As we know, in the end fate proved rather inclement with the project, first postponed and then definitively “put on hold”. Just recently, however, Techland surprised the public by announcing the arrival of a DLC for Dying Light dedicated precisely to the universe of Hellraid, exhumed to close off a monumental post-launch route. A piece of news that offers us an excellent pretext to retrace together the rough path of the game never published, waiting to discover new details on that heinous object of desire that is Dying Light 2.
Dark fantasy according to Techland
In 2011, after the publication of Dead Island, Techland’s men began to give shape to an idea that emerged already during the development of their bloody tropical survival, which would have led players to face endless swathes of putrid horrors in the tip of the blade in gloomy embrace of a dark fantasy setting.
Born as an official mod for Dead Island itself, the concept created by the Polish studio soon proved too ambitious and promising for the standards of a “thematic overhaul”, and that was how that infernal vision became the founding core of Project Hell, a first person slasher all steel and malice. Officially renamed Hellraid in 2013, the title should have hit the shelves in time for the end of the seventh generation of consoles, and take advantage of the Chrome Engine 5 (the engine inaugurated with Call of Juarez: The Cartel) to give life to an experience full of white weapon combat, spells and assorted monstrosities. The first trailer showed the protagonist making his way through the demonic hordes in the penumbra of deconsecrated cathedrals, lugubrious crypts and forests full of funeral suggestions, theater of clashes with a high rate of brutality, punctuated by a concert of mutilations and bloody frenzy. Despite the frequent associations in Skyrim, the title clearly showed a less rolistic and more action descent, proposing itself as the spiritual heir of cult of the caliber of Heretic, Hexen, and of the more recent Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. Sources of inspiration cited directly by the same development team, who with Hellraid aimed to overwhelm the audience with an intense and multifaceted gameplay, among the meshes of a narrative campaign to be tackled alone or in the company of up to three companions weapons.
As a good hack ‘n’ slash, the game was supposed to include one Story mode complete with main and secondary missions, tons of loot to be collected to improve your equipment (with the help of crafting mechanics not better defined), bosses to defeat and a role-playing advancement system. The project also included two secondary modes, one that allowed you to replay the missions of the campaign with objectives other than the original ones, and another – the Arena – that challenged the fighters to clash against hordes of fierce opponents, gradually more and more fed and lethal.
When the title was now in the pipeline, near the generational transition, the studio announced, however having completely revised his plans for the publication of Hellraid, postponed to 2015 with the aim of consolidating the production offer.
At the time the producer Marcin Kruczkiewicz explained that, although the game was practically ready for launch, the development process had not generated fully satisfactory results, both on the playful side and on the strictly technical side. The technological limitations of Xbox 360 and PS3 had in fact imposed heavy compromises on the team, such as to affect the final quality of the product. For example, the Arena mode on console it was somewhat subdued due to difficulties related to managing too many enemies on the screen, even from the point of view of artificial intelligence.
Problems that the adoption of the Chrome Engine 6 (the same as Dying Light) and the versatility of the new gaming machines should have minimized, allowing the team to make important changes to its formula at the same time, starting with the combat system.
It is precisely at this stage that, according to the developers, the Hellraid concept reaches its full maturity: the fight becomes more fluid, complex and visceral, redesigned in symbiosis with a less awkward movement system, which now allows you to quickly close the distance with your opponents and more effectively exploit the surrounding environment. The blocking and dodging mechanics are totally reworked, as well as those related to the use of magic during clashes, made more challenging and compelling thanks to the introduction of an adaptive AI initially designed for the Arena mode only.
According to Kruczkiewicz, this addition should have increased the overall gameplay variety considerably, causing enemies to display a wide range of contextual reactions based on the heroic prowess of the protagonist. Instead of assaulting en masse without any criterion, Hellraid’s infamous abominations could therefore “to decide“to get around the player to gain a better attack position, or alternatively to escape in front of the overwhelming power of our knight. Also in this period, they are also rethought the dynamics of progression, no longer tied to a rigid class system (originally the game included four) but designed to guarantee users greater freedom in customizing the build, in order to support a wide range of approach strategies.
Death and resurrection of a hellish plan
The information disclosed by Techland therefore suggested that development was proceeding smoothly and that, in 2014, Hellraid was now on its way to reaching its full potential. Not a bad evaluation error. After another year of silence, in fact, the Polish company announced that it had officially stopped work on the title, brought back to the concepting phase because – again – not up to the quality standards set by the study.
In the same release it was specified that all development resources would be redirected to what, in the meantime, had become the main focus of the company, or the Dying Light franchise. With over three million copies sold in 45 days, the title had quickly become Techland’s biggest commercial hit, and the team was determined not only to maintain high public interest with memorable post-launch support, but it had all the intention to lay the foundations for the future of the saga.
Five years later, Dying Light 2 is one of the most promising titles of the current videogame horizon and, although it is still without a precise launch window, it does not fail to excite the audience ludens with each new appearance. As for the post-launch path of the first chapter, it is probably one of the best supported titles of the last generation, thanks to a stratospheric mass of updates and free contents, and to an expansion (The Following) as long-lived as it is brilliant. A path to which, just recently, a new stage has been added to say the least surprising: the next downloadable content of Dying Light will in fact lead Harran’s survivors to visit the dark world of Hellraid, torn for the occasion from the limbo of the breed “vaporware”.
The very short teaser published at the end of April shows a mysterious arcade cabinet emerged from some infernal abyss, which presumably will be our gateway to the game dimension of Techland. At this point, the question is the following: what will we find on the other side? In all honesty we would love if the DLC took advantage of almost all the assets created for the title never published, including his narrative campaign, his spectral scenarios and the playful dynamics developed before the closure of the project.
Elements that, of course, should be revised and corrected for the occasion, but which we would like to see in action without too sharp distortions. It would indeed be interesting if the expansion, in accordance with its original level design, did not allow players to jump in bold parkour sequences, opting instead for a movement system more consistent with the traits of the basic concept. A radical choice that could be counterbalanced with the inclusion of new mechanics on the front of the combat system, also reworked starting from the formula developed for Hellraid, without neglecting unlockable spells and abilities.
A kind of “I play in the game“in short, modeled to finally satisfy the wicked appetites of all those who, seven years ago, could not wait to immerse themselves in the dark fantasy universe of Techland. Waiting to find out what – pleasant – horrors await the public beyond screen of that Mephistophelic cabinet, we take this opportunity to embark on a pleasant mental pilgrimage, this time linked to the next chapter of Dying Light.
Considering the commitment made in building the post-launch support of its predecessor, blessed with an absolutely virtuous distribution strategy, we can not help but think that Dying Light 2 will also follow the same route, both in terms of quality and quantity.
On the other hand, the game’s lead game designer, Tymon Smektala, has already confirmed that the team’s plans have not changed a iota compared to the past, and that therefore the public can safely expect several years of updates and additional content. A very tempting prospect, which makes the wait for what promises to be one of the most exciting productions of the next videogame season even more painful. Good night and good luck, dear friends, we hope to see you soon in Techland’s new Middle Ages.