Bloody Ties is the first story expansion for Dying Light 2, taking the action to Carnage Hall – not to be confused with Carnegie Hall – a gladiatorial arena where Aiden will compete for glory in front of a crown whilst a megalomaniac narrates. It sounds promising, though admittedly not exactly an original idea, even within this series. Still, who doesn’t like being a gladiator and fighting off enemies whilst a crowd cheers, eh? You do? Well too bad.
I hope you like trials, because that’s what you’ll be getting within the arena. There’s both parkour trials and combat trials where you have to kill specific enemies both while being besieged by additional zombies and a pretty strict timer. The closest it gets to an actual gladiatorial fight outside of the story is in battling extra mutated zombies, again with a strict time limit. Even most of these are basically boss battles where they use large, area of effect attacks, so it doesn’t feel like gladiator-style combat. You can’t even use your own weapons for these.
Even the parkour trials feel a little weak here, since you’re restricted to courses within the actual arena itself. Instead of racing across the open world, you’re running around and following checkpoints that send you back on yourself or are suddenly above you, causing you to stop and have to find the objective marker that’s floating around the edge of the screen. It breaks the flow state of freerunnning, especially as the clock ticks down and just one fall is big enough to cost you just enough time to fail. It’s devastating and common with the game’s slightly unreliable parkour controls.
These challenges all have themed arenas that you progress through as your rank increases. One being themed around Robin Hood stealing some gold from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s Castle. This seemed like it’d be entertaining, especially with the announcer narrating the story whilst you’re doing it, but I simply don’t remember hearing anything she announced. The strict time limits and repeated use of winches that take ages and have to be restarted when a zombie hits you had me far more frustrated than entertained.
On top of that, can you guess what’s dotted around the small map around the arena? More parkour challenges! If you came to this zombie action game for zombie action you might be disappointed. The zombies are even less prominent here than they are in the main game, used as props in the arena and barely featured in the actual story outside of a supposedly horrific reveal (involving a human character) that is just a minor mechanic from the first game with superfluous murder and a dubious explanation.
You go to Carnage Hall to help Ciro – a guy you meet whilst visiting a small arena in Villedor – or maybe you’re there to stop Skullface, a man with a skull-faced helment who inevitably attacks whilst you’re visiting said arena. To gain access you need to qualify by, yep, doing some timed trials! The story isn’t bad exactly, it’s just seems like a vehicle for trials and busywork.
There’s a metro station outside Carnage Hall that you have to run to time and again. There’s just a handful of zombies on this map, so you’re essentially just running between conversations. The guy you speak to to start arena challenges, Severus, has an annoying habit of giving you something else to go do outside instead of letting you into the arena, things that feel so much like padding game time that after the first few they’re actually optional.
I got a side mission towards the end of the DLC that, considering its name, seemed like it was going to be an important one. So I ran across Carnage Hall to the van that you can’t fast travel to, just so I could go back to the city that you also can’t fast travel to, only to find myself creeping through an almost empty building. It actually the exact same layout as another building it had me creep around earlier – If it hadn’t used different entrance I’d think it actually was the same building. Worse, the person I was looking for and the thing we’d both gone to retrieve wasn’t even there. The mission just ended with an empty box and had to go back to the arena.
Just like the main game, Dying Light 2: Blood Ties looks and sounds great. Carnage Hall is the usual mix of building and scrap, but it’s all shiny golds and sharp textures inside that look great especially with the fancy lighting. Voice performances are mostly good as well, with Ciro’s father, Ogar, being a standout that I found really convincing at times. Astrid, the woman that runs the arena and is also its announcer, is good most of the time, but has a little difficulty pulling off some of the highs whilst actually announcing.