Not yet Following the Dying Light

My obsession with Watch Dogs has finally run its course, though I still intend to play through the DLC at some point. My next obsession will probably be The Division which launches on March 8th. I played both closed and open beta weekends and LOVED it, even though I was playing it completely wrong (solo and not spending a lot of time in the much-discussed Dark Zone).

To tide me over until March I’ve returned to Dying Light. I last posted about this game over a year ago. As so often happens with me, I drifted away before getting very far into the game. In the year since, Techland has continued to support and enhance Dying Light and they recently released a giant expansion called The Following that adds a big area outside the city plus zombie-slaying buggies. I had to get in on that and was happy to plunk down $30 for the Season Pass which included The Following as well as a few other smaller DLC packs. (If you just want The Following you can get it for $20 and if you’re new to the game you can now get everything for $60.)

I decided to start a new game after I loaded up my save from a year ago and couldn’t remember how to do anything. I felt like I was really struggling, and checking some game forums suggests that it wasn’t my imagination: the game is harder than it was at launch. Early game weapons are pretty weak and zombies are surprisingly tough, plus your skill set is pretty sparse. If you decide to try the game out I urge you to persevere because once you get some levels behind you it becomes incredibly fun.

What is really scratching the itch for me is constant progression. You have 3 attributes, each with its associated level: Survivor, Agility and Power. You earn Agility EXP from parkour stuff: jumping, climbing and generally running around like a mad person. You earn Power EXP from fighting zombies. And you earn Survivor EXP from doing tasks. Basically whatever you’re doing (other than idling in a safe zone), you’re feeding a constant drip of EXP into one of these three systems. When you die you’ll lose Survivor EXP though as far as I can tell you’ll never backslide in levels. You don’t seem to ever lose Agility or Power EXP though, and of course as those levels go up the tasks you’re trying to achieve for Survivor points get easier, so it’s a nicely balanced system.

Each time you level up you get a skill point to spend in the skill tree associated with whichever trait you leveled up with. Agility skills are things that you’d generally associate with dexterity like using a charging zombie’s momentum against it and tossing it aside. Power gives you combat abilities like Stomp, that lets you squish a zombie’s head when it is on the ground. It’s very handy when skills start working together. Shove a rushing zombie, it stumbles and falls, then run over and squish it’s head. (It’s a very gory game.) Survivor skills are things like additional inventory space, better prices with stores and access to traps and things.

In addition to your stats, as you play you’ll find blueprints that let you craft crazy weapons like an axe with a propane torch attached or a police baton that also delivers an electric shock. In RPG terms you’re getting weapons that do elemental damage. You’ll also start getting powerful enough that you might start severing limbs off your opponents. Yeesh! So gross and yet so satisfying. This is when the game starts getting really fun since you start feeling like you’re in a scene out of The Walking Dead.

The game is called Dying Light for a reason though. Once you get to level 8 or so you can run around during the day without too much concern. You’ll still have battles where you struggle but just running through the streets will start to feel comfortable. At least until night falls. When it gets dark the really dangerous zombies come out. I have to confess I still run to a safe zone and hide out until morning. I’m just now, at level 10 or so, starting to flirt with the idea of staying out at night. The risks are bigger but so are the rewards (you earn double experience at night).

The irony is that I picked up Dying Light again because of The Following expansion and so far I haven’t touched that yet. TechLand suggests you be about level 12 before jumping into the expansion and I’m not quite there yet, but I’m still looking forward to it!

So how gory does the game get? Here’s a video of me doing a Challenge. Sadly I had to give this amazing weapon back at the end of it.

Dying Light companion app

2015-01-31 10.05.02If you’re playing Dying Light, you should check out the free companion app. You can get it for Android or iOS. Sorry, Windows Phone and Fire OS users. Screenshots in this post are from the Android version, running on a Nexus 7 tablet.

They call it an app, I call it a simple game. You’re in charge of a group of scouts in the fictional city of Harran (where Dying Light takes place) and your job is to assign these scouts to various missions. And that’s pretty much it. It reminds me a lot of Star Trek Online’s Duty Officer System.

Scouts have levels and two stats: agility and power. Missions come in two varieties: scavenge and hunt. Agility is useful on scavenging missions, power is useful on hunt missions. You can assign 1-3 scouts to a mission, and there’s a mission difficulty rating that compares the cumulative strength of your scouts to the mission, giving you an idea of your chance of success.

Once you send scouts on a mission its all in the hands of the software. Missions run in real time, so you set up the missions, close down the app and go about your day.

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When missions are completed you get money and items as a reward. Your scouts take damage, earn experience and can level up (I haven’t had one killed yet but I’ve been pretty careful…it may be possible to get them killed). You may also get new recruits. You’ll use the money healing your scouts (as far as I can tell they won’t heal naturally). The items are either used to unlock more difficult missions or they can be packed into a crate and sent to the quartermaster in the Dying Light console game. Next time you play, you go see the quartermaster and your other self has sent you a care package of items!

2015-01-31 10.05.22This is a pretty fun and ‘low impact’ way to stay connected to Dying Light while you’re at work or something. You can send up to 20 items in a crate (and items don’t stack) and can only send one crate at a time. There doesn’t seem to be a time limit to this so I think you can send a crate, log into the console/pc game and collect it, then jump back into the companion app and send another crate. I haven’t actually tested this yet, though.

Obviously your PC or console will have to be connected to the Internet for this to work, and you’ll have to link the companion app to your console account (I’m honestly not sure what you link to for the PC version). But you don’t have to play online to take advantage of it. My game was in Solo Mode when I collected my first crate of goods from the quartermaster.

One tip I found out the hard way. Initially I was sending 3 scouts on every mission so they’d be wildly over-powered. I hoped this would prevent injuries, but it didn’t seem to. So I had 3 scouts taking damage and 1 monetary reward for doing the mission…and often the reward wasn’t enough to cover medical expenses. I was always broke.

What I do now is send just enough scouts to be safe. I’ll mix up higher level missions with a bunch of 1 scout/mission low level missions. The low level missions generate the $$ to heal the scouts getting busted up in the higher level missions. Since I started doing this money hasn’t been a problem.

[Update: Oh, and because my very first comment on this post was a joke about it making the game pay-to-win (a reference to the hullabaloo around the Evolve companion app), I should point out that there are no in-app purchases for this game!!]

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A little more Dying Light

It’s been a busy week and I haven’t had as much time for zombie bashing as I would have liked, but last night I got in a quick session. I wanted to share this gameplay snippet and then talk about it:

So at this point in the game I’ve been tasked with taking out a gang of thugs who are holed up in a safe zone. In my first (not shown) attempt, I jumped in and tried to fight them all at once and quickly died.

When I got back to their compound after re-spawning, one of them was outside. I fought him and beat him, though at the cost of a good chunk of my health. Since I’m still miserly with supplies I actually headed back to the safe zone with the intention of sleeping, hoping that would cure my wounds. That’s when I learned the game won’t let you sleep during the day. Or at least not during this particular day. So I guess you can’t cheese your way through the game.

Headed back, got on the roof of their compound and tried to find a way to ‘pull’ a single enemy. The only ranged weapon I had handy were some throwing stars, and that’s about where this video begins. You can see the bad dude was having none of it. When I get knocked off the stairs and run back up them you can see a few other bad guys around the corner. I run up and get myself backed into a corner expecting them to all come at me.

I was a little disappointed that they didn’t follow me up the stairs. I’m conflicted on this. It seems ‘bad’ that the AI didn’t follow me, but if they did I probably would’ve died or had to run away.

Anyway at that point I could see throwing stars weren’t going to do the job since I only had a few, and I remembered seeing molotov cocktails in my blueprint list. Turns out they were really effective, as the video shows. In fact the ‘boss’ of this gang is inside (you can hear him constantly yelling at me to fight like a man or something) and past the end of this video I had to go 1 on 1 with him, and in the end I used a molotov cocktail on him, too.

Another discovery from last night (also not on the video) is that zombies pretty much insta-die if they touch spikes. At one point I killed 4 in a row by standing just past a spikey defensive barrier and kicking them into it. Yeah it’s a little cheap but these are the dumb day zombies. I’ll take cheap when I can get it.

Hopefully this weekend I’ll get a lot more time to play. Last night’s session really left me wanting more zombie smoohsing action!

First Look: Dying Light

Dying Light_20150127222408Dying Light, the zombie-ridden first person parkour survival (well, sort-of) horror game from Techland, launched today. By the time I got it downloaded (onto my PS4, the video and pics in this post are from the PS4’s share features) I didn’t have a huge amount of time to play, but I did squeeze in about two hours, which was just long enough to get through the fairly linear prologue and get to the meat of the game, unlocking side quests and co-op mode, neither of which I had time to sample.

But that still gave me enough time to bash some zombies and get a feel for the parkour aspect of the gameplay. The zombie bits are pretty familiar; this game came from the same folks who did Dead Island after all. And like that game, this one is really violent, at least towards the zombies. You’re going to be bashing them to bits with pipes and clubs for the first couple hours of the game and it is very much not a game for the kids! It’s a real splatter-fest.

There’s also a crafting system which is also fairly familiar. You find alcohol and gauze and combine them to make a med patch. You can craft lockpicks out of scraps of metal. And so on. You can craft anywhere, at least in these early parts of the game where your blueprints are pretty simple. You can also use bits of metal to repair weapons (which take damage with use). Loot, in the form of basic weapons and components for crafting, comes from searching the environment (a ‘survival sense’ ability takes the tedium out of this), or searching the corpses of the zombies you kill. There’s plenty of it, too.

You’ll also find locked chests that you can pick via a mini-game where you rotate the lockpick with one analog stick and turn the key with the other. If you don’t have things lined up right the controller will vibrate and if you don’t back off when it does, the lockpick breaks. This mini-game also felt really familiar.

The part of the game I was most concerned with was the parkour stuff, as I at times suffer from motion sickness in games. So far that hasn’t been a problem and the parkour stuff works pretty well and adds a new dimension (in some ways literally…you’ll do a lot of climbing) to the gameplay.

Here’s some parkour gameplay in action. In this clip I’ve completed a mission but darkness is falling and you don’t want to be outside in the dark!

So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Dying Light. The first person aspect makes for plenty of good scares, or at least startles, as you run around the corner and into a pack of zombies. The early-game zombies aren’t very fast but they’re everywhere and the sound of battle attracts them. They WILL creep up behind you and take you by surprise! As mentioned, the parkour system works well and combat is pretty fun. L1 will kick a zombie away from you while R2 swings your weapon. L2 throws items, like packs of firecrackers to distract the horde. R1 is your jump button.

Dying Light_20150127222226Your character (and you can’t create one, you have to play as Kyle Crane) has 3 proficiencies (Survivor, Agility and Power) that you level up as you play, and as you get skill points in these proficiencies you spend them in skills trees to unlock skills. You seem to have to ‘bank’ points every so often. I died once and was told I’d lost 200 survivor points. I’m not sure if that was experience or something else…I’m still learning the game. But I did level each of my proficiencies a few times in my two hours of play.

Now a word of warning: the game starts with a big old wad of exposition and during it, while you don’t have control of your camera, your view point will be swinging back and forth like mad. The exposition felt endless and that view point swaying was the one time I felt a little ill. The good news is this only happens at the very start of the game and then things start moving along nicely.

I think my attitude went from snark (I was snarky at first from all the exposition) to joy when I was sent to a fenced-in courtyard to see an NPC. I ran past it at first and came back at it from the wrong direction. I couldn’t find a door but eventually I found a way up onto something and leapt to the top of the fence and dropped inside. I thought it was cool that I could ‘solve’ this puzzle in a way other than coming in through the door (which turned out to be spot in the fence the was bend inward a bit). That feeling persisted as I kept switching between fighting through zombies to opting to out-maneuver or distract them, and back again. Whatever worked best for the immediate task at hand. It feels like the kind of game that is going to reward a certain amount of flexibility in how you play.

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As mentioned, the prologue is pretty linear and maybe a little longer than it needs to be, but honestly it was fun and there were some challenging moments where I really had to plan how to get from point A to point B without getting eaten. Still, when I got back to “The Tower” (the central base at the start of the game) and I saw a bunch of side-quest indicators light up I was delighted. Even when you’re on a quest it seems like you can take the time to explore and search for loot.

It’s really early…as I said, I only played for two hours. But so far I’m really enjoying Dying Light even if a lot of the systems are ones we’ve played with before. It gave me a few scares, there was a good feeling of satisfaction when I made some epic jumps, zombie combat is gross but satisfying…so far so good. I hope I enjoy the rest of the game as much as I enjoyed the prologue!

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Disclosure: This First Look was based on a copy of the retail version of Dying Light provided by the company handling Techland’s marketing.