Dying Light had a fast but perilous climb to the top – so it’s a good thing it’s excellent at parkour.
The first game was a sleeper success, launching in a quiet January in 2015 where more people were inclined to take a chance on its sometimes unrefined – but ultimately compelling – open-world leaping, ragdoll zombie-squishing formula.
But where the original was spritely and free, skipping right to the forefront gaming’s big franchises while major publishers were looking the other way, Dying Light 2: Stay Human was being asked to repeat the feat while balancing buckets of water over its shoulders, riding a unicycle, and in front of a live studio audience.
By 2022, Dying Light had received seven years of gameplay improvements, quality of life tweaks, a massively well received DLC expansion and even a whole new dark fantasy-themed game mode, so not only was Dying Light 2 carrying the weight of a much larger audience’s excitement, it was under pressure to deliver something that was just as polished, varied and complete straight away – all with the spectres of Horizon: Forbidden West and Elden Ring looming over gamer’s wallets in the same month.
“I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that,” says Tymon Smektala, Dying Light 2 lead designer, when I ask him why he thinks about the same number of people are playing Dying Light as Dying Light 2 on Steam at the moment.
“I think the first Dying Light had the advantage of being a fresh thing that happened and no one expected it to happen in the way it did. So in a way Dying Light 2: Stay Human had it more difficult because it had to meet those expectations.
“Definitely we’d like to move everyone to Dying Light 2: Stay Human at some point. I think what stops people from making this move is, like every new game, it’s expensive, you need to find those $70 or £60 to get a new game. It’s an investment and I think people are waiting to see what we do with the game, how it will start growing.
“Also consider that the first game also changed over those years. It’s gotten a lot of new content, tweaks, improvements so in a way it’s more mature than the second one right now because we’re still adding to it.”
And despite Dying Light 2’s first story DLC being delayed from summer to fall, the first additions are already being made, just not always in the order Techland originally intended.
As many infected as there are shambling the streets of Villedor, there are a lot of bugs too, and Techland took to posting checkpoint lists of specific issues it was working on and what was left in the pipeline as it tried to shore up Stay Human’s inconsistent performance and, unfortunately, hiccupy presentation.
But alongside that, different teams were still working on adding new enemy types and new platforming challenges to expand the game’s parkour offering, as well as shuffling the roadmap in response to community feedback.
“We are all set up to deliver and we have a plan and quite clear picture of where we want Dying Light 2 to be in 2027 – however crazy that may sound,” Smektala says. “Our plan for the initial phase, which for us lasts for between 12 and 18 months, is quite detailed, and we have a lot of things that we can’t talk about yet, but will happen over the next year to year and a half.
“We’ll do a lot of different stuff to try and see how the community responds to and what excites the community most, then on the second part of the journey – between the bits we already have in mind – we will release more content based on requests from the community.
“[The roadmap is] flexible and for us it’s a crucial part of how we think about post-launch: being very aware of community requests and listening very closely to what gamers expect. Because for us we understand when the game is released it’s in the wild and not ours anymore, it’s not just 300 people working on the game owning it, it’s 5 million owners.”
One way that Dying Light 2’s post-launch content is changing is to give players more impetus to stay in Villedor (rather than returning to the more toy-filled sandbox of Harran), is taking advantage of how Stay Human looks on current-gen hardware; both on console and PC.
“We don’t want to stop players from having fun or tell players how they should have fun,” Smektala explains. “We’re here to shepherd the community and be the guys that deliver the fun. So listening to community feedback and encouraging community feedback is a part of our process, a part of our business model, a part of our philosophy. This is what we very strongly believe in.
“An example is the agent ranks, the player progression meta game which we initially thought we’d introduce later but it seems like a lot of people have already reached this stage in consuming our game where they want more levels and the context that gives them to play the game. So we’ve pushed this up to happen a bit quicker. The same with Photo Mode, initially it was going to be added later but it was such a highly requested feature from the community that it will happen sooner – it should also be released before the summer holidays.
“So far nothing new has been added [to the plan], we think we have everything covered for the initial phase, but we’re shuffling the order to fit the community’s trends and expectations. Generally, the idea is that we’ll embed more and more things in the game to make it more interesting, to make it grow sideways, more interesting and more varied. We’ll follow the plan, with some changes, some iterations, but speaking from a high level this is what we intended to happen.”
One place where Techland might have to swat down spiralling expectations is with the upcoming story DLC for Dying Light 2. Whether it’s down to some inelegantly chosen words or comparisons to Dying Light 1’s Hellraid mode – where you batter hell skeletons and zombie mages on your way to the top of an evil magic tower via an in-universe arcade machine – it’s very easy to either overpromise and underdeliver or leave too much room for speculation so that you can never live up to the hype.
However, it seems like these expansions are tied more closely to the events of the main game than some of the more off-the-wall additions to its predecessor.
“Don’t expect that they will take you to space or something like that. That would maybe happen in year 3 or 4,” Smektala jokes.
“Our PR lady is looking at me funny for saying this because in other interviews I’ve said something hypothetically about Dying Light 3, but the news headlines were ‘Dying Light 3 confirmed’, so I’m not confirming that we will take players to space or take players to Atlantis.
“For DLC 1 and 2 they are different locations, but they’re all within the same universe, the same headspace. They are connected to what’s happening in the city and start in the city of Villedor, it’s all broadly the same area. Those are new locations.”
But while these first story DLCs are more grounded in the central story of Stay Human, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t plans to take Dying Light 2 in a similar direction to the original.
“We have 5 years of content in front of us with big steps defined that will take us to where we want to be in 5 years,” Smektala continues.
“I think in those 5 years the game will have grown to be really huge. I think that’s all I can reveal at this point. The game will definitely grow to get more locations and more content but it’s too early to talk about specifics. We don’t want to promise something and then it takes on a new life of its own and gets taken out of context.
“This is our baby, working on Dying Light 2 gives us pleasure and excites us. You might say after working on the franchise for 7 years that we would be running out of ideas, but actually it’s the other way around. The more you work on something, the more you master it, the more you get into the flow of coming up with new ideas.
“So basically every day when I’m having a conversation with someone on the team we’re talking about a great idea. The well of ideas is infinite. For Dying Light as franchise and Dying Light 2: Stay Human, so I hope many good things will happen with the game in the next 5 years.”
But Dying Light 2 isn’t the only thing Techland has on its slate over those 5 years. It recently sent out a hiring call for an “unannounced AAA open-world RPG”, not so subtly hinting that it’s gearing up to launch a brand-new series, or at least revive one from the company’s back-catalogue of released and unreleased projects.
The games are under development by different teams at different studios, but the prospect of a big-budget brother puts Dying Light in an interesting position now that it’s been widely released.
“In a way I would say yes, because this is the new thing that we need to kickstart”, Smektala says when I ask him if the unannounced game is now Techland’s main focus.
“Dying Light already has this behind it, the brand has been promoted, marketed, people know the IP. We have two games in it already. Post-launch support tends to be easier, it really isn’t, but you have the foundation of tech and the foundation of gameplay you’re just adding to something that works.
“The focus is split really, they are made by different teams at different studios, it’s all Techland. I think it’s hard to say that one has more focus than the other. All of those things are our projects.
“With a new game and a new IP you have to focus more resources on creativity. In a way, yes - but I don’t think we’ll ever say, ‘this is our priority, we don’t care about the other things’, or the other way around.
All of those are our projects and part of our strategy to have not just one IP but more, and all of them are important.”
He laughs: “What I can say is that it definitely isn’t Dying Light 3.”
As for hints on what the unannounced game might be, Techland has confirmed a fantasy setting, but not whether it’s an evolution of the planned game that’s been known about since before Dying Light 2 or something completely different.
“The only direction, suggestions or guide we can give people to what it is, is what we’ve released already alongside the newsblasts,” Smektala teases. “Please go back to it and analyse it and make your own guesses as to what the game could be.
“I think there’s plenty to analyse and discuss and make your own theories. When the time comes to reveal all the cards, the concept art is really nice, I have it as my PC wallpaper already, but there’s stuff there that you can read into, definitely.
“They are extremely talented and there are extremely good people working on the game, and it’s a real honour to be able to exchange ideas, be in the same company and be exposed to their ideas. I think players should really expect something very interesting from that team - I’d love to work on that team, it’s extremely exciting and fingers crossed for that team, that game and our people doing these things.”
However, despite Techland’s growing success as both a developer and a publisher with the Dying Light franchise, there have been concerns over its workplace environment. In a report published in February 2021, the Dying Light 2 studio was said to have high staff turnover, with processes that stifled creativity by requiring any new ideas to cite an existing reference in another game.
“It’s not an easy thing to answer for reasons that might surprise you,” Smektala stated when I asked if Techland has a similar plan to make improvements to its work culture at the same time as Dying Light 2. “When we read those reports we actually felt - and it was a common feeling at the studio - that the report was extremely unfair and extremely one-sided.
“I think the people who took it worst were the developers, the people in the trenches making the game. We really felt that it was unjust and it was unfair and the story didn’t open the doors to the voices of the developers in the studio and try to listen to their stories.
“Like every developer and every company hopefully, we try to improve and progress and try to get more and more professional as we try to introduce processes that allow us to do things more effectively. And we will continue to do that, 100%.”
VG247 reached out to the original source of the report for a response and Stacey Henley, Editor-in-Chief, TheGamer said:
"TheGamer reiterates that everything in our report was corroborated by multiple developers at Techland, and that several elements were confirmed and commented on by Techland CEO Pawel Marchewka, who we reached out to ahead of publication and whose comments are included extensively within the report in order to show all sides of the story."
Dying Light 2 is available on PC, current and last-gen consoles, and has a cloud version coming to Switch later in 2022.