Driven to death.
If you were making a list of what made Dying Light so great the parkour would rank pretty highly. Being able to leap, grapple and climb your way around the city of Harran was as liberating as it was game-defining. So what did developers Techland do with their large-scale DLC The Following? They all but got rid of it.
The free-running mechanics are still there. It's not like protagonist Kyle Crane has broken his legs or anything; it's just the way he gets around has changed and that has a lot to do with where The Following takes place.
The zombie-butchering action has moved from the densely-packed streets of Harran to the surrounding, expansive countryside. Free-running doesn't help you evade the undead when you can run for miles without finding a building, and Kyle has to think of a new tactic to steer clear of the zombies' infectious bite. A suitable option soon presents itself and it has four wheels, one seat and an engine.
Changing the primary method of movement from free-running to driving is a brave decision on Techland's part, but it's also an admirable one. They could have given us more of the same: inner city missions, some new enemies and weapons; but instead they gave us a bigger map and a new way to experience the game. The driving marks such a significant change to Dying Light's gameplay that I had to remind myself I was playing DLC and not a sequel.
Of course, this decision would be a terrible one if the driving wasn't satisfying. Mowing down hordes of bloodthirsty monsters is as fun as you'd expect, but simply barreling around the countryside is too. The Silas Buggy is an all-terrain vehicle that handles well whether you're on smooth tarmac, rolling fields, or bumpy mountainsides. It's durable as well. Zombies -- with the exception of the hulking sledgehammer armed beasts -- bounce right off the bumper and wooden fences shatter into kindling if hit with enough speed.
It's not indestructible though; your wheels and suspension won't last long if you're always going off road, and just like the weapons, they can only be repaired a few times before they're useless. Upgrading your car parts increases their durability and improves your speed and handling. Building a super buggy is rewarding and important since you're going to be doing a lot of driving.
The Harran countryside is massive and the only reason to stop driving is to search abandoned cars for fuel, check isolated buildings for loot, and if you've reached your destination. Larger settlements are dotted throughout the map and it's at these locations you can once again flex your parkour muscles and kill zombies the old fashioned way.
Combat is still a grisly mess of decapitations and dismemberment. Kyle is a wiz with bladed and blunt weapons and most of his undead assailants will fall to a few well-aimed chops to the neck. Not having the safety of a roof or balcony metres away means you'll need to be more aware of your surroundings. The zombies are more concentrated around buildings, usually the ones containing your objective, and unless you can easily reach your car, it's easy to get overwhelmed.
Thing's only get worse at night. The terrifying super-zombies known as Volatiles are back, and if you think being in a car will help, you'd be very wrong. They are more than capable of catching up with you and paying close attention to their cones of vision on the mini-map is a better method of avoidance than speed. The draw of night time jaunts is the double experience points and the sheer the thrill of it. A reckless ramble over hills and through fields with slavering zombies on your tale gets the adrenaline pumping, and the experience reward for a clean getaway can make it worth the risk.
If you're a coward like me, you'd rather be sleeping through the night in a safe, UV lamp-lit hideaway, but the game gives you numerous missions that require you to burn the midnight oil. The scariest of all are the journeys into the lion's den to wipe out the Volatiles' nests. These dark, labyrinthine hell pits are grim tests of bravery. You don't have long to wipe out everything inside, and if you aren't done by the time the sun is up, all those angry zombies will return to roost and you won't last long. As tense as these nests are, poor visibility and similar-looking caverns mean getting lost is far too common. I began to avoid them, not because I was scared, but because I didn't want to spend forever finding my way out.
Kyle completes these risky tasks because he needs to win the locals trust. He makes his way out the city because supplies are running low and he hopes that the outlying area will be in a better state than Harran. What he finds are locals worshiping a cult whose members are immune to the attentions of the zombies. To get more information, he'll need to win them over. The mystery around the cult was enough for me to continue risking life and limb to discover the cult's secrets, and the story overall is an improvement from the predictable one told in the main game.
Levelling Kyle's stats and abilities is as good an impetus to keep going as the story. Even if you maxed out the three skill trees during the main campaign, there are plenty of new upgrades to unlock. Two new skill trees -- driving and legend -- join the survivor, agility and power trees. Increasing your driving skills improves your car's armour and fuel efficiency. You can mod your buggy as well, with electricity fields, flame throwers and ramming bars. The legend skill tree is unlocked when you max out one of the other four, and offers 250 more upgrades across categories like health and damage output with different weapons. Every 25 levels you get an extra costume too.
Reaching level 250 will take some time, especially if you're too timid to go out after dark, but there's plenty of varied ways to earn experience in The Following. Races in your buggy and bounties that ask you to kill zombies in certain ways are an interesting diversion, but exploration proves the most rewarding. Several of The Following's best missions were ones I stumbled across. I don't want to spoil anything, but I'd be careful who you trust, especially if they're children. If you tire of driving (no pun intended) you can even fast travel back to Harran city and complete any quests you had outstanding, or just revel in free-running again.
I did miss free-running. As much as I enjoy the destructive driving, I found myself wishing for more sections where I could leap between roof tops again. This was somewhat mitigated by the easy route back to Harran, but I wanted more new, built-up areas to explore. I still applaud Techland for their ambition. Adding such massive new game-changing mechanics to a piece of DLC less than half the price of the main game shows their appreciation for the fans who loved Dying Light.
Techland's ambition, however, does catch up to them from time to time. On Xbox One, I encountered some severe frame rate drops when starting the game from a state of suspension, meaning I needed to close the game down fully before going through all the loading screens again to fix it. Game suspension is one of Xbox One's best features and I hope the game and it can play nice after a few patches.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One using a digital version provided by Warner Bros. Interactive.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Interactive and Techland.