Impressions: Dying Light: Bad Blood is both familiar and frustrating

I thoroughly enjoyed Techland’s 2015 zombie-survival game Dying Light, so when I first heard that the studio was developing a pseudo-battle royale spinoff title called Dying Light: Bad Blood, my interest was naturally piqued. I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of competitive multiplayer, and my opinion of the battle royale genre is lukewarm at best, but when I was invited to participate in last weekend’s second global beta test for Bad Blood, I figured it was at least worth giving the game a shot.

Now that I’ve gotten to play Bad Blood, I can report that it’s shaping up to be a unique competitive spin on not only the standard Dying Light formula but also the battle royale genre. However, if you weren’t already sold on the competitive battle royale premise, Bad Blood likely won’t make a believer out of you.

Racing against the clock

The biggest departure that Bad Blood takes from the usual battle royale setup is in its sense of urgency. In most other battle royale games, players are dropped into a very large map and then slowly forced into smaller and smaller play spaces by an encroaching hazard, which means it’s entirely possible to spend the majority of a typical match never crossing paths with a competitor. Bad Blood does things a bit differently by shrinking the overall scale of each match and implementing mechanics that all but force players into direct confrontation.

Each Bad Blood match contains a maximum of 12 players, and the match begins with the players all being dropped into random parts of Dying Light’s Harran Village (a location that should look familiar to those who played the base game). The ultimate goal is to collect blood samples and escape via chopper, but the catch is that the escape chopper only has one available seat, which means at some point you’ll have to deal with the 11 other players in the match.

You mainly acquire blood samples via PvE gameplay, with groups of both standard and special zombies guarding designated blood sample caches that are marked on the in-game minimap. At the start of the match, every player begins at level 1, and collecting blood samples allows you to level up, increasing your health and damage output in the process. If a player is killed either by the zombies or by another player, they’re dead for good, though they can spectate the rest of the match if they prefer.

The chopper doesn’t show up until at least one player has collected enough blood samples to reach level 5 (the maximum level), but just because you weren’t the one to trigger the chopper’s arrival doesn’t mean you can’t be the one who escapes. In fact, in my very first match there was one player who was seemingly the favorite to win. They efficiently collected the requisite samples to summon the chopper, built up a solid arsenal of weaponry, and even fended off several would-be adversaries on their way to the landing site (including yours truly). But then, just as the chopper was making its final approach, another player swooped in and managed to kill the one who had summoned the chopper, stealing the victory at the eleventh hour.

Fending for yourself

As you might imagine given the setup I described above, there’s a lot of potential for devious underhanded play in Bad Blood. Playing passively isn’t really a viable option since you need blood samples to level up and grow stronger, but there’s nothing stopping you from, say, waiting until a stronger player has exhausted themselves fighting a tough group of zombies and then finishing them off with a sudden ambush.

Players drop any blood samples they held upon death so if you’re patient and devious enough, you can hang back, let other players do the heavy lifting, and then strike when they least expect it.

Given Bad Blood’s small scale, direct combat between players is also quite common, and the game’s in-depth melee combat system ensures that every player vs. player encounter is a tense tactical dance. Many of the same combat maneuvers from Dying Light proper, such as running dropkicks and aerial takedowns, are also present in Bad Blood.

These maneuvers combine with standard attacks, a dedicated block/parry button, and a very limited combat stamina gauge to create a system where those who can remain calm and react quickly will pretty much always triumph against those who just try to swing wildly with spamming attacks.  

The specific weaponry a player wields can also factor into their combat performance, and by scrounging through buildings players can find not only standard melee weapons like hammers, knives, and machetes but also more specialized implements such as shields, molotov cocktails, and even a bow and arrows.

Again, just like in Dying Light proper, melee weapons can also double as throwable projectiles, and hitting another player with a thrown edged weapon is actually an excellent strategy since it forces them to pause and remove the weapon or else suffer its continuous bleeding effect.

Big trouble in little Harran

As unique and thrilling as Bad Blood’s gameplay concept is, in many ways it’s also a very frustrating one, and the root of that frustration lies in the game’s controls. If you ever played the original Dying Light with a controller, you probably remember that it had a very odd button layout, and that unorthodox layout sadly appears in Bad Blood as well.

Using an Xbox 360/Xbox One controller as a reference, the A button is the dedicated kick attack button as opposed to the Jump button you’d understandably assume it was. Jump is instead mapped to the right bumper, leading to many an instance where you’ll flail off a ledge with your leg extended in a kick when what you meant to do was leap over to a nearby platform.

The confusion I felt while grappling with Bad Blood’s control scheme was only compounded by the fact that the Crouch/Slide function is mapped to the B button (again, as you’d expect) and thus the muscle memory I had built up from others games of quickly transitioning between A for Jump and B for Crouch would routinely betray me at the most inopportune moments.

Since the controller button commands can’t be remapped, playing Bad Blood with a mouse and keyboard feels like the best option overall, and hopefully Techland plans to add in more controller presets should Bad Blood ever come to consoles.

Aside from the frustrating controls, the game build I played also felt very barebones, though in fairness it was after all a beta test. Based on how well they perform in a match, players earn XP and slowly level up their global profile, with each new level granting rewards such as item crates, Blood Bucks (Bad Blood’s premium currency), and boosters. The item crates system was disabled during the beta test, but I’m assuming that in the final game they’ll award things like character outfits and weapon skins.

Speaking of characters, the beta also didn’t allow for any alteration of our default avatar’s physical traits (gender, hair, skin color, etc.) or even their clothing options, we’d just be assigned a random outfit in each new match. I’m assuming the final version of Bad Blood will allow for at least some physical customization, and it will definitely be a hard mark against it if it doesn’t considering the amount of customization found in games like PUBG and Fortnite.

One final bit of silver lining is that Bad Blood’s matchmaking and player population both seemed pretty solid during the beta, and that’s likely due in no small part to the name recognition of the Dying Light brand (and the fact that the beta was freely available to all those who registered beforehand).    

Dying Light: Bad Blood certainly feels unique, and I doubt there will be many other battle royale games that can get a player’s adrenaline pumping so quickly. However, at the end of the day it’s still yet another competitive multiplayer title where even the best laid plans can be undone in an instant by a devious player who just wants to ruin your day. I appreciate the fact that, unlike in most other battle royale games, PvE gameplay plays a big part in a typical Bad Blood match, but even in a setting as pleasantly familiar as Dying Light’s Harran Village, getting ambushed by a lucky ganker or beat down by a three-player goon squad never feels good.

I might revisit Dying Light: Bad Blood when its final version arrives sometime in late 2018/early 2019 (the final release will be free-to-play), but even then I’d only recommend it to those who like the idea of fast-paced competitive gameplay wrapped up in a Dying Light veneer.