Wot I Think: Dying Light – The Following

The Following is an enormous expansion, adding a huge new map and all manner of vehicular carnage to Techland’s open world zombie-smasher Dying Light [official site]. But does a game about urban exploration and claustrophobic limb-lopping really need to stretch its legs in the great outdoors? And how does a buggy fit into a world of parkour and pummelling? Is carkour even possible?

Here’s wot I think.

The Following could so easily have been a terrible expansion. Techland spent a huge part of the development cycle for the original Dying Light trying to perfect the player character’s movement. The breakthrough came when one designer figured out how to make the character’s movement reactive, adjusting possibilities to the architecture of the level rather than having to tag every climbable edge and accessible surface.

That allowed the studio to build a city and then drop the character into it for playtesting, rather than custom-crafting every pathway that led up, across, inside and out. I see so many people complaining about the obvious markings that guide players to the active spots in most games that have any parkour-like movement, and I always want to thrust a copy of Dying Light into their faces. PROPER SYSTEMIC FREE-RUNNING AND CLIMBING AND JUMPING AND FALLING AND STUMBLING.

Techland made an engine that allows player and enemies alike to climb and jump anywhere that their bodies could feasibly reach. There are no magical markers to identify the few hand-holds and access points. If you’ve ever complained about waist-high walls blocking a path or invisible barriers preventing progress, Dying Light will liberate you.

Arduous opening aside, it’s a splendid game built around that wonderful movement system and smart use of dumb enemies. My main criticism is that the setting and characters are a little bland (OK, the characters are a LOT bland), but I tend to invent my own games within the game so that doesn’t particularly bother me.

The Following risks pissing all of the good things away by putting a vehicle centre stage. This entire game, built on a remarkable feat of design that allows for the best first-person free movement I’ve ever seen, is now about driving a buggy. Imagine putting a car in QWOP. It’d cut the game off at the legs.

And yet, The Following feels like a perfectly natural extension of The Following. In fact, playing it over the last week has made me appreciate the original game in ways that I hadn’t thought about previously. The buggy itself handles just as you’d want it to, bouncing across the terrain and creaking and jostling as its workings become gummed up with gristle and guts, but it’s the way that all of the existing systems overlap with the vehicular mayhem and maintenance that holds the entire expansion together.

Before I dig into that though, here’s the simple wrap-up. The Following’s map is massive, more varied than the city in the original, and more attractive. There’s a coastal settlement that I’d have happily lived in if it wasn’t crawling with the undead. Away from the claustrophobic confines of the city streets, Dying Light flexes its exposed muscles and shows the beauty of the post-life world. It’s striking to see the difference between the ruined urban environment and the barely noticeable scars of the more rural setting.

Dying Light’s world isn’t quite post-life, of course. You’re still running around, along with quest-givers and gangs of horrid bandits. You’ll meet a new group in The Following, a religious cult who reckon they can fight off infection through devotion and prayer.

They’re instantly more appealing than the gruff angry-folk of the base game, even though the missions they give you feel like domestic busywork at times, and the big dollop of mystery that the idea of a spiritual cure introduces did more to keep my interest than any of the villainous machinations I’d endured while trapped in the city. The Following doesn’t have the best plot you’re going to see this year but it did at least tickle my curiosity. Touching on the origins of or cures for zombie infections can be disastrous – I prefer my potentially-apocalyptic events to be unknowable – but there’s just about enough here to open up new possibilities without wrapping everything up so neatly that there’s a too-definite resolution.

The wide open spaces of The Following, which are plugged onto the side of the city and accessed via a new mission chain that opens the map, change the flow of the game. Crucially, they don’t throw out the good qualities of the original to do that. You’ll still be climbing, clambering and panicking as the hordes close in on you, but you’ll have a life raft to dive into when the going gets tough. And that, crucially, is what the buggy serves as – a life raft.

It’s a weapon as well and as you level it up, it becomes a very effective weapon, but it’s also rickety and ramshackle. It breaks down. Parts stutter and fail. But no matter how battered it is, it’ll keep on crawling toward safety, toward the shore, and it’s a beautiful bubble of safety in a world gone mad.

When I was considering how to express my love of this gory and glorious game all over again, a brief conversation with Jim was enlightening. I didn’t have to ascend to a mountaintop to hear his wise words, I happened to be on a Skype call with him.

“I hear you like Dying Light?” I said. “The Following is good stuff.”

“The whole ‘the floor is lava’ idea is so simple and it works so well…”

I stopped listening at that point. Of course Dying Light is ‘the floor is lava’ game. Of course it is.

We all played at that as kids, right? You pretend the floor is deadly and you can either stay on your bed, safe and stationary, or try to make your way across the room, using furniture and windowsills, maybe even throwing things onto the floor to act as stepping stones.

That’s Dying Light and the buggy doesn’t interrupt or obscure the essential playfulness at the game’s core. Wider spaces require transport and the buggy is the pillow that you chuck on the floor and then scooch across the room little by little using the soles of your feet.

It’s that pillow, except faster and more robust. Eventually you’ll be able to strap an electrified cage and a flamethrower to it. Just think – a metal safety pillow with a flamethrower attached to the front, ploughing through zombies.

As I mentioned when I first played the expansion, the balance of the buggy seems just right. You’re forced to leave it when it becomes too damaged or needs fuel, and that takes you back to the panicked exploration and crafting of the original game. ‘Panic’ is the key word. The Following’s world feels more dangerous than the city streets, partly thanks to the roaming Freaks of Nature, superpowered undead that act as minibosses and will happily turn your buggy on its roof and then chase you into the woods.

The buggy, like the rooftops, is a temporary form of safety. All of the enhancements in the latest edition – new loot, new levels, new end-game excess – are icing on the cake. Dying Light is about creating moments of safety, empowerment and comedic triumph in a world that wants nothing more than to tear you down, and The Following is a perfect expansion of that central tenet.

Dying Light: The Following is out now. I haven’t had a chance to try the returning Be a Zombie mode but coop is as splendid as ever.

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  1. bee says:

    How does the expansion play with the story? Does the story still do “after you complete this mission the game ends and you can’t continue”?

    • Kits says:

      I don’t recall if that actually happened or not, but you can play after finishing the main story in the city now at least.
      The Following is launched separately from the main game via the main menu though, and you cannot travel back and forth between the city and the countryside (though you do still go into The Following with all your skills and kit from the main game). Not sure yet if you can take it back with you once you are done, mind.

      • MultiVaC says:

        It seems like your character progression and inventory are main game/dlc agnostic if that makes any sense. You can pretty much freely swap between the base game and The Following at will and keep everything you have collected or unlocked in either one. It works kind of like what you would expect from one of the larger Elder Scrolls expansions or dlcs. It actually feels kind of weird having to go to the main menu to switch between the original city and the new countryside instead of simply traveling from one to the other in-game, but I’m guessing they did it this way because of co-op concerns.

  2. veerserif says:

    Typo? “And yet, The Following feels like a perfectly natural extension of The Following.” Seems like the second “The Following” should be “Dying Light” or somesuch.

  3. Stevostin says:

    To me The Dying Light is probably the best game in 2015 – I am surprised it’s not obvious to everyone. I can get the criticism on the story but I find them excessive – what AAA game sets a substantially higher standard for stories already ? Actually what AAA game has a more charismatic protagonist than Crane to start with ? Certainly not Ubi stuff, EA stuff or whatever.

    More importantly, Dying Light – and that was true in a tamer way in Dead Island although most people missed it – has a uniquely oppressive atmosphere. There is that mix of odd calm then proximity threat that is at the core of the Zombie genre but that nearly all games miss because they’re more about guns than about zombie. And the game is so dark, so depressing, so horrifying and scaring. That remains the one game I absolutely can’t have my son watching while I play. I am pretty sure he wouldn’t physically stand 10 minutes of it.

    To me it’s the real zombie game out there. It’s also one of the few First Person Open World game aka “the only games worth doing and playing in my book” and one of the best gameplay at it. I could go with survival (eating etc.), dialog options and branching stories but even the way it is now, it’s great.

    • Creeping Death says:

      I couldnt disagree with you more. While fun, Dying Light actually has many shortcomings. The parkour is actually rather clunky (the grappling hook almost feels like an admission of this by the developers), the mission structure is repetitive (either fetch the thing or battle arena) and both the combat and weapon customization are both lacking when compared to Dead Island.

      I’m actually surprised to see you call Crane charismatic. I thought he was rather dull and paper thin.

      • vahnn says:

        While I wouldn’t call Crane charismatic ay all, he’s far from dull. I think his dialog was expertly delivered in the base game. Lots of humorous lines from him, but not forced or overly cheesy.

        While the parkour can at times be clunky (and yeah. The grappling hook is lame. Amazingly useful, but so lame), no other game has done it nearly as well. Mirror’s Edge had more solid parkour, but again, every level was hand crafted and as such progression through almost every area was almost completely linear. The was less a sense of free running through a city and more a sense of taking an obstacle course. The variety of moves you can pull off and the fact that you have to look at what you’re climbing and hit the right keys is way more satisfying than HOLD SPRINT AND UP; CLIMB EVERYTHING method in so many other games.

        I guess some people just font like it, which is fine. I’m not a fan of Far Cry or Left 4 Dead, no biggie.

      • Stevostin says:

        I expected it to be clunky and didn’t find it clunky at all. Things happened the way I expected them to and I had a “mesh jump” oddity (way) less than one per hour – actually I can only remember it once.

        The grappling hook to me is no admission of anything else than grappling hook are fun and at +30h a game mechanic to have the player move faster over the map is welcomed. BTW if it was the admission you say it would be allowed in the missions, but generally it is not.

        Now about the fight you may have a point. While I don’t miss any bit of DI weapon’s customization , I miss the marker indicating where you can hit on zombies. That being said I think the mechanic is still there but they just stopped displaying the marker. You certainly can control where you hit with experience.

        Now if you’re into DI comparison, it has a way better balance and a way better skill tree. And quest indeed are bout moving and fighting (and sneaking, you forget those ones), which is to be expected for a game about moving and fighting and sneaking, but there’s certainly a variety to them. I have a very vivid memory of the one where you shall climb in the bridge and cross through zillions of them. Very tensed.

      • nrvsNRG says:

        @Creeping Death
        Stop trying to sound clever, the Grappling Hook is not an admission of anything. The parkour mechanics are anything but clunky, they are in fact smooth and annoyance free, and feel as natural as taking a shit. Maybe you’re just crap.

        Dying Light is one of the best games of 2015 because those small negatives (repetitive missions) are so far outweighed by the positives, that you can completely ignore them; and tbh I’m not even a huge fan of zombie games.

    • Treymoney says:

      I agree with you 100%. To me, it recalls the feelings I had playing STALKER, of all things. Its easily my favorite FPS of the last… maybe 5 years?

      • Imbecile says:

        Its a surprisingly divisive game. Check out the metro review for the perspective of someone who really didn’t like it.

    • Anguy says:

      I’ve played through the game for a second time shortly before The Following and this whole playthrough actually increased my appreciation for the game which I wouldn’t have thought would happen.

      Movement etc. are really great and that’s basically the best point to sell the game on. I’ve recommended the game to a couple of friends solely because of the great parkour in there. But what I didn’t really get the first time playing the game and was able to soak in a lot more this time was the heavy atmosphere.

      There’s actually quite a depressing undertone there. All those audio and textlogs you can find really hit home for me. All the little stories that are told by visual clues like corpses in certain places or the arrangement of certain furniture also did it’s part. Did anyone ever listen to the random NPCs that have a blue arrow on the minimap? Some of their dialogue let me feel for them quite a bit and they provided more small bits of backstory for Harran as a believable world.

      • Stevostin says:

        Wait, you mean you didn’t in your first run ?
        That may be the difference. I consciously try to get every content I find immediately – audio logs etc. To me it matters more than gameplay. But what you say and the fact they made it a bit uneasy to check those audio logs makes me wonder: is that something most ppl skip ?

        • Anguy says:

          My first run was shortly after the release of the game and for some reason I basically only did the main quest and not much else.

          I also did about half of that first playthrough with a friend which I found never really helps in terms of immersion in any game, since you are always chatting a bit and at least me and my friend seem to think the other person doesn’t want to read stuff that’s only there for backround information. That’s why I never started to read anything in the first playthrough except quest descriptions and I also didn’t take the time to breathe in the atmosphere or notice those little stories that I mentioned above that were told by visual clues.

          So my advice: Never play atmosphere or story heavy games with a friend, except outright horror games maybe. Being frightened together still works well. But same as with RPGs, waiting for someone to read something tends to get annoying.

          • Anguy says:

            (Edit function is really a missing feature)

            And yes I do think most people skip those fluff note bits in many games. It’s usually not more important than the story to me but it’s in a similar category of importance. The letters and notes in the old Thief games for example are tremendous and one of my favourite things in the game.

    • horrorgasm says:

      I thought it was a ton of fun too…until the same gamebreaking bugs that they never bothered to fix in Dead Island started popping up for me in Dying Light too. I guess that since technically only a minority of players are experiencing having their progress or entire character randomly erased isn’t important enough an issue for them to learn how to stop programming the same bugs into all their games.

    • KastaRules says:

      Call me crazy but Dying Light is definitely my favorite zombie game of all times! (DayZ came close but had too many trolls and not enough zombies in it…)

  4. metric day says:

    Does this have unfinished VR implementation like the original Dying Light or has that been disabled?

  5. Gordon Shock says:

    Now I am, er, dying to play it

  6. bill says:

    The Floor is Lava, you say?

  7. LennyLeonardo says:

    Just started playing this. I forgot how great Dying Light is. It’s wonky and feels budget like a good zombie movie should, but the the stuff it does well it absolutely nails. It’s the game equivalent of one of those weird lo-fi horror films you accidentally start watching at 2 in the morning and you love without fully understanding why.

  8. Sinjun says:

    This is way better than the main game just because it doesn’t have Rais, one of the worst and most inconsistently written video game characters of all time. God, what a shitty villain.

  9. Kitsunin says:

    Dying light is the best open-world parkour game out there. And parkour, as it turns out, is a fantastic fit for zombies. Hmmmmmm, I’m not sure if I should continue my late-game save or start a new game in appreciation of this expansion.