Dying Light 2, as we learned at last year's E3, is a "narrative sandbox." Every choice you make affects not just the narrative, but the world itself. In a behind closed doors demo at this year's E3, we finally got to see what that really looks like in action.
And it seems steep. An early moment in the demo sees your friend Frank shot in a scramble with some renegades, and you're given your first real choice: find a doctor for Frank, or chase after the renegade truck that's peeled away. In the demo, they take the latter. It's here where we see Aiden Caldwell, our hero, parkour through the streets; disrupting workers going about their days on rooftops and shoving past bored zombies loitering in sunlit rooms. In Dying Light 2's 15-years-later setting, the UV rays from the sun are painful for zombies, and hurt them over time.
"So there's the rule in this world is that the day is for humans and the night for the infected. So during the day you will not really encounter too many of those zombies; they're hidden inside interiors. Inside buildings, inside dark places," lead game designer Tymon Smektala tells us in a group interview, responding to another outlet's question of zombies' muted prominence in the demo. "But during the night, of course, everything flips and now those zombies, they come out. There are hordes of biters, the slow moving ones on the streets. There are virals that run through the rooftops. There are volatiles that come out if you do something really noisy or if you make too much commotion, so there's plenty of zombies in the game and this is something that of course we are holding these back maybe a little bit too long, but there's a huge info about zombies coming up as well soon."
There is a consequence to that early choice, though. After crashing through a roof's floor and waking up a lot of zombies, Aiden finds his way outdoors again. He eventually makes his way to the truck, and has a choice of threatening the driver or killing him. Not killing the driver was the better call we learn. We're en route to The Castle, where a man named the Colonel is guarding a water supply valve; and the city is in desperate need for that valve to be turned. To enter the castle, our driver, we learn, has to give a password just to pass through the gates. Without him, it would have been a loud, violent entrance. Without the shaken driver bending to us, it would have been a battle.
Upon entry, we get a phone call from Matt, who stayed behind with Frank, and learn that Frank passed away. Ominously, the second objective marker saying to find a doctor for Frank is crossed out. But it's the next decision that sparked my intrigue more. In a standoff with The Colonel, you're given another two options: to trust the Colonel knowing of an actual water supply—because according to him, the valves in the Castle don't work—or to go along with Matt and Frank's original plan to turn on the valves and restore water to the city. We go with Matt and Frank, which leads to a short fight. (In the sequence, the demo player lingered before dealing the final blow to its miniboss. I ask if you'll be able to grant dying and no longer hostile people mercy, which the developers confirmed, even noting that the game measures the moments where you do grant it too.)
The water valves are successfully turned and as we see in a short cutscene, water seeps into the city. In the process, we also watch a submerged area of the city drain of water and emerge with somehow intact, moss-covered buildings. In Dying Light 2, some big choices will open, or have other consequences, on major sections of the open-world or the mechanics. And it's not like this once-underwater district is inaccessible if you opted to save Frank and not chase the truck either: you can still explore it through diving underwater. And with the game autosaving after every choice, there's no save scumming tolerated. You're stuck with your decisions.
"One thing I like about the timeline being advanced by 15 years is that it allows a lot more vegetation to be expressed in the environment," narrative designer Chris Avellone says. "Like one thing I love about this city is being able to see the rooftops and you see the gardens and the trees, you're like, 'Oh wow. Nature is taking it back.' So even though you do have this crashed remnants of old civilization, you see a source in the beauty rising from that and the blend of that is really cool."
"And actually the vegetation that Chris mentioned is another way to say, 'hey guys there's still hope in this world and if you can make right decisions, this hope can really change this world, it ain't gonna get better," says Smektala. "So it's up to the players to do that."
Overall, Dying Light 2 is four times bigger than its predecessor, in terms of its open-world. But even its developers allege that in a single playthrough, you won't even see 50 percent of the content in the whole game. Seeing how big and how small choices can be—from unlocking a whole new area to simply going into a fortress loudly or quietly—one's experience with Dying Light 2 can seemingly change with the wind of their mood that day.
Dying Light 2 has a lot of ambition; coupling its hit parkour and melee zombie action to steep narrative aspirations. The developers say it will indeed have multiple endings, but the team is still arguing over them because some are being deemed "too controversial." We'll see if it all pays off in spring 2020 when it releases for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.