Update 2/12/15: additional review content below, after my original impression comments.
Having played online and off for over ten hours, I think I have a pretty good grasp of what Dying Light has to offer, enabling me to make some educated opinions on it.
The gameplay is essentially a refined Dead Island combined with Mirror’s Edge Lite Edition. I wasn’t overly enamored with either of those games originally, but Dying Light makes their styles work together as a surprisingly tight hybrid title. The skill trees are great additions, and there’s so many great perks to choose from that every upgrade has impact. The third skill tree (out of three), the survivor branch, is an especially nice touch as every time you die you lose a little experience, setting you back on your level up. This adds a nice risk-versus-reward element to an otherwise lenient open world adventure. This modifier gets exponentially more interesting when the game turns from daytime to nighttime, as the night gameplay is amazingly tense. During the day, again, Dying Light is little more than the usual Dead Island fare. But at night, it turns into an insane match of tag against relentless World War Z (movie version) style zombies who’ll run and climb over anything in their way to reach you. There is a stealth option, but when playing online co-op, the odds of no one setting off the zombies are nonexistent.
The combat is still kind of boring, just as Dead Island’s was, but it’s okay because the parkour running gives players like myself an alternative that allows you to maneuver up, over and around zombies, whether that be by running on rooftops, shimmying across scaffolding, vaulting off of zombies’ heads or ramming them out of the way with elbow slams. This organic movement makes the game so much better that if the parkour was removed and you had to live with the shitty, easily breakable weapons available to you a la Dead Island, then I couldn’t recommend Dying Light at all. Luckily, developer Techland got smart.
The plot isn’t as bad as some might lead you to believe, but it sticks close to its book of zombie infection cliches. The voice acting is serviceable, but the main character’s is especially nice, as it sounds like whoever was voicing him was doing his best Roger Craig Smith impersonation.
The co-op is awesome, and if you had any fun with it in Dead Island then you know exactly what to expect here. It makes a good game great, to put it bluntly.
In short, if you have the ability to play online then Dying Light is a must buy for fans of either Mirror’s Edge, Dead Island or zombie games in general. If you plan on going through it solo, then wait for a discount and pick it up at a bargain bin price, as it will still be worth your time, just not sixty dollars’ worth.
The final hour of this game is utter garbage. The final mission, the only mission that forces you to play through alone besides the very first mission, is just trash. It tries to be Mirror’s Edge SO HARD here (like, the bits where the taser ninjas are running after you) and completely forgets that it is a hybrid title, not a specialized parkour simulator. So, in short, the finale is frustrating trash. Not to mention that the final fight is a quick time event, which there was no reason for given the multitude of well-done boss battles that came before it.
Aside from that one MAJOR flaw, the other new opinions I have after beating the game (18 hours in total, including most of the side missions) are that the story missions are better than most people are giving them credit for being, but at the same time the side content is where Dying Light really shines. The side content ranges from one-off Sherlock Holmes-style detective mysteries to helping deranged Metro 2033 rejects get air filters for their gas masks, and a whole slew of other quirky stuff that really adds to the game’s core cure-for-the-virus plotline. These side missions are surprisingly well written, often better so than the main quests, giving you more incentive to play them than the actual core story.
The decision for Techland to implement an entirely separate second city to traverse was odd, given that it plays to the game’s parkour strengths so much better than the first, making me wonder why they even bothered with the first city. The first hearkens back to Dead Island, with a tropical setting not really built for hardcore parkour, whereas the second city features a Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands-esque city with climbing and running opportunities at every turn. Not to mention that once you get the grappling hook, the game changes completely and you’re essentially Spider-Man on the second city’s map.
One thing that I think the game kind of missed an opportunity with was not having the zombies grab your feet when you spend precious seconds dangling from a ledge. Sure, it would’ve made for a LOT of stupidly frustrating segments, but if Techland had fine-tuned the zombie AI this could’ve made things much more tense (I mean, I was already freaking out while playing thinking that eventually they would grab me down, but while the concept scared me in actuality they never did it). Similarly, I wish the game had tried a little bit harder to emphasize the night over the day, as it’s the only time the game REALLY stands out among its peers (Dead Rising, Dead Island, Left 4 Dead, etc.).
And that about sums up my final opinions on Dying Light. This game is worth giving a shot, definitely, but be a smart shopper and only get it at the price where you’ll be okay with a more refined version of Dead Island.