When Days Gone was first announced, I was ecstatic. I enjoyed Sam Witwer in Being Human and Dexter, as well as Starkiller in Force Unleashed so I was looking forward to seeing him as a badass biker in an open-world zombie-like game. However, I had migrated to being a primarily PC player so I never got around to picking up the PS4 version of the game back when it originally came out in 2019. However, since the PC version dropped this year, I was able to finally experience a game I had been anticipating on a more powerful platform and at over 60+ hours of gameplay, I can honestly say it was worth the wait.
Days Gone is an open-world action-adventure game set in a harsh wilderness two years after a devastating global pandemic.
Step into the dirt-flecked shoes of former outlaw biker Deacon St. John, a bounty hunter trying to find a reason to live in a land surrounded by death. Scavenge through abandoned settlements for equipment to craft valuable items and weapons, or take your chances with other survivors trying to eke out a living through fair trade… or more violent means.
• A striking setting: From forests and meadows to snowy plains and desert lava fields, the Pacific Northwest is both beautiful and lethal. Explore a variety of mountains, caves, mines, and small rural towns, scarred by millions of years of volcanic activity.
• Brutal encounters: With vicious gangs and hordes of Freakers roaming the land, you’ll need to make full use of a variety of customizable traps, weapons, and upgradable skills to stay alive. Don’t forget your Drifter bike, an invaluable tool in a vast land.
• An ever-changing environment: Jump on the saddle of Deacon’s trusty motorbike and explore a dynamic world dramatically affected by the weather, a dramatic day/night cycle, and the evolving Freakers, who adjust to their surroundings – and the people in it.
• A compelling story: Lose yourself in a powerful tale of desperation, betrayal, and regret, as Deacon St. John searches for hope after suffering a deep, personal loss. What makes us human when faced with the daily struggle for survival?
I don’t plan on spoiling anything here regarding the plot, as I do find all of that quite compelling. And with Witwer’s performance as Deacon leading the charge, you will want to keep playing through every key moment until the end to get answered to questions that crop up from time to time. In fact, Witwer’s performance is so good, I was often reminded of The Last of Us or Uncharted in the way he and Bend Studios brought the character to life with every line of dialogue he spoke. And unlike other NPCs that repeat the same lines of dialogue over and over and over again, Deacon has a lot of unique things to say whether over the radio to other survival camps and key characters or out loud to himself while he eliminates a dozen or more raiders at an ambush camp. Without him, this game would be a hollow shell devoid of any charm or emotion.
Days Gone‘s biggest gameplay feature for me was the hordes. While games like Dead Rising offer up hundreds, if not thousands of zombies on-screen at one time, Days Gone is the first I have encountered where you are actually being aggressively chased by hundreds of infected (“Freakers”). When you first encounter the hordes, they are beyond menacing and probably too difficult to take on with your initial loadout but eventually, you get better weapons that make taking them down much easier. The fun is in the numbers and knowing that at any moment, one slip could result in dozens of infected piling up on top of you and taking you out. However, the AI isn’t the brightest and they don’t do much in the way of offering diversity in their encounters. I found myself most often just trying to get their attention and then running a safe distance away and shooting them until the bulk of the horde got close enough, then I would turn and run a safe distance again and repeat the process until everyone was dead. It was certainly fun enough to take these on as side objectives while progressing through the story but I certainly couldn’t be bothered to go back and clear them all out off the map once I beat the main campaign storyline.
Weapon upgrades are non-existent which bothers me a little but its not that big of a deal. Instead, the more Deacon carries out missions for the survival camps, the more trust and credits he earns that unlock and afford him new and better weapons. Most of the game will afford you Tier-3 level weapons (they seem to range from 1 through 5) but once I got a few Tier-4 weapons in my arsenal that felt good, I rarely swapped them out or cared to upgrade to anything in Tier-5.
Guns aren’t the only thing that Deacon uses to take on bandits and infected as he has a small supply of explosives and traps that he carries with that he can craft and use at his discretion. The only problem with these is that sometimes the traps don’t go off when they are supposed to or explosives don’t go boom when you want but my biggest gripe with anything weapons-related is that damn weapons wheel. Anything in between the primary Left, Right, Up, and Down choices was a pain to choose from, especially when taking on large swarms of enemies. Half the time I was trying to choose a Molotov, that the wheel even reflected I had chosen successfully, only for Deacon to equip a Pipe Bomb that blew up in my face causing massive damage to myself. Choosing the right weapons at the right moment in the middle of being chased by a horde can be a real pain when all you want to do is make some bodies hit the floor.
Weapons aside, Days Gone‘s open-world was beautiful to look at and fun to ride through on a motorcycle. With a handful of fun jumps to make (without any reward or achievement) and some smooth drifting, that was a major highlight while playing. The bike was smooth and responsive and Deacon’s relationship with it felt like Joel looking after Ellie in the first The Last of Us. However, considering that every other character in the world also rode a bike, it felt sort of weird how every camp, every NPC, literally everyone, had motorcycles and gas to power them. Not one other vehicle was driven in the game other than a truck toward the end of the game in a cutscene. Not a huge deal but it felt really noticeable and artificial in a manner that rubbed me the wrong way.
While the open-world of Days Gone looks beautiful, to say the least, with its vast openness of wilderness at its disposal, I couldn’t help but feel like there was so much missing. Sure, in the apocalyptic aftermath of infected freaks running around eating people, one could hardly expect to see kids playing hopscotch on the sidewalk. But there were only maybe three or four animals roaming the forests, perhaps maybe three or four “random” enemy encounters that felt anything but random, and only a handful of crafting materials that offered up little more than feeling like I was collecting trash around every turn. I get that Deacon needs to pack light and constantly keep moving, but between gathering tin cans and dirty rags as the primary source of weaponry and bandages, it made the world around me feel far too shallow, like an ocean that was miles wide but not even an inch deep.
It’s a shame that Days Gone ran into so much development trouble as it seems to be the source of rumors surrounding a cancellation on a proposed sequel. I really would have liked to have seen where the franchise would take the story and how Bend Studios would have improved all of the above as the foundation is there and all the pieces are placed neatly with a bow around it ready to be delivered to the player in a way that would feel like an experience unlike any other. It truly is a shame despite how much I enjoyed Days Gone as it felt clear from start to finish that a sequel would have undoubtedly improved literally everything I could think of that bothered me.
I won’t say much about the story as it all pertains to a much large plot going on behind the scenes and even that feels like I am saying too much. All you need to know is that an infection has spread across Oregon, the game’s setting, and the greater United States (though it is implied that the whole world has succumbed to the infection, though we never actually see any evidence of this).
The main story follows Deacon St. John (Sam Witwer), a rough and tumble member of the Mongrels Motorcycle Club. He and his buddy Boozer, another member of the MC, are surviving out in the Oregon Wild, carrying out missions for survivalist camps. The two of them are the last of their MC but still heavily abide by their code of honor. But after Boozer has a run-in with a cult that worships the infected, he is out of commission leaving Deacon alone to carry out supply runs and other objectives at the request of the nearby camps.
As Deacon carries out the orders that are set for him, whether it be to take care of awol camp members who have either stolen supplies from their camps or killed other survivors, or taking out a horde of infected, one mission always remains on his mind- finding his wife, Sarah Whitaker, who has been missing since the outbreak of the infection so many days earlier.
Deacon’s search for his wife leads him to interact with a researcher named O’Brian, who works for an organization called NERO and is privy to all sorts of intel on the infected and possibly to Sarah’s whereabouts due to her being a scientific researcher herself with a certain level of government clearance (her clearance assured her a higher chance of survival over the average civilian).
With O’Brian’s help, Deacon learns more about the freakers and the possible fate of his wife Sarah and what NERO is up to as it relates to the spread of the infection. As Deacon carries out missions for O’Brian, O’Brian offers to look deeper into Sarah’s last known whereabouts which sparks a flicker of hope in Deacon that she could have survived after all.
From there, I can’t comfortably say more as it would spoil too much but the plot itself is engaging from start to finish and interesting enough that I would suggest you stick it out through to the end to see where the story goes. The only hindrance with the story is that there are major stallers in the plot progression where Deacon has to go here and do this or go there and do that which most often feels like overwhelming tedium when these missions or quests are so frequent and identical to the last.
There really isn’t much diversity in what it is that Deacon is tasked to do by the survival camps, and since he relies so heavily on his guns, even combat can feel quite stale. For example; I pretty much only ever used one melee weapon through the entire game and I only ever used it by accident when I was trying to select a gun. This is something I felt confident would have been improved on in the sequel but alas, that may not happen. Regardless, I feel that I should clarify that I didn’t hate the combat at all. It just didn’t offer much in the way of anything I haven’t seen before but it was enough to suffice to where I enjoyed it, even though it was nothing special.
By the time I was done with the main campaign, nearly all of my side quests were complete or nearly complete (the game keeps track of your side quest progress by showing you what percentage you have completed and remaining). Even so, I don’t feel the need to go back and tidy those side quests up to 100%. Perhaps the only thing I may do someday is go back and clear out the remaining hordes (which are marked across your map when you get closer to the end of the story), but that would only be out of boredom rather than a desire to complete anything.
Enemy diversity was good enough on the first playthrough, whether you are being chased by a hundred freaks in a horde, being charged at by a massive tanky Breaker, or trying to outrun an infected wolf referred to as a ‘Runner’ (you won’t be able to), they all eventually add to the tedium that holds the game back from feeling truly spectacular. Even so, many will find these encounters more than adequate, great even, but for me, it felt like perfection was just outside of reach in so many aspects of the game that I truly felt like it wouldn’t be grasped until the now canceled sequel.
The story is pretty thorough and it was enjoyable, and the gameplay was adequate enough, even if I liked some parts more than others. However, it just wasn’t diverse enough to my liking where I would ever feel like I could go back and start the game over from scratch. There just isn’t enough here for a New Game+ or even to want to go back and try it on another difficulty. Once is enough for me but I am so glad that I at least did it and saw it all the way through. At a $49.99 price tag on Steam, it was worth every cent and every minute I invested into the game so regardless of any seemingly harsh criticisms on my part, I do recommend this to anyone who enjoys zombie games (or zombie-type games), open-world titles, or anything that involves a post-apocalyptic plot. The game delivers on all fronts, it just isn’t perfect which it never boasted to be.