Dying Light: The Following Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
Dying Light was a curious game. A spiritual sequel to the Dead Island franchise, it was both charmingly clunky and frustratingly slow to find a rhythm. Once it did, however, it became a wonderful b-tier distraction that surpassed its predecessor in almost every way. One highlight was the generous nature of Techland’s DLC and, in the same spirit, The Following is a hefty expansion offering more story, a new area and more ways to fend off the undead.
Following (heh!) directly on from the main game, it’s immediately apparent that this expansion lives up to that description. Your first glimpse of the verdant, open area after leaving Harran is awe-inspiring. The map is huge, bathed in the thick sunlight that’s become a staple of the Dying Light mini-franchise. Making your way down a cliff path to the first mission is a fantastic way to show just how huge and worthwhile this expansion is, akin to the parachute drop that spectacularly opened the main game.
Once on the ground, however, the same problems that bugged Dying Light’s campaign rear their head. The story is marginally more enticing than the undercover operative plotline that loosely held things together in the main campaign. A cult pledging allegiance to a mysterious figure known as The Mother has made camp outside Harran’s limits. While it initially seems dubious, their apparent resistance to infection and ability to ward off zombies through meditation. So follows a storyline that is intriguing but little more - at least it serves well enough to pull you through the vast, occasionally overwhelming, landscape.
But what a landscape! Traversable by a buggy that makes Gordon Freeman’s Highway 17 excursion look like an all-expenses-paid road trip, this new area has a vast network of roads, fields and settlements to discover, littered with fetid bodies that become bumper fodder as you zip about. Skill trees return and your vehicle is as upgradable as your character, salvaging parts and unlocking new abilities for driving around like a ruddy madman. Of course your vehicle is also liable to fall into disrepair and can run out of fuel, plus running over the undead is actually discouraged (although it gives you a good amount of XP, so to Hell with that!)
With so much room to race around you’d think that there would only be the occasional building but that proves untrue. Farms, settlements and even a sizeable coastal town prove points of interest, with quests often pointing towards these. There’s also a large cave system, often harbouring volatile hives that need to be cleared. Volatiles (actively aggressive and dangerous zombies) come out at night once again and there are other special variants, some new and some recognisable from the previous campaign.
You’ll want to hit The Following at level twelve or higher, according to the game. Due to a deleted save, we went in at level ten and found it pretty tough - like Dying Light, The Following has a steep difficulty curve where, should you not be proficient enough or have a large arsenal, you might find the first few hours tough. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the undead and most of the human enemies are armed to the teeth, so you’ll want to pick up a few guns for good measure. Luckily, there are new weapons to boot, including a crossbow and various submachine guns. A few hours in and you’ll be hitting outposts and liberating them in no time.
There are a good number of sidequests in addition to the main story. They tread the line between your standard fetch/escort quests and something a little more substantial - more than a few manage to subvert expectations, if even for just a minute. It isn’t worth spoiling, but one particular enemy brings a ghoulishly dark element to the game, if dismembering the dead wasn’t already gruesome enough.
As with Dying Light, The Following is also open to jump-in online multiplayer (if you set the game to open/just friends) and the Be the Zombie mode returns as well. Multiplayer is certainly welcome - especially if you find certain parts a struggle. Then there are the challenges that can be initiated spontaneously as you cross the map. Perhaps you’re both in a vehicle, smashing through fences. The game will prompt you to activate a destruction challenge should you wish. These crop up all the time but never feel intrusive - a diversion and nothing more, but something that can give direction to what can devolve into chaos more often than not.
On-foot travel has also been improved with a parkour system that still takes getting used to but which feels more responsive. These balancing option also revert to the main game too, fixing some of the clumsiness inherent in first person parkour (just ask Mirror’s Edge). It isn’t perfect but it works better than it did. There’s a range of other improvements too - the game looks better (that luscious lighting is glorious) and there’s a new Legend system, a separate skill tree that sits on top of the others. Add in all previous DLC and this is a generous package (ooh, matron!) from a developer that was already consumer-friendly to begin with.
As mentioned previously, however, there are still the same nagging problems. Framerate took a dip or two on the Xbox One version we tested but the main issue still sits with the characters and story. It’s just not a riveting narrative, heightened by the odd geographical placement of the whole thing. Harran was a decidedly Middle Eastern locale - this feels almost like Italy or another Mediterranean climate. Perhaps it is, but the characters that populate it don’t feel cohesive, not helped by a script that is passable and often cringeworthy. There are also the towers that scatter the map - lifted almost exactly from Far Cry, even Ubisoft seems to have given up on them which makes their presence in Dying Light seem dated.
Aside from these, Dying Light: The Following Enhanced Edition would be worth a purchase even only for the expansion alone. The fact you get the full game as well makes this a worthy game for newcomers as well as those looking to refresh their brain-battering. It’s not essential - almost everything about the game seems a played out cliche in gaming these days - but this doesn’t make it any less of an enjoyable ride.