I can reel off a list of things that Days Gone is not.
It’s not perfect. It’s not free from bugs. It’s not the most original open world game ever made. It’s not at all succinct.
But it’s also not boring. Neither is it wholly generic, despite falling into habits that many open world adventures do. And even though it features zombie-like creatures at its core, it’s not like any other zombie game you’ll have ever played.
What Days Gone is, on the other hand, is a massive adventure filled with heart. It tells one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced in an open world game. It’s beautiful. It’s flawed. It’s captivating. It’s kept me hooked for every minute of the 30-odd hours I’ve put into it in the last week.
Days Gone puts you into the shoes of Deacon St. John. A member of a motorcycle crew, even after the world’s practically ended he’s not willing to give up his “cut” – he still proudly wears his club’s logo on his jacket. Accompanied by his old biker pal, Boozer, the pair have survived by drifting – riding between settlements, completing supply runs and hit missions in order to stay fed and alive.
Deacon – or “Deek” – isn’t the most typical of protagonists. A bit of a loner, he doesn’t seem to care about a great deal but himself and Boozer. Initially, he’s hard to relate to. How am I going to be able to spend a whole adventure with this dude who seems like an arrogant asshole? Thankfully, that’s a feeling that doesn’t last too long.
Combat and side quests
It takes a while for Days Gone’s story to get going. While the exposition and cutscenes you’re immediately showered with are nice, they feel pretty fragmented. Three or four hours in, I felt like I still didn’t have much of an idea of who Deacon was, his real motivations, and what his overall goal was going to be. The first few hours of the game are spent mostly riding back and forth between camps, safe houses and missions – none of which are particularly inspiring.
Much of Days Gone’s side content is pretty generic. Aside from a few variations of freakers – the zombie-like creatures that have taken over the world – your main opponents in the game are other humans. There are a number of different factions, each presenting their own threat. Their camps and outposts dot the map, and much of your free time will be spend clearing them out. That means one thing: mindless bloody violence. Whether it be melee with a crafted weapon of your choice or gunplay, there’s an awful lot of combat in Days Gone.
For the most part, it’s pretty solid. You can run into combat gung-ho if you wish, but most firefights in Days Gone are intended to be tackled carefully and stealthily. There are always plenty of places to jump into cover, and if you can sneak up behind an enemy you’re able to stealth-kill them. At any one time you can have three guns equipped – a primary weapon, typically a rifle; a sidearm, usually a pistol; and a special weapon, either a heavy-fire rifle or a sniper. You’ll also have a bevy of throwables – molotovs, grenades and items that can be used as distractions – and one melee weapon. Providing you keep Deacon’s ammo supply topped up, he’s armed to the nines.
Melee attacks are equally as valid in combat as firepower, and can be more fun – providing you’ve got a good weapon. Try to tackle too many enemies at once and you’ll likely find yourself overwhelmed, but melee is a great option for taking out stragglers. By default you have a knife, but it doesn’t do a great deal of damage. Other weapons – like baseball bats and machetes – can be found in the environment, and some of them can be modded further into the game.
Other side quests will involve breaking into and recovering tech from government outposts, but again, many of these will boil down to fighting your way through groups of enemies who’ve set up camp in those locations. Battling freakers changes things up a little – there are plenty of side missions that’ll see you clean out nests – but these get repetitive after a while, too. Where things do start to get interesting, though, are with freaker hordes.
You’ll no doubt encounter a horde of freakers – a large group of these zombie-like foes travelling together in a particular area – earlier on in the game. But later on, you’ll learn how to single-handedly take a horde down, opening up a whole new set of missions. They’re perhaps the hardest and most frustrating part of the game, but the horde missions are also some of the most exhilarating. Being chased by literally hundreds of enemies at once is not only an incredible feat in terms of the game’s technology, but it also makes for some incredibly tense gameplay.
A stellar narrative
While the first few hours of Days Gone are a little slow, stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with an absolutely stellar narrative. Though he originally seems a little one-dimensional, as you progress through the game more sides of Deacon’s character will be revealed. Through flashbacks and monologues, you’ll learn about his relationship with his wife, Sarah, tales about his biking days with Boozer, and sneak peeks into what life what like for him before everything came crashing down.
Days Gone doesn’t just have one narrative thread running through it – there are multiple story branches, many of which overlap to tell a great story about Deacon’s journey. Each camp he visits, for example, has its own narrative to work through, some being more important or interesting than others. Not every story thread is necessary, and not every one of them will feed into the main plot, but as repetitive as some of those side quests may be, they all help to reveal more about Deacon and the world around him.
When it comes to the primary story at the heart of Days Gone, though, it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. To go into too much detail will be to spoil what makes this game so brilliant, but it’s a story so well told it sets it apart from the vast majority of other open world games out there. Even sub-plots that don’t really amount to much in the greater scheme of things – such as Deek rescuing a young girl from an abandoned town – feel meaningful and important. At its best, it feels like The Last of Us meets Far Cry; an open world with endless targets to shoot, but with a story that demands you pay attention.
There are a lot of cutscenes throughout the game, but each one is masterfully animated. Deek, Boozer and the supporting cast of characters are brought to life with panache, thanks to excellent voice acting across the board. Cutscenes in other games may be little more than an excuse to look at your phone while the next gameplay segment loads, but not in Days Gone. Once it properly gets going, every moment of its story is worth paying attention to.
Story missions, too, go a long way into making the game more varied than the side quests would have you believe. Sure, you’ll repeat yourself a few times – being tasked with stealthily trailing someone happens more times than I’d like – but for the most part they’re varied enough to always stay interesting. There’s a good spread of missions that encourage you to use all the tools at Deacon’s disposal, as well as taking advantage of the environment, forcing you to visit a myriad of interesting areas.
On the open road
A key element to Days Gone that can’t pass by without a mention is Deacon’s motorcycle. Almost a character in itself, you’ll spend a great deal of time riding it, seeing the stunning scenery of the game’s rendition of small-town Oregon pass you by.
Upgrading Deek’s bike is a key part of the game, with you able to buy new parts – more powerful engines, sturdier frames, bigger gas tanks – at a number of the camps you’ll stop by at. It’s not wholly necessary, but a number of missions involve chasing down enemies on the road, so a better bike certainly helps.
Giving the game a survival element, you’ll need to refuel every so often. Upgrading your tank makes it less of an issue, but you’ll always need to ensure you have enough gas to get you where you’re going. You can pay for gas at camps, or you can find it out in the world for free. Run out, though, and you’ll find yourself on foot.
You can fast travel (providing you have enough gas to cover the span of the journey), but doing so is often a waste. Days Gone shouldn’t be a game you rush through. Its world is vast and beautiful, and jumping on Deacon’s motorcycle to soak in the views is part of what makes this game so appealing. Riding through luscious green forests, abandoned shanty towns and along abandoned, crumbling highways is always an absolute treat. It’s only made better by the game’s ever-changing weather. Perhaps it’s a little too fast-changing at times, but there’s no denying seeing a heavy downpour of rain give way to sunshine is a sight to behold. Let’s not forget the epic snowfall that hits areas closer to the mountains. It’s simply breathtaking.
It’s not perfect
Days Gone isn’t without issues, though. There are currently a lot of bugs, although developer Bend Studio has already released a couple of patches, and there’ll no doubt be more to come. There’s nothing game-breaking. In my almost 40 hours with the game I’ve had a couple of crashes and some weird graphical glitches – namely a skin texture for a character randomly going missing for one gameplay segment, a couple of floating heads, and some clipping issues. More humorous than irksome, but they do break the immersion somewhat. I’ve no doubt they’ll be ironed out before long.
The game has a few framerate and lag issues, even on PS4 Pro. Riding Deek’s bike seems to be the main cause of framerate drops, but there have been a few instances where the game simply freezes for a few seconds. Surprisingly, the framerate manages expertly during the horde missions – being chased by 200 enemies isn’t a problem, but riding a motorcycle through woodland can be.
There are a few gameplay design problems, too. You can’t equip and use throwable objects at the touch of a button; you need to access a wheel menu first to equip it, and then you need to aim before firing. It can be pretty fiddly, especially on a horde takedown mission. Being able to press one button to quickly throw a molotov or grenade would go a long way in saving some frustration.
Sometimes, you’ll get pinned by an enemy, and a short quick time event will occur where you’ll need to repeatedly press a button to escape. The button prompt is tiny, and often obfuscated by whatever else is happening on screen. Several times I’ve only seen what button to press when it’s already too late.
But these problems are, in the grand scheme of things, tiny, and I imagine very easily fixed with a patch. They’re there, and worth noting, but don’t detract much from the experience that Days Gone offers on the whole.
I can’t think of many other open world games that pack in as much character, as much wonderfully crafted narrative that Days Gone does. Sure, it’s a story about a world overrun with a deadly virus. But it’s also a story about people, about hope, about survival. It’s at times uplifting, others heartbreaking. Couple that with Days Gone‘s beautiful setting and a varied array of well-designed story missions, and you’re left with something pretty special. Don’t write Days Gone off as “just another generic open world game”; it’s so much more than that.
Days Gone is available on PS4.