I love Dying Light. Ever since I played Mirror’s Edge, I fell in love with first person parkour – and by virtue of Dying Light’s open-world nature, you were given the freedom to run, jump and scale walls and buildings to your heart’s content. To top it all off, Dying Light has an element of danger to it in the form of zombies, which makes the game feel like an adult version of ‘the floor is lava’ absent the physical exhaustion (which in retrospect that last point might not be a very good thing). So to me, Dying Light is the perfect recipe for thrilling fun.
The Following is the expansion set to Dying Light, taking place in a whole new region separate from Harran, and is boasted to be much larger than it. This is a façade – while the new area is technically larger, it has less stuff in it, and the reason is that The Following added buggies as a core mechanic, which means it needs plenty of space to move around. The map is so large that you will find running anywhere will take ages, and so the buggy is enforced onto you. You simply cannot ignore it.
Now, it would be unfair to say the buggy was not somewhat fun. It was, for a while, at least. You are even provided with an entirely new skill tree to upgrade your ride with all sorts of crazy attachments; an electrified cage to ward off Virals that can jump on the vehicle; a flamethrower that will let you roast any zombie in the way; UV lights that will scare off Volatiles should you decide to go out for a night stroll. My personal favourite is the battering ram upgrade, which allows you to plough through hordes of zombies without losing momentum and control of your buggy, and seeing as zombies tend to spawn in clusters, mowing them down is child’s play, and very satisfying… and therein lies the ‘problem’.
The fun that was had in the vanilla game has been usurped for the fun that you can have in the expansion – the thrill of eluding the shambling ghouls on the streets below is not something you can do anymore, because there are no buildings to scale on open fields. Sure, you will have the occasional settlement here and there, but it’s not like Harran where the freedom to parkour was ubiquitous, especially after unlocking the grappling hook and reaching Old Town. The most significant impact the open fields have, to me, is the fact that you are now at the complete mercy of the nocturnal Volatiles. There are no buildings for you to run around or scale. On ground level, there is no parkour to save you – and only a well-upgraded buggy has any chance to do anything against them. As a result, most of my time was spent during the day. In the vanilla game, I had no worries about leaving during the night, because there were plenty of places to hide, and were I detected, I still had a chance to run away from them.
I remember a particular mission during the early parts of the game where you had to investigate a water pumping station that got overrun by bandits. Once you turned the pumps back online, Something Happened™ and you had to race to another section of the map to turn a valve. The problem was that you had limited time to achieve this. This meant using the buggy. With my stupendous luck, this timed mission happened at night, and with the speed at which the buggy goes, it becomes very hard to course-correct in time to avoid a Volatile’s line of sight. Surely enough, I was detected every single time, and because it was early on in the game, my buggy was rather poor in the upgrades department. It was slow and fragile and everything broke easily. Which it did. Multiple times. The Volatiles were stupidly fast and each strike would hit for something like a third of my health. In the end, I decided to ditch the buggy and run to the quest marker instead, and managed to get there in the nick of time to turn the valve. It took a lot of tries.
This, if anything, was an exercise in extreme frustration. I am not a person who enjoys racing games, and I care little for cars, but the buggy to me was an acceptable compromise – as long as it was optional. The game made it essential, and for me I felt it suffered for it.
Make no mistake, I did enjoy my time with The Following, but in my opinion, the experience was lesser than the vanilla game. Dying Light was about parkour, and The Following traded that for something that honestly felt more gimmicky than fun. It was ok for what it was, but it might have worked better if it was not a Dying Light game.
There was something else I think Techland could have done to make The Following significantly better, but that will require I spoiler the ending of the game, so if you haven’t played it and intend to, I thank you for reading.
To those of you who have finished the game, you know that the Mother speaks to you via telepathy. It’s canon – psychic powers, to some extent, exist in the universe of Dying Light, and while the source of said powers might be a bit Superhero-comic-book-ish in nature, the point remains that the zombie version of the X-Men could potentially exist. Since the vanilla game, I have thought that possessing some sort of superhuman ability would be really neat – Crane is already a powerhouse (at least on the non-insane difficulty), so pretending that Dying Light cannot aspire to be a power fantasy would be a tad hypocritical. Imagine what Crane would be able to do if the virus had somehow blessed him with psionic abilities? Hell, there’s even a mod on The Dying Light Nexus that does just that, so I’m hardly the only person who thought about that. Wouldn’t the following have been a much more interesting game had it retained a very parkour-friendly terrain and boasted psychic powers rather than a buggy? I mean, it would at least explain why your grappling hook seems to function like magic!
Thank you for reading.