go on missions.
The world of Dying Light is also greatly improved and more dangerous compared to Dead Island.
While you won't run into hundreds of zombies like in Dead Rising, even a small crowd can be enough to take you out. As the game goes on, you'll find special enemies and there is a day/night cycle where even more dangerous enemies will show up. The nighttime needs to be called out, as it really transforms Dying Light into a horror game with super strong enemies stalking you.
The verticality of Dying Light really elevates (no pun intended) the design. You're not just forced into fights anymore, and can easily escape or engage at your leisure. The open-world and progression model gives you much needed freedom during the zombie apocalypse.
With all that said, Dying Light may be improved over Dead Island, but old and new problems are rising from the grave.
Dying Light is one of those games where the player's own skill is hampered by the progression model. At the start, you're going to be very limited in items, techniques and options to get around. While this is all part of the progression of the game, things are a little too limited for my tastes.
You start with no means of blocking, countering or really doing anything effective. Eventually, you'll unlock instant kill skills, the ability to vault over zombies and more. This reminds me a lot of the Witcher 2 and how so much of the player's options are locked to abstraction.
I would have preferred starting with some capabilities for one-on-one fighting; especially when fighting human enemies who could block my attacks.
Even then, the game's combat never gets engaging; with repetitive fights against the same types of enemies. Even the gunplay feels off, made all the more frustrating by the amount that you do in the mid to late game.
The open environment also causes some problems in terms of gear. The vast majority of items you're going to find will come from scavenging the environment. For people wanting to just blaze through the game, you'll quickly find yourself running out of useful items and weapons.
Again, not a big deal once you get past the early game, but the lack of options may keep new players from progressing. Even the new weapons don't offer that much in terms of different play styles: A scythe will respond the same way as a hammer or an axe.
The first person viewpoint can also make it a bit disorienting when moving fast and trying to figure out where you need to climb or interact with. It's not so bad once you get used to it, but people who get motion sickness may have some problems here.
The controls also need to be mentioned. Playing on a keyboard and mouse, there were a lot of controls thrown all over the place. Some examples were grappling using the alt key, and the game commits my favorite UI problem: Assigning important controls to the Function keys.
While there are optional objectives that can appear while exploring, I would have liked more ways to gain experience or progress character-wise. Especially considering the amount of running you'll do, as there are no fast travel systems, unless you count dying and going back to a safe house. If you buy the expansion, you do unlock a new map complete with buggy driving, but I didn't play that at the time of this analysis.
The game also suffers in the variety department when it comes to objectives and missions. While there are a lot of missions in the game, they will usually involve getting some kind of item or interacting with something.
There just aren't a lot of ways to make your own fun or use things in different ways. They even had the gall to throw in the classic: Lose all your weapons and fight a boss scenario.
Dying Light is a greatly improved spiritual successor to Dead Island, and shows the commitment to this design from Techland. For open-world or zombie fans, this is definitely the game to check out, if you don't mind gameplay that is as repetitive as the zombies you fight. If they can just improve the base controls and mechanics, this could become one series that just won't stay dead.
For more on Dying Light, you can check out my video spotlight over on the Game-Wisdom YouTube Channel.
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