Days Gone is another open world game among the fair share of open world games I’ve played. But that’s okay, for while Days Gone doesn’t raise the bar for the genre, it meshes its mechanics well with its post-apocalyptic setting enough to keep players focused on the narrative, all while providing enough incentive to explore its infected world.
Its myriad activities – from clearing out Marauder Camps without alerting anyone, to saving survivors in need and taking down hordes of infected – are all fun and plenty reason to bash in those zombie brains, but ultimately it’s the games focus on the protagonist’s journey that carries the experience. As Deacon St. John, an outlaw biker who’s drifted for years since the world went to hell, I spent over thirty hours drifting along with him.
In Days Gone, the main story always takes the spotlight. Don’t expect a series of short side-story missions to fill out each section of the game. They’re mostly quick jobs like bounties, and are at best a digression that lets players earn credits and increase their trust with a specific camp. All of the storytelling happens within the main missions, and there are plenty of them, with a wide range of different objectives and areas.
It’s characters that Bend Studios took great time and care to develop. Naturally, Deacon is the most complicated personality – and a past that fuels it. He’s a person who goes from one settlement to the next, picking up odd jobs as a bounty hunter with his buddy Boozer to survive, and leaving before forming any kind of attachments.
The characters are fleshed out so as to give weight to every major plot point, most notably the people you meet at Lost Lake. I found myself rooting for some, while downright hating others. The story wrapped up nicely, answering most of the questions laid down in front of you while leaving enough unsaid that the world retains its appeal for the player. As for Deacon, there is a selfishness to him, so I tended to disagree with his methods, but he’s also someone who prioritizes those he cares about over everything else, even himself.
On The Road
Bikes serve as your means of going about the world of Days Gone, though it always feels like it’s a bad idea to even go out to do a job. The zombie-like infected creatures called “Freakers” are everywhere, and their aggressiveness and numbers vary depending on the time of day, and, surprisingly, the weather. Other humans are also a threat, and will set up ambushes for drifters like yourself, like sniper’s nests that are too good at shooting your bike, or traps to knock you off your ride.
In the world of Days Gone, items and equipment are scarce... until they’re not. It was confusing, since there were multiple scenarios when I felt like I had too much of everything, but then got hit with a situation where, for instance, I was struggling to get the bottle I needed to craft a molotov cocktail on the spot. If you’re not careful, you’ll lose items quickly, and everything gets tougher when your only option is to shoot anything that moves.
Your bike can also get damaged if you drive carelessly, melee weapons eventually break from use, and there’s never enough ammo to shoot your way out. Keeping yourself well-stocked and prepared is part of the challenge and fun of Days Gone. You even have to worry about gas.
It’s possible to fast travel in Days Gone, but there are a few catches that keep fast travel from serving as an instant teleportation button, as it usually does in other games. Fast travel to a friendly camp is only possible if you have a clear route from your location to the camp, and if you have enough gas to make the trip. Gas canisters and gas stations can be found all around the game, but I still had to pick my routes carefully and plan my way back.
And when your bike breaks down and stops working, you can find yourself in a bit of trouble. I once had to walk at night to find enough scrap to fix my bike (because I crashed), only to get stranded again because I didn’t have enough fuel to reach camp. It was as funny as it was awful, but I pulled through and even cleared an Ambush camp along the way to score a new crafting blueprint.
The world is vast and at times the game can be gorgeous to look at, but half the time, it struggled to keep things together – literally. Even with the 1.03 patch, heavy drops in framerate occurred often while driving around in the open world. I’ve also experienced certain audio effects missing, such as my bike’s engine suddenly turning silent. Or sound effects would disappear entirely, and I’d be left with nothing but the game’s background music.
Cutscenes also had issues. While Days Gone features some solid virtual performances provided by its actors, they would be undermined by technical issues like facial details that failed to render properly. I’d reload a scene and that would often fix the issue, but hours later it would happen again, and would be a bummer during big, important scenes. Most of these issues were alleviated by simply restarting the application, but it’s common enough to be a nuisance, and one can only hope a patch arrives along before or at launch to correct this.
Carry On Wayward Son
Combat in Days Gone is a mix of ranged and melee combat, with the ability to quietly take out foes to lessen their numbers. Or sometimes, you can avoid them completely, but where’s the fun in that?
A player can roll out with one primary weapon, a sidearm, one special weapon (crossbow, sniper, etc.), and a limited number of throwables and traps that can either be for dealing damage or serve as a means of distraction. Taking cover is simply done by crouching, and just like any game with stealth mechanics nowadays, a sparse bush or a tall clump of grass is enough to serve as cover.
Progression is in the form of three skill trees improves things like melee damage, weapon crafting and survival instincts. As long as you spend those skill points, Deacon will naturally get better. My chosen playstyle was to get up close and personal. Melee combat has no lock-on mechanic, so your attacks magnetize to the closest enemy Deacon is facing. This took some time to get used to, especially since the only means of defense from melee attacks - especially against freakers - is to just roll away. This mechanic, in turn, is limited, since it eats up your stamina bar, which is also used for running.
You can also upgrade your bike to improve your ride’s effectiveness on the road, unlock weapons, and upgrade them with extended magazines, but only once you’ve built up enough trust with certain camps.
Other side activities have solid incentives for the player, such as clearing infestation nests to make routes available for fast travel, or turning on Nero research sites in order to get access to an injector that improves Deacon’s overall life, stamina, and focus (ability to slow down time). Enemy camps mostly contain one new crafting blueprint, giving you more options to craft with whichever items you’ve picked up so far.
The world in Days Gone is ruthless, and it stays that way from start to finish. Even with the ability to craft an item on the spot, it can get rough easily if you’re not careful. Taking on two infected up close is doable, but once more than three are running at you, it becomes wise to keep your distance if not run away. Enemy types are plenty, and are spread out nicely to add another layer of challenge to worry about as you progress. Just when you think you hate the Screamers for their ability to stun you and attract more Freakers, you’ll come to fear the Horde – a mass of Freakers that move as one, and supply some of the most intense, panic-inducing but ultimately exhilarating encounters in the game.
Ultimately, Days Gone is a world filled with danger at every corner. Its success stems from its sheer playability and its immersion: even after thirty hours, the necessity of salvaging for items is never a chore. By minimizing side activities down to only those with the most essential reasons to exist, they work to support the overall narrative, rather than detract from it.
And for while the odds are always stacked against you in its world, Days Gone has characters that make you smile, and a trusty bike ready to take you away. For while some irritations persisted during my playthrough – such as the technical irregularities that need to be patched – that its encounters provide a real sense of accomplishment makes it an open world worth exploring.
(+) A rich story that takes its time unfolding to the player.
(+) The dangers of going out on a mission are always present, even in the later parts of the game.
(+) Open-world gameplay loop didn’t turn into a repetitive chore even after hours of play.
(+) The horde is no joke and must be experienced at least 4 times.
(-) FPS drops are constant when driving through the open world (experienced in patch 1.03).
(-) Unrendered facial details and absent sound effects occur at random times (experienced in patch 1.03).
(-) Melee combat can be a hit or miss for some players due to its inherent design.
What I Played
It took me around 38 hours to complete the main story.
Did side missions from different camps and tried every activity available.
At least maxed out trust in one camp
Decimated 4 hordes.
Reached Skill Level 34.
Played the game on Normal difficulty.
Played on: Standard PS4 unit.
[This review is based on a review code provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.]