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How Dying Light 2 is the biggest gamble in Techland's history

We talk with developer Techland about the challenges and triumphs of making Dying Light 2 and where it can go from here.

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Dying Light 2 is Techland's most expansive game to date.
Techland

Dying Light 2 is one of the biggest games of 2022, yet it also has some big shoes to fill. 

The original Dying Light, released back in 2015, was an open-world game set in a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies, and it was a massive hit for developer Techland. Combining visceral combat with thrilling parkour platforming, it sold well over 18 million copies and was a turning point for the entire studio.

Though commonly associated with hits like Dying Light, Dead Island and the Call of Juarez franchises, Techland has a long and deep history within the Polish games industry, alongside other studios like CD Projekt Red and Blooper Team. From small beginnings as a burgeoning Polish publisher to a force in big-budget action games, Dying Light 2 is Techland's most ambitious game yet. It's also the company's biggest gamble.

See also: Dying Light 2 review: A post-apocalyptic Zombie wonderland  

No one understands this more than lead game designer Tymon Smektała. He's watched firsthand as Techland evolved from an obscure name to the developer behind one of 2022's biggest games. And this is all in the middle of a pandemic, no less.

"Before the release of Dying Light 1, you could say that Techland was almost like this garage company; things really changed after that," Smektała said. "It almost became this worldwide phenomenon. Now we're this bigger company that's much more professional and driven, and we're out here to achieve big things."

Techland's Prawo Krwi

Before Dying Light and the Call of Juarez series, Techland's first game was a side-scrolling beat-em-up named Prawo Krwi, which was inspired by Mortal Kombat.

Techland

Techland, founded by current CEO Paweł Marchewka, started as a middleman company to serve a growing audience of PC gamers in Poland during the early 1990s. With many games seeing releases throughout Europe, Poland still needed a distributor, and Techland was one of a few companies that filled that void. Following early successes, Techland eventually developed its first game, Prawo Krwi (The Law of Blood), in 1995 -- inspired by then-popular hits like Mortal Kombat and Streets of Rage.

While the name of Techland took a while to catch on, the developer has had its finger on the pulse of its audience, releasing successful games like the Western-inspired Call of Juarez series. But Techland would ultimately venture into the zombie subgenre with the hit Dead Island. The follow-up, Dying Light, represented a massive turning point: It was the breakout that allowed Techland to pivot to bigger and better things.

In many ways, Dying Light was a game that hit at the right time. The Walking Dead was the biggest show on the planet, the urban parkour movement was everywhere, and the original Dying Light was a clever mix that brought the best of those different extremes together. It was incredibly compelling, and its seamless online co-op made it all the more enticing.

However, Smektała has his own ideas why Dying Light 1 was so successful..

"I think the thing that makes our games so engaging is that they constantly keep you in the loop, you're constantly engaged with your controller and in the moment," he explained. " I think that's the secret juice of the game, that constant sense of freedom and the number of possibilities you have. It's quite exciting because you can climb and jump to the top of a building to see what's on the other side and fight lots of enemies however you want."

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The original Dying Light was a breakout hit for Techland, selling over 18 million copies as of 2022.

Techland

The original game saw an unusually active post-launch life, with new content and expansions fleshing out existing gameplay. There was even a spinoff battle royale-inspired game in Dying Light: Bad Blood. The sequel is in many ways a continuation of this, keeping people engaged for the long haul. The developer has pledged that Dying Light 2 will receive five years of support after its launch this month.

Dying Light 2 brings a grander scale to its open-world zombie apocalypse. It puts you in control of the fate of a large city while fighting loads of zombies and rival factions vying for control. 

Like many developers, Techland experienced unexpected trials thanks to ongoing COVID-related lockdowns. The team at Techland had just moved into new facilities in the months before the pandemic hit, making the work-from-home transition even more challenging.

What makes Dying Light 2 such a gamble is that it's not only Techland's largest game to date, but also entirely self-published, which is another part of Techland's ambitious plans for growth. Another thing that makes Dying Light 2 such a gamble is the timing of its release -- it's now a game of the COVID era.

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Dying Light 2 expands on the original by including a story that will see changes based on choices the player will make.

Techland

The sequel is set in a world that's described as a "modern dark age" following a global pandemic that resulted in zombies taking over the Earth. The concept will undoubtedly raise eyebrows considering how life has changed since 2020, two years after Dying Light 2 was first announced. This isn't wasn't lost on the game's creators.

According to Smektała, one of the things that made the transition to work from home was the isolation from the team, which led to some gaps in forms of communication that people often take for granted, something that many people who work in offices can no doubt relate to. Eventually, Smektała says, they were able to adapt, finding that spontaneous creative spark that's often vital for game dev.

No doubt, Dying Light 2 is a product of the COVID era, and will be examined through that lens. In that regard, its predecessor comes from a time that seems a bit more quaint by the standards of the new normal of 2022. While its gameplay has improved over the years, its narrative focusing on a government agent playing different sides of a conflict during a growing global pandemic has not aged as gracefully. From what I've experienced of Dying Light 2, it's a game that's more mindful of the impact of living during a traumatic, world-altering pandemic, while also making plenty of time for fighting zombies and running along rooftops.

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Ahead of the launch, Techland released a story trailer that served as a mood piece for the game.

Techland

Overall, Smektała seemed proud and optimistic about the state of Dying Light 2 during our talk. He even stated that the company's vision for a game, which was about shaping the state of a city reeling from a factional war and hordes of zombies, has remained largely intact in the final release. They're thinking beyond Dying Light 2 as well.

"Previously, we have announced that we have another AAA open-world game in production. So this is happening. I think we will continue that expansion of Techland, and we'll start working on two games in parallel, then maybe three, maybe four further down the road. So we'll see. But definitely, we still want to grow. We still haven't reached that glass ceiling."

Dying Light 2 debuts on Feb. 4 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. Check out our full review of Dying Light 2 here.