Dying Light 2 Stay Human: Bloody Ties (XS) - ReviewLee Mehr , posted on 13 December 2022 / 2,169 Views
Reviewer's Note: All expansion experience is based on Dying Light 2 Version 1.8.
After seeing the DLC Quest marked in your journal and heading to one of Old Villedor's many dilapidated buildings, Bloody Ties begins with Aiden denied entry for not knowing this special place's password and subsequently filched by a mysterious passer-by. After giving chase and temporarily teaming up to repel a zombie horde, this thief, Ciro (pronounced Chi-ro), convinces Aiden to a tenuous partnership for this exclusive fight club; after all, he does know the code. This hurried, seemingly-arbitrary pairing also maps quite well in describing Dying Light 2 Stay Human and its first expansion. Like this fedora-donning knave you're paired with, the more time spent in Bloody Ties' company the more anyone – franchise or genre fans alike – is prone to question its necessity.
Before even becoming members of the venerated "Carnage Hall," Aiden and Ciro have to complete a few tryouts; ones that test their combat and parkour prowess. It's a simple premise: start at the bottom, then work your way up. To spice things up, The Big Bad makes an early introduction and leaves your crew for dead. Now it's not just about the glory of rising to the top, but also the tasty revenge in toppling Carnage Hall's current champion.
Despite that context neatly balancing narrative with mechanically-focused gladiator arenas, Bloody Ties ranks as some of Techland's most insipid writing yet. No amount of alcohol consumed between tryouts does enough to make you care for this petulant jackass or his nuanced family dynamics. The expansion's namesake tries to tie its themes around a popular Old Testament tale, but the way everything falls into place feels so artificial. Aiden progressing from threatening to beat this two-bit thief senseless over money to risking life and limb with Ciro's father, Ogar, never has the connective tissue for you to be emotionally invested.
Perhaps the disappointment is helped by the lackluster presentation. That's less to do with the game's polish or new places and more with the new voice acting roster. Jonah Scott's Aiden still does a fine job of conveying confusion and frustration, but then poorer performances like Ogar's just want you to skip past them. Compared to the popular patrons in the original, almost every new character was voice-acted by the B team, which is all the more ironic given how spectacle and showmanship are meant to be a centerpiece of this expansion.
On paper, I can see why these dynamics could work: a stranger-turned-friend's antipathy towards his father, the father not wanting this life for his son, the yearning to prove oneself in trial by combat, the politics between Carnage Hall's showrunner (Astrid) and The Big Bad, and so on. Still, I couldn't even feign interest by the time I reached the top. The way Aiden's foisted into this... stupid babysitter role under these circumstances doesn’t work. While a few decisions can alter the ending, it nevertheless feels rushed. Since I got one of the worst options, the hypocrisy between the end result (in cut scene) and what you can still do after watching it is also nonsensical.
Given how tough expansions can be to finesse into the already-established template, Bloody Ties becomes available right after the protracted prologue. The more astute player will ask this: how does it work between newbies and veterans? Wouldn't there be insane advantages/disadvantages between lower- and higher-level players? This is handled by having to play by house rules: fighting exclusively with the toys given to you or left within a challenge room. Although it makes total sense to have a level playing field, it's a shame how underutilized your customized weapons will be aside from the rare main quest and new side content bringing you back to the original's locations.
It's a tough pill to swallow for veterans. Even though weapon mods aren’t incredibly robust, they're still a palpable incentive in their own right. To have this fight league instead say "here's this overpowered version of a vanilla weapon" diminishes replayability. Despite these strictures enabling Techland to balance accordingly, some of the combat's original sins almost seem exacerbated here. I lost track of how many times the system's "movement magnetism" sent me careening out of bounds during an extended rooftop battle. Obviously with a limited perspective, certain accommodations have to be made for melee (especially with spacing); even still, the way you glide towards enemies can disorient the camera.
Piling onto the annoyance are those infrequent stun-locking moments when knocked down. During one tryout and a couple of fights at Carnage Hall, I couldn't help but wonder if repeated knockdowns like this were as common in Stay Human. Granted, the overall experience is more stable this time (with only one hard disconnect during playtime), but it likes to pile on the exploding zombies or nastier brutes that can chain knockdown hits. Even if combat's main course is still the same crunchy, visceral swings and dynamic parkour-action template, some of the cogs could still use polishing.
Think of gameplay akin to Carnage Hall: the erected building is still (mostly) holding together, so let's throw up some decorative lighting and fancy drapes over its untidy bits. I've harped on about the starting tryouts varying between stale and frustrating, but there’s a better rhythm upon reaching the main destination. What was once a grand classical theater hall with Greco-Roman architecture has gotten a few post-apocalyptic touch-ups: Mad Max-flavored pyrotechnics, kitschy interior designs, a healthy dose of black lights, and so on. For all intents and purposes, Astrid is essentially a regnant theater head & showrunner – it's just that few people who enter it leave in one piece.
With regards to environment design, Carnage Hall is more expressive than The Bazaar or The Fish Eye Bar. You don't have to look hard to notice recycled voice lines or continuous pyrotechnic tricks by the front entryway, but the sense of place and scale works well with this universe. It makes sense to not be part of the main overworld because of how contained it feels – like a glamourous, violent circus parked just outside of a city's limits. There are also some side gigs to uncover near its outdoor fountain area and its abandoned subway stop. Aside from my nitpick of the main story continuously pestering you to meet someone outside, its cohesive layout and fun surprises make it one of Bloody Ties' bright spots.
Set dressing and design are fine qualities, but the trials are the meat 'n potatoes of this expansion. 16 separately-themed events that fall into 4 unique categories: the multi-stage objectives in Spectacle, hunting down marked enemies in Carnage, parkour challenges in Rush, and 1v1 boss battles in Freak Fight. Each are in difficulty divisions with varying amounts of 'Fame Point' payouts. In order to even reach the grand finale, you have to accumulate a high-enough ranking. Fortunately, you don't have to invest evenly across each mission type; in my case, I think I finished one Carnage fight, but excitedly went for all parkour and boss challenges.
Beyond simply testing every player's legerity with over-the-top scenery, I'd argue the Spectacle arenas were better examples of writing than the main plot. The way Astrid presents each scenario for you, the insanely-intricate set pieces in the enclosed theater, and the quality pacing feel more immediate and interesting. You're constantly on your toes between saving overwhelmed crash dummies and surviving the horde after she kills the lights. It's like WWE-type extravagances baked into Dying Light’s core structure.
While I should stress Bloody Ties is a $10 expansion, it's still a modest value proposition: roughly 5 or 6 hours to complete the main storyline, with a good helping of side content to reach double-digits. But the ever-contentious quality/quantity divide nips at its heels. By the end, I simply wasn't interested enough to punch out several side quests. What interest do I have in Ogar's armor when my current gear & unlocked abilities are more than suitable already? Beyond appreciating some qualities with Carnage Hall, it never consistently clicked. And as a report card of Dying Light 2's overall status? Well, online seems… more reliable at least, and there were fewer bugs in my experience, but there’s still room for improvement. It also comes with a new weapon (upon completing the main quest) and new gear, but neither really struck me as impressive.
I'm not sure what to make of Dying Light 2 Stay Human: Bloody Ties, neither its unnecessarily long title nor the game proper. Similar to Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye, it's another oxymoronic "restrictive expansion," but with worse results. It often confines you to lavish challenge rooms with the purpose of focusing on specific goals; most main story missions restrict use of previously-acquired weapons to test your pure skill; the story invests so much time into new characters only for it to be treated as irrelevant by the end; it's trying to accomplish different design goals than Stay Human, but they feel mismanaged to varying degrees. The team deserves credit for this interesting new setting, but it's a shame they never make the most of it.
Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.
This review is based on a digital copy of Dying Light 2 Stay Human: Bloody Ties for the XS, provided by the publisher.
Is XS the Switch?