I spent a good chunk of my first few hours in Dying Light….well, dying. I spent a good chunk of my second few hours in Dying Light…..also dying. In fact, if I had to pick one word to sum up my initial Dying Light experience, it’d be dying. A lot. So much so, in fact, that after spending nearly two years on my To-Play pile, there was a very real danger that Dying Light would move directly to my Unfinished/Abandoned pile after only a few short, frustrating hours of actually being played. Having spent the last few weeks in the combined worlds of Twilight Princess and Wind Waker, I had felt like I wanted to play something a bit grittier – a bit more challenging, even – but after I’d been mercilessly pummeled (or munched) into oblivion for the eleventy-twelfth time in the space of 32 minutes, I was beginning to think that might have been something of a bad idea. Like, “I wonder what’ll happen if I lick that plug socket” kinda bad…..
Honestly, after a few hours in Harran’s Zombie infested streets I’d already died more than I’d died in my 100+ hours of Hyrule in both TP and WW, and more to the point, I was struggling to see how I could not die. Every time I thought I’d figured out a way to avoid all, like, the dying and whatnot – a different tactic, or approach for example – I’d merely find a slightly different route to – or way of – dying. “Ahhhhhhh“, I’d say, “I reckon if you do this side quest first, James, you’d then be in a better position to do that other one that you’ve consistently been dying on. God you’re so smart when you want to be, James, you’ve got this now….” but then, actually, my genius would feel decidedly short-lived as I found myself with only a new variety of hideous death to show for my so-called fucking brainwave. Even worse, thanks to Dying Light’s mechanic of taking XP off you when you die, my “intelligence” (or lack thereof) was actually resulting in me going backwards – and on top of everything else, I play games to escape from reality, not to fucking mirror it. Every “great” idea I had led to me being worse off than before I’d had it, and whilst that’s something I should be accustomed to by now, I’d rather not spend my leisure time being reminded that I’m not the sharpest spoon in the picnic drawer, thankyouverymuch. That’s what every day of my real life’s for.
Obviously, that’s all frustrating anyways, but more so because – on paper at least – Dying Light was exactly my kind of Game. As somebody who feels Zombie Apocalypse Games are less “dicking around” and more, say, essential training for our eventual (and inevitable) future, Dying Light’s open-world sandbox of Infinite Zombies and ad-hoc survival promised to be right up my street in terms of both fun and, like, bankable experience. Sure, Resident Evil games are great – and useful to a point – but the chances of me being a fully trained Bio-Terrorism operative (with checkpoints) when the Zombie Apocalypse arrives are slim (and, unlike me, getting slimmer with each pizza I order), so Dying Light’s use anything to kill the undead‘s approach to surviving the Zombie shitstorm seemed altogether more utilitarian and practical. Throw in the fact that I could lone-wolf it all with a large degree of freedom like a Fallout game, and that I could also just spend plenty of hours whaling on Zombies for shits and giggles, and Dying Light seemed like it could end up being a perfect Gaming match.
As such, after I’d finished my first brutal, punishing session of Dying Light, I was torn. There was a huge part of me telling me to just fuck the game right off, but there was also another one that wasn’t quite ready to give up on it just yet. The bit that had just endured an epic ass-whooping was pretty damn adamant that he didn’t want to go through that shit again, actually – but the tiny little bit of me who was hoping he’d love Dying Light was still looking to find a way in; a route to accessing all the post-apocalyptic Zombie killing goodness. See, Dying Light’s Learning Curves are, at best, really fucking steep and, at worst, frustratingly opaque – and I’d come to the conclusion that they were all a bit chicken-and-eggey in nature. For example, XP is divided up in Dying Light, so you get Offensive XP (known as Power), perks and unlocks from killing stuff, yet without many of those perks and unlocks, it’s really fucking hard to kill stuff. My agility XP was pretty good (and steadily growing thanks to me climbing anything to avoid Zombies on account of it being really fucking hard to kill them) but that wasn’t solving the ass-whooping problem. Likewise, because I didn’t have much power, doing missions and quests (which give general “Survivor” XP) was proving quite difficult, so I needed XP to do the missions, but without the XP from the missions, I didn’t have enough Perks to do the missions. I was in a similar situation with nearly all of the optional activities too – so, for example, retrieving an airdrop was a pretty good way to get XP, yet unless I happened to be right next to one when it landed, the three goons who’d be guarding it within 30 seconds would just pulverise me given I had shitty weapons, Zero combat stamina, and just one hit from just one guy would leave me inches from death. Three of them…. Fuhgeddaboutit!
In desperation, I’d even resorted to trying to grind XP one Zombie at a time, finding an isolated undead bastard and hoping my current weapon and stamina would be enough to finish them off, collect the XP and retreat back to the rooftops. That worked exactly once, and every other time I tried it, I’d find myself swamped by the undead well before I’d killed the first, and more-often-than-not, I also managed to attract the attention of at least one superfast, climbing “Viral”, who’d all chase me onto the rooftops and kill me there. Now, that’s grim anyway, but again, remember that each and every unsuccessful attempt I made was actually costing me XP, so Dying Light was starting to feel a lot like an exercise in futility. Or masochism. Or futilochism. All the fun of experimentation became decidedly less fucking fun as each avenue I tried resulted not only in a (literal and metaphorical) dead end, but in a dead end that also robbed me of the fruits of any successes I had managed to achieve. I mean, bollocks to that, right!?
Still, whilst any sane person would’ve walked away for good after all of that, I didn’t. Sure, dem curves were steep, but there had to be a way to climb ’em, and there was still a bit of me wanting to find out what that was. As somebody who normally subscribes to Homer Simpson’s “if at first you don’t succeed, it’s probably not worth doing anyway” school of thought, I wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed, so, like, I Googled shit. Immediately that helped because it became apparent that I wasn’t the only person who’d been getting their ass handed to them in Dying Light’s early game, and even more unusually, all the cries for help on message boards etc were not being greeted with mockery or “lolz, Git Gud. PS – Your momma!” but actually with sympathy, solidarity and genuine help and encouragement. That’s quite rare anyways because of, like, the Internet, but it was also a goldmine of decent ideas and tips etc. and more importantly for me, there were people confirming my hunch that – if you can just crack the initial hammering – Dying Light could be everything I wanted it to be. Interestingly, a lot of the tips were things I’d already thought about, or tried (unsuccessfully) but they were delivered with a qualifier along the lines of ‘honestly, it’ll probably take a few attempts, but even if you die loads, it’ll still be worth it in the end’ and just that was enough to overcome my crippling doubt and inactivity. In fact, perseverance seemed to be a recurring theme so, once I’d looked up what the word meant obviously, it gave me just about enough incentive to go back to Dying Light again.
Which is what I did, and whilst I continued to get absolutely fucking whalloped, I also started to achieve a few successes and, more importantly, those successes then led onto other successes. My progress was horrifically, glacially slow – but it was still progress, and it was just enough to make me continue. In many ways, it was a bizarre decision to make Dying Light’s curves so steep given the risk of people like me walking away but, on the other hand, perhaps Techland deserve some credit for making a game that rewards perseverance and effort. I mean, when the Zombie Apocalypse does arrive, it’s probably not going to be a cakewalk, so in terms of bankable experience that seems like a bit of a bonus and, even if you’re not in the “a Zombie shitstorm is inevitable” camp, it’s at least a different kind of Gaming challenge, I guess. And moreover – and I suppose this is my point – it’s a challenge that I’m starting to appreciate, despite it seeming overwhelming at first, and despite Dying Light’s Learning Curves appearing ridiculously, impossibly steep. I’m not quite in a position where I’m all like, “Yeah, the difficulty of Dying Light’s what, like, makes it great man!” (and especially not when it’s robbing me of my hard earned XP) but I’m at least in the position where I can see that it might eventually be well worth this initial cost of entry.
Given I was all for throwing the game out of the nearest window at one point, I’ma call that a minor victory, and Christ knows, I need as many of those as I can get in Dying Light…..
TL; DR – Holy fucking SHITBALLS, Dying Light’s hard at first. But, like, it gets a bit easier and shit afterwards!!