The game that took years off my life

As a zombie game lover, I have to say Dying Light was such a blast to play through…until it wasn’t. What a devastating experience this proved to be. It’s such a vast game, and I chipped away at it from February 2020 through April 2024, only to discover that I couldn’t finish it. So what went wrong? Let’s find out.

Having hacked my way through first-person zombie games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Island in a relatively short amount of time, I wasn’t expecting this to be such a huge undertaking. However, as far as zombie games go, this one is more immersive than either of those games. You play through two huge cities overrun by zombies…and then even get a chance to tackle the rural countryside with DLC called The Following.

Dying Light is so much more than a run, shoot, and slash game. There are endless missions and side quests to tackle as you run through and fend off hordes of zombies on the streets while an awesome horror score plays periodically to set the tone and gorgeous landscapes and architectural structures serve as eye candy. You have to collect supplies that are hidden all over the place to craft new items, including melee weapons, health, throwing weapons, and more. Your weapons eventually break and can either be repaired (if you have the right parts on hand) or dismantled to use the parts to craft other supplies.

You gain points to level up by doing numerous tasks, including finishing missions, saving survivors, coming across “random encounters”, completing optional challenges, and more. But beware. While you basically have infinite lives, every time you die you lose a chunk of your precious XP. The XP upgrade system is divided into four categories, each with trees you have to unlock as you gain more experience. These trees include a mix of “passive” powers (nice power-ups that work automatically) and “active” powers that require remembering some sort of button combo to pull off. You may memorize two or three crucial active powers, but you’ll most likely not use a majority of them…although you will sometimes accidentally trigger one while button mashing in a panic, and always at the worst time.

Scavenging consists of digging into garbage, cabinets, dumpsters, boxes, and trunks inside, outside, and on top of buildings in this very open world environment. Some chests can only be opened with lock picks (which can be found or crafted), and the jimmying technique is a bit tedious and ranges in difficulty level, sometimes causing your lock to break and forcing you to use another one (or more) to continue picking. Also, when you’re in the lock pick screen, the game does not freeze, so you are susceptible to enemy attacks. EEK! During all your scavenging you will also acquire blueprints, which are needed in order to build new items. The blueprint menu is a bit complicated, but there are no work benches to go to or anything like that—you make items on the fly in your inventory. I mostly found myself crafting throwable weapons and health the most, only occasionally crafting new weapons when a more powerful blueprint presented itself or the few weapons I could carry were all broken. The good news is, when you go into the menu to do anything, the game pauses, so you can’t be hurt.

There are so many aspects to the controls, so you will want to focus on the most crucial ones over those excessive extras you can build up in your upgrade menu. There are quick keys on the d-pad for your flashlight, throwable items (you can place 4 in there at a time and swap them out in the main inventory menu), melee weapons (again only 4 slots at a time), and health. The biggest issue with this is when you eventually get the grappling hook, which allows you to shoot your way across rooftops without having to take to the streets where the zombies keep getting harder and faster. Problem is the grappling hook is linked to the same d-pad key as the throwable items. I can’t count the number of times I was trying to grapple my way back up to safety only to realize I’d forgotten to switch back to the hook after throwing an item, causing me to toss and waste another precious throwable item. Not to mention, many of those throwable items are explosives, and when you throw explosives it attracts more zombies, including these crazed fast zombies that can scale buildings to come get you when you’re up above. And what’s ridiculous is that if you’re standing on a rooftop and toss a grenade down below to kill enemies, somehow these damn crazed zombies come directly for you, even though the explosion happened like ten stories below where you threw it from. WTF kind of zombie sonar psychic power is that?

Your movement is purely parkour. You get a training session early on to teach you the basics of running, jumping, and scaling buildings. At first it feels daunting, and timing really matters when you leap across chasms between buildings, but eventually it becomes like second nature and it’s fantastic. That is until you start being forced to climb massive towers, and never in a straight line. As someone who hates heights, these segments nearly destroyed me, forcing me to do things like hang out over thin air and try to angle my character in the right direction to leap to a fucking 2×4 jutting out over nothingness. Ugh.

There are numerous safe houses sprinkled throughout each city, and they’re clearly marked on the map, but most of the time you actually have to go to the location and fight zombies and a major enemy to clear the space before it can become a safe house. These major enemies include huge monsters with giant hammers and even bigger monsters that pick up giant slabs of concrete and toss them at you. Really challenging at first, they become easier to defeat as the game progresses and you build up your stats and weapons. The safe houses are usually very comforting, populated by other survivors who will ask you to do side missions, offer to sell you supplies, buy supplies you don’t need, and give you points in exchange for major supplies you collect that are dropped off by passing planes every once in a while. However, these drop-offs, noted on the map, are only temporary, and you usually have to battle armed dudes who are not your friends to get to them. In the safe houses you can also put supplies you can’t carry anymore in your supply bag (which works like a Resident Evil item box, so it’s accessible at every safe house), and you can go to sleep to instantly jump from night to day or vice versa.

You want to spend most of this game doing missions in daylight, and get your ass to a safe house fast once you see the light dying (get it?), because at night enemies are more aggressive and there are these damn vicious night hunter monsters that will ruin your life, killing you almost immediately if they get you. Unfortunately, this cruel game does force you to do a few nighttime missions, and they’re terrifying…and one of them involves collecting a damn night hunter flesh sample. Sigh.

Even though you can die an infinite number of times, you really don’t want to, because you need those precious points to build up your character. You also have a stamina bar, so you can’t just run and jump like crazy. When you get exhausted you slow down and need to back off until you catch your breath.

The map looks daunting, but you can set waypoints for missions, and things are usually never as far away as they seem. At other times, they are really fucking far away! But you can break up the journey to your new destination by doing side missions that are on the way or checking out random encounters, which are challenging but offer some payoff when completed successfully. Be warned that there are also underwater missions in which you have to come up for air in between diving for items or to new destinations. The good news is that there aren’t any underwater monsters. And speaking of water, there are also plenty of sewer segments. Ugh.

You begin the game in a city called The Slums, which is pretty manageable. When you eventually move over to the upper class city Old Town, shit hits the fan. I thought I was going to have to quit, because the enemies get much harder immediately and the crazy zombies much more relentless. This is where you also acquire the grappling hook, and it becomes your best friend. It is best to do most of your traveling in Old Town on the rooftops, where zombie encounters are rare (plus you can kick those fuckers off the roof). The only challenge is that the grappling hook needs a moment to recuperate between uses. Argh.

Here is a special note for those who may have begun this game on their PS4 and want to switch over to finishing it on the PS5. There’s a glitch on the PS5 when you try to do side missions that include battling armed men who work for the main human enemy Rais. These side missions, which are all stealth and sniping based, lead to a lot of on screen action, and as you work your way through blowing away baddies, the game glitches and boots you out. Each time you choose continue, it starts you at the beginning of the mission, and you can try to work your way through the battle again, but you’ll get the same result every time. I was near completing the game when I switched over to PS5, so I just skipped those few side missions, especially since they’re always marked hard and I play these damn games to fight zombies, not ammosexuals.

Just as the game and its side quests start to feel very repetitive, the final segment of the game offers less side quests and makes the main story missions much harder. Zombies are more prevalent, more aggressive, and take more hits to kill. Your destinations are also much farther apart on the map, leading to loads of very long backtracking.

There’s also a lot of underwater swimming in the final few missions, and it’s very easy to get turned around and lost, with air supply very limited if you don’t find your way back up. One of the major underwater journeys gets you into a museum Rais has taken control of, and you have to battle an onslaught of his men and then an onslaught of enemies. Once you’ve made your way through the museum successfully, pay very close attention when prompted to retrieve your bag—it’s very easy to think you have gotten it, but in reality you didn’t pick it up. Check your inventory to make sure it’s there before exiting. I didn’t, and when I stepped back onto the streets, I had no weapons, no health, no grappling gun…and you can’t turn around and go back into the museum! What a shitty thing to do. You have to run as fast as you can back to a safe house, where you’ll find all your items in a storage bag. Don’t get hit by any enemies while journeying to the safe house or you can die with no health.

For a game that is mostly manageable, it really takes a toll with all new challenges near the end. There’s an irritating platforming segment when you are experiencing hallucinations. There’s also an infuriating enemy addition—a screaming child zombie. Whenever you come across him in a room, his shrill scream depletes your health fast, makes you unable to perform tasks or fight him because you’re covering your ears, and worst of all, it summons tons of zombies you have to fight while trying to shoot the baby from a safe distance in order to shut it up.

There’s one last segment that takes place at night, and the clock doesn’t continue to move ahead, so you can’t even wait somewhere safe until daylight to do the mission. You have to hit up several small areas filled with zombies and some of the biggest, baddest enemies to search for a particular item to advance in the game. It’s set up so the item you’re hunting down is at the last section you reach. Bastards.

And now comes the devastating moment I realized I couldn’t finish this game. I always carried loads of health with me, so when I reached a door warning that I was heading to Rais’s tower for the final fight and couldn’t turn back, I was feeling quite confident. Note that in this day and age of single slot autosave, where you don’t get to choose save slots so you won’t overwrite a previous one, this feature destroyed my life. When I walked through that last door, I found myself in a yard confronted by loads of running zombies and every big enemy the game had been throwing at me all along. Assuming I had to fight the fuckers and clear the area, I kept getting my ass kicked and using up my health supply. Idiot that I am, I didn’t get the message when Rais kept taunting me over a loudspeaker, mocking my bravery and telling me to, “Run! Run!”

I was supposed to run.

By the time I realized it I was out of health and caught in a mad dash obstacle course with enemies everywhere. I just kept dying over and over again. I had no option to load an earlier save. I had to give up on the game I’d been playing for four years.

There’s one sort of bright side that was a bit of consolation. I watched the rest of the game on YouTube. The obstacle course was only the beginning. I still would have had to climb and jump up walls and girders way up high and fight my way through multiple levels of enemies before even reaching Rais at the top of the tower…all with no health supply. And once I reached Rais I would have been hit with an all new game mechanic not previously used in the game—a fucking  quick time event. WTF? I have no regrets about not finishing this game.

However, I decided to jump into The Following DLC, where I thought I’d just be picking off zombies in cornfields in between spying on hillbilly pig fuckers.

Nope. Even on the easiest mode, this extra game was hard as hell. You come into it with all your stats and items from the main game, even if you didn’t finish it. But you know what that means? I entered the game with no health. And there are very few places to scavenge in the country. Somehow, despite this being a rural area, there are zombies everywhere. And, you get to drive around in a buggy that you constantly have to collect parts and fuel for to maintain it…while avoiding all the zombies. The buggy is crucial for completing missions, so juggling its health and my lack of health was impossible. I quit that bitch.

Unfortunately, I purchased Dying Light 2 based on the assumption I’d eventually finish the first one. So you can expect a post in five years or so in which I describe at exactly what point in Dying Light 2 I quit.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at
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