Following in the footsteps and eyeballs full of dollar signs of so many other franchises, Dying Light’s new battle royale mode takes the “one versus many” formula and reduces it down to six post-apoc parkour enthusiasts. There's only one seat on the last helicopter out of town, but before you try to take it, you have to collect 1,000 blood samples from the AI-controlled zombie hordes scattered about, with the stronger mini-bosses hoarding upwards of 200 points each. Kill enough zombies, collect enough samples, and it’s just one final race to the hilltop, assuming someone isn't waiting for you at the finish line.
When I sit down to play it, I immediately feel a sense of familiarity, with the wind swirling with debris, the faint moans of the undead echoing through the air, and all the conveniently placed ramps I could ask for.
Falling from the sky and into a pile of rubble, I dash off to scour the slums of Harran for any kind of weapon. Bats, hammers, and unwieldy swords lie in wait, complete with the occasional mod for added damage. Packs of zombies dot the hillsides, roaming about while the larger freaks, like the charging Demolisher or the poison-flinging Spitter, contain massive quantities of blood samples needed to concoct a vaccine.
I grab a steel bat that would make my little league coach wonder where he went wrong, and I’m off to the races, leaping from a banister and onto the skull of a toxic Spitter. A few more whacks and the putrid thing is down, dropping a few hundred blood samples.
I’m not alone in Harran, though. Five other players are doing their best to catch up to my early lead. One ambushes me while I’m ducking around a Demolisher’s bulky frame, sneaking in quick jabs to whittle down his health. Now I'm dodging two sources of damage, until my attacker falls prey to a well-aimed bit of rebar from our undead friend. Thanks for the blood and the electric shock mod, buddy.
At this point I feel invincible, scaling rafters and leaping across chasms. I’ve got a member of developer Techland hovering over my shoulder remarking on how fast I retrieved the blood samples and made it to the landing pad, an entire 40 seconds before the helicopter arrives. A bit of red on the radar lets me know my final competitor is ascending the same slope I just climbed, and I move in to pounce for the easy kill.
But like a clumsy cat, I overestimate my jumping power, and I’m suddenly falling through a gap between the hill and the wood scaffolding I’d climbed only seconds before, plummeting 20 feet below the enemy and giving him every advantage I just had. I awkwardly clamber up behind him, but he whips out a glowing green machete and strikes me down.
Yep, this is definitely a battle royale game.
Getting into the swing of things
At its longest, it feels like a round of Bad Blood wouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes, depending on which areas of the original game’s map the developers reuse. Techland implied that Oldtown, with its increased verticality and tighter paths, would likely be a location that’s revisited for the mode.
While it might have brevity on its side, I do worry about Bad Blood’s focus on collecting blood samples from the larger, more specialized zombies. You’ll need to collect 1000 points worth of blood, but regular zombies will only occasionally give out between 5 and 25 samples, making it impossible to win without engaging with at least two or three of the big baddies, or just camping another player and lifting her stuff. Combat in Dying Light was never terrible, it just wasn’t terribly good either. Big baddies would charge you, just slow enough to sidestep their lumbering frame and kite them into a wall for a quick beating, rinse and repeat. It never felt like the clever movement or precision was a major part of fighting enemies. For a game so fixated on parkouring over and under the undead, it feels like a weird choice to make the meat of the conflict in Bad Blood all about whacking on some minibosses.
Still, I can’t dismiss the moments when Bad Blood delivers fun, fluid first-person movement. During our second round, I found myself brawling with a pack of zombies when another player came up behind me for an attack. When he saw my overpowered, electrified baseball bat, he made a break for it, and the chase was on. This guy knew his escape routes. Increasingly thin alleys gave way to residential interiors, slipping through doors and under holes in fences, until a fortuitous cliff allowed him an Assassin’s Creed-esque leap into a pile of trash below.
Of course I followed him down, and of course he immediately killed me when we tumbled back into melee. Because it’s battle royale, but for people who hate waiting. If you’re like me and you hate cowering in a bathroom for 10 minutes only to be snuffed out by someone with a Twitch stream to entertain, Bad Blood’s pace might put some of those frustrations to ease. In something like early access PUBG, you’re fighting with the controls to get behind cover or line up the perfect shot, whereas Dying Light’s parkour movement was generally perfected long ago. In PUBG, relocating to a new area meant a tense marathon across vast, empty terrain, whereas the intricacy of Dying Light allows for frequent stumbles into the laps of zombies or human players.
Most importantly, getting caught in a PvP fight doesn’t feel like a total do-or-die situation. Each time I sparred with another player, even if they had a considerably weaker weapon, they still had a reasonable chance to escape through the maze of slum buildings and come back later for another round, unlike getting pinned down in PUBG. In Bad Blood, because the action is constantly forcing you to move and engage, that thrill of executing a smarter maneuver than your enemy is on constant repeat.
Dying Light: Bad Blood is planned as a standalone (no word on release date as of yet), but right now I have to imagine the thrill of it won’t stick unless some major changes are made to how players collect their blood samples. While the design of PUBG or Fortnite allows for nearly infinite combat scenarios, and Dying Light’s parkour never grows old, the whack-a-mole sensibilities of Bad Blood may result in this undead creature shambling its way into a corner.